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  • appelsina7 7:09 am on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    When I entered the Asiapod program, I was given an iPod touch which I could use to send my blog entries and take photos with. I named this new device, “Temptation.” One of my interests is how technology affects our lives and what we gain but also what we lose when we adopt new technologies. I know many Americans who have the latest technological “toys” which helps them stay connected to many people but they often miss out on face to face conversations and more meaningful relationships when they are busy cultivating their “Facebook friends.” I try to be conscious of my use of technology and the experiences I may be missing while I am playing a game on my iPod instead of looking out the window at the Vietnamese landscape. I have used my new iPod to record an internship event that I had to use for a project, to listen to music, for maps to give taxi drivers directions, alarms, notes of things to do, weather and record my workouts but I do not use it in ways which inhibit m experiences in Vietnam but to enhance them. The iPod I had before I only used for music. I don’t find myself texting at dinners or playing games instead of being immersed in Vietnam. I don’t use it to take pictures unless I forget my camera and I don’t use it to write blogs or to get on the internet at all. I am on my computer enough, I don’t need to be connected to the internet every second of the day. I am beginning to worry what the Vietnamese are losing on their new quest to acquire wealth. I notice that my roommate spends more time on her computer and her cell phone than I ever do, or have done, even when I was at home in the states. I never see her studying or doing work, which greatly surprises me as I always have a list of the things that I need to accomplish during the day.

    With the rapid change from poverty to modernity, the Vietnamese have had to adapt quickly to new technologies. When we traveled to the Mekong Delta, I was very surprised to see that the people had very long antennas so that they could have TV. As we went on a bike ride through the area, passing each house on our tour, we had different theme music as it screamed out of the televisions in their homes and out into the humid air of the Mekong. These TVs, sound cranked up, bellowed that these people are experiencing wealth and abundance as they never have before and they want their neighbors to know. Their displays of wealth are very public, often the flat screens and sound systems in the cities are situated right in front of their open doors so that everyone can see that their family is prosperous and thriving.

    The young people have become addicted to their devices which are attached to their palms, reflecting the Americans I left at home. We have become their example of prosperity and wealth. They want to be like us with our cars and technology because they want to get ahead. My Vietnamese roommate here in Hanoi, gets text messages and phone calls late into the night, I never see her without her cell phone. We went to dinner the other day and throughout the meal she was on her phone. When we left we were walking down the four flights of stairs to exit the building, she fell down the stairs trying to walk and text at the same time. Her message was more important than her safety, her answer had to be instant and she could not wait even a few minutes to send the message. She was not hurt, laughed it off and continued to text as we walked, often crossing busy streets, to our building.

    I see countless men and women every day on their motorbikes and calling and texting at the same time. Urbanization has caused a rise of people moving to the cities and the roads are often over crowded. The effect of the newer law that people must wear helmets on motorbikes has made people wear helmets but they are inexpensive and do little for protection. I have seen many accidents while I have been here and my Vietnamese buddy in Ho Chi Minh City’s aunt was a fatal one. These incidents are not uncommon but there are not any laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while riding motorbikes.

  • appelsina7 6:51 am on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Getting places in a new city is always an adventure. Especially when you don’t speak the native language very well. Usually, in the beginning it involves writing addresses down on napkins and other scraps of paper, so that you can give it to the taxi driver without having to communicate very much. After being here for almost two months, I have become more confident of my ability to communicate an address to a taxi driver or negotiate a price with a “xe om” driver (man you pay to give you a ride on his motorbike). Getting to my internship meeting for the first time was more eventful that I would have liked, especially on an early Monday morning. I have started to enjoy trying out my broken Vietnamese with taxi drivers and on this morning in particular, my driver asked the typical initial questions like “where are you from?” but then skipped a few and went right to “Do you have a boyfriend?” I was happy that I picked up the words but surprised by the forwardness of his question. I replied that I did have a boyfriend and he asked his nationality, either Vietnamese or American. Not sure where the conversation was going at this point, I answered that he is American and the taxi driver wanted to know why he did not come with me to Vietnam? It was an unusual exchange and one that ended up sticking with me, especially after my taxi driver admitted to not knowing the way. So I led him to the street, paid and got out of the cab thinking that it would be easy to find my way. I ended up not being able to find it and I asked a well-dressed elderly man who did not know the way but asked around and taking my arm led me to the address. He was very sweet and I was excited to discover that he spoke French (he was the first Vietnamese man of the older generation who I encountered speaking French). He led me carefully through the early morning traffic, giving my arm little tugs when he thought I was going to walk in front of a moving vehicle, in my eagerness to be on the sidewalk again.

    Even at home I enjoy trying new foods and being in Vietnam has made me much more adventurous. Just the other day I tried snake and on another occasion, my roommate came home very excited about some wedding cake that her friend gave her. Curious, I watched as she unpacked two plastic bags of this sticky looking green and brow gelatin looking substance. She explained that it was wedding cake made of rice from the hai phong province; the cake is called banh phu the banh com. She ate it by pulling the dark green layer from the tan layer or the whitish layer (there were two different types of the cake). So I tried some and it tasted like mildly sweet rice jelly goo. I am not a fan and happily let my roommate devour the bags of cake.

    Themes have started to present themselves now that I have been here for two months. One of these is the problems that are created by the Vietnamese attempting to straddle their traditional culture and their desire to be modern. Stemming from their traditional belief that, “we are all one,” the Vietnamese continue to live by this idea. When Vietnam was still organized in Villages, people could not exist outside of their community. Not belonging to a village meant being homeless, not connected to any place or to any one. As a result, people in their villages demonstrated and follow the unique cultural expressions of their village. People, outside of their village, were identified by it but within their community they were recognized as individuals. People ask you where you are from so they can discover who you are, defined by the village you belong to, their communal traditions and beliefs, to whom you are attached. Today this idea causes problems. Location is still very important to the Vietnamese. One of the first things I am asked when meeting a new Vietnamese is always “where are you from?” This though, because I am a foreigner and not from a village, is not a sufficient question to be able to figure out who I am. They need more information, just like I can’t ask a Vietnamese person “where are you from?” and have Vietnam be an adequate answer to begin figuring out who they are. Just like I would not recognize the specific village/town/city they come from, unless it is one of the few I have heard of or visited, they usually do not know where Massachusetts is and never know where Hadley is. As a result, they generalize about Americans, as though we are all the same. Even if they did have an understanding of the town I come from, my town and the majority of the towns in he US are not made up of people belonging to the same political, economic or religious groups. My town does effect who I am, like my preference of rural areas rather than urban ones. I have found that Vietnamese youth, like my buddy from Ho Chi Minh City and my roommate in Hanoi, try to put me in this box labeled “American” and I do not fit with many of the qualifiers that they previously thought were characteristics of Americans. Their example comes from what they watch on MTV and gain from other internet shown, movies and the internet. I am frugal, do not enjoy going to loud and smoke filled nightclubs, or wearing minuscule clothing. I do not smoke or do drugs, and I like to enjoy my drinks instead of just drinking to get wasted. I am trying to show them a more real, diverse side of the “American” that the have created from the media. Just like they are all unique, so am I and location cannot be the only identifier one uses to figure out who someone is.

  • appelsina7 4:27 am on November 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    The Sounds of Dong Ho Printmaking Village 

    Wood Carving

    The wood block in the upper left of the photo is used to hit the nail that chips the extra wood away to create the fish.


  • appelsina7 4:50 pm on October 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is being uncomfortable. I have become comfortable here in Vietnam but there are moments when I am shaken by something I observe or something that is said. It can be as simple as learning that I can wander the city by myself, get lost for a while in the busy streets and meander my way back to an area that I know. There are some things that I will never get used to. I will never be accustomed to people throwing trash into the streets, or urinating in public. There are some cultural differences that I consider to be abrasive and learning how to respond effectively, so that I will neither offend nor feel poorly myself is an important skill to be developing. I was having dinner with some of my American study abroad group members as well as some of our roommates and three of their friends whom we had not yet met. We were getting to know the Vietnamese students, finding out what they study and what they like to do outside of school. They asked if we had boyfriends and we were answering. I was the only girl in the group with a boyfriend, so the Vietnamese students were trying to figure out why my friends weren’t in relationships. One of the Vietnamese guys, then made a comment about women needing to be in a relationship because even a weak man can protect them. I found this comment offensive, and understanding that Vietnamese culture tends to be very sexist I contained, what in the states would have been a scalding rebuke, and calmly asked him, “why does a woman needs a man to protect her and why would even a weak man be stronger than any woman?” He looked at me and smiled. I then heard one of my American friends say under her breath, “Wow this is not the time.” I was confused but let the conversation turn to other topics without an answer to my question. I wanted to know why my friend said that, so after dinner when we were walking back I asked them and they said, “it just was not the right time to be challenging the cultural norms when we were just meeting them.” Then they got defensive and walked away. I still believe that I was not challenging his beliefs by simply asking him about them. I did not say that he was wrong but only wanted to know why he thought women should be in a relationship and not be single. I wanted to know more about how Vietnamese people, as old as myself, view romantic relationships. This is why I came to Vietnam, to gain an understanding that I would not be able to, if I were to travel here on my own and for a shorter period of time. We are here to be immersed in the culture, I understand that asking questions and having discussions can be uncomfortable because it is those conversations that I find to be the most valuable. So when is it the right time to ask someone a question? Do I wait, like my friend suggested, until I know them better, to bring up the topic? I do not think I acted in a way that was offensive, I believe that it is best to ask the question when the topic is brought up naturally. If I had not said anything I would have felt more upset being left without a reason for such a statement. I don’t believe that in many of these cases that there is going to be a “right time,” if the question is controversial, no matter when you ask, people may feel uncomfortable at first but that does not mean that the questions should not be asked. I think it would be even more accusatory if I had waited for another time and asked randomly “so what are your views about the roles of men and women in a relationship?” Or if I had waited for an issue or problem to arise, so I would have to confront him directly, because of a comment that he made about me or someone else that I felt was demeaning or just plain rude. So this is one of the important issues that I have been mulling over. Let me know what you think. Have you had any similar experiences while traveling abroad?

    • Nancy Lowry 10:42 am on October 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Melissa – What an incredible conflict, and you wrote about it very movingly, thoughttully, respectfully, and clearly. I have no answers, but perhaps you might want to pose your questions again with the woman who commented at the table. or someone in your group that you trust. Nancy L [and Dover]

    • DougReilly 4:20 pm on October 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks so much for posting this, it’s very well written and thought provoking. There are no easy answers to your questions. Interhuman relations in the same culture are complex enough, let along putting a language and context between people. I think you handled the situation with thoughtfulness and care. If you met someone in the US with such attitudes, you wouldn’t pause over cultural considerations or because you just met them, necessarily. Why would it be different suddenly? This is the hard thing, balancing relativism and our innate sense of right and wrong. But I think that’s okay, cross-cultural dialogue is not always going to be smooth sailing. If it was, I don’t think either side would learn much. You’re not there to become Vietnamese, but better understand both the cultural context and the individual variations. And understanding often takes questioning or even challenging. What will the dissonance you provide as you refuse to go along with sexist ideas going to accomplish? Hard to know, but it might have been the first time anyone disagreed with the guy in question. Who knows if that will make him think…Anyway, thanks again for the post, it’s a great window into what it’s like to truly cross cultures!

    • sallyintaiwan 2:30 pm on November 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      So glad to hear you post this! On one hand, it’s certainly interesting to hear of the differences in ways of thinking about the roles of men and women in the family, society, and relationships. But I, like you, can’t get past being uncomfortable with certain “norms.” On the same subject, I’ve been told matter-of-factly that Taiwanese men are simply uninterested in and not attracted to “western women.” The reason for this being they are considered too independent, too stronger willed… at least that is the way it’s been put to me. I think your question was appropriate. It doesn’t sound like an attack, it sounds like an inquiry—simply a means for you understand a way of thinking a little better. I actually would have like to hear their answers!
      And by the way, I’m glad to be considered independent and strong-willed (:

  • appelsina7 9:29 am on October 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , senses,   

    A Sense of Three Weeks 

    One of the first things that I noticed about Ho Chi Minh City was that my senses were constantly being assaulted. The traffic was loud and smelly, as motorbikes, cars and taxis sped by. It took me about a week to feel confident enough to cross the street without that one moment of panic and the thought that, “Oh my God I am going to die!” After a man on a motorbike clipped me when he came up from behind me on the sidewalk, I realized that anywhere I can walk, motorbikes can travel too.

    I often woke up to the sound of geckos laughing on my ceiling, dogs barking and the construction that was happening next door. Even the rain is loud here. One minute it can be very humid and sticky, and the next the rain is coming down in torrents. It is one of the more soothing sounds that I enjoyed while in Ho Chi Minh City, along with the Buddhist man I sometimes heard singing off of his balcony from the building next door.

    Another quirk of the city is the burning of incense. Both in shops and on the street, there are pots of sand with red pieces of incense sticking out of them. When I saw one on the bus and asked what it was for, I learned that people can take the incense and burn it in front of the bus before it leaves, to promote a safe trip. Incense is burned on the streets so that wandering spirits who wish to cause accidents will be appeased and quieted. I don’t think this happens very often though, because I do not know how anyone could even take a piece of incense from its package hanging on the bus wall, before it speeds away. To live in Ho Chi Minh City was to be in motion, in sync with the city, harmonizing. I learned that though there are innumerable things to absorb, it is important to rest and take some time off. This allowed me to process and appreciate everything more the next time I went out exploring.

    The scents here range from those of foods cooking on the street, to rotting in the gutters. One of my favorite smells is one which wafts up from a man’s waffle stand. Stands like his appear and disappear regularly. The city is always changing and the food that you planned on eating every day until the end of your trip because it was so yummy, probably won’t be there tomorrow. Some stores open when others close, so even though you may walk up and down the same street, depending on the time of day it may look different.

    The people are very kind to foreigners. Every coffee shop I enter the people are friendly and want to get to know me. People are very eager to learn why I have come to Vietnam, whether I like it here and how long I will be staying? A woman at a dress shop I visited said, “Please come back! I can make anything you want! Tell all of your friends!” She was very sweet and because she was so kind, she made me want to tell everybody I know about her cute little shop and the friendly woman who works there. People are very eager to help me practice my Vietnamese. They may laugh at me sometimes, which took some getting used to, but I now know that it is only because they think my American accent sounds funny when I speak Vietnamese. It is also difficult to speak Vietnamese with people who don’t speak very much English because even when I try to speak Vietnamese, to them, it sounds strange because of my accent and they expect me to speak English. They do not expect foreigners to speak Vietnamese, so when I try and they listen, they have a hard time distinguishing between English and Vietnamese.

    Taste is also different here. I have tried many things that I wouldn’t usually eat, simply because I am in Vietnam. I have eaten snails which were yummy, as well as cow blood, in both soup broth and in jelly form. I did not like the snake that I ate but I was told that it was cooked improperly. I would not mind trying snake again when it doesn’t resemble and taste like rubber. I also wasn’t particularly fond of the mouse and the fried frog legs I had. There were many little bones in the mouse meat, which made munching difficult, even though it was in a tasty sauce. The frog was a strange texture, which reminded me of chicken and fish. I am also not a fan of squid, mostly because of the texture which is also sort of chewy. The flavors of Vietnam are full bodied and surprising. I have had the best scallops I have ever eaten out of a large seafood eatery, which was hidden down an alley.

    I was touched by Ho Chi Minh City. It being the first part of Vietnam that I was introduced to. I am already looking forward to returning in December, at the end of my semester abroad. For now though, I am in Hanoi and discovering another Vietnamese City for the first time. The results will follow soon!

    • DougReilly 4:41 am on October 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I swear I responded to this, but it must have been a mental response. This post is really evocative. I just spent 10 days in Vietnam two years ago but I can really relate and your piece brought me back to that short but unforgettable encounter. I think it would be really cool to write a follow up piece about the sensory experience of Hanoi. Having been in both (though only very briefly in HCMC), they seem very, very different places with different atmospheres. What are the sensations of Hanoi!

  • appelsina7 3:32 am on September 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Sign Challenge 


    Translation (A Special Thanks to Huy Kouan)

    Announcement: Training school for financial officials

    Commencement ceremony

    Training class for specialists (staff) in state management knowledge

    (At room B3.1, Second floor, B area (zone))

    I take classes a short walk away from the guesthouse where I have been staying for three weeks. There are other buildings around the building where I study but I did not know much about them until I took a picture of this sign and had it translated. Apparently all of the Vietnamese I have been seeing in business attire work for the state and are taking a class in the building right next to mine. Maybe I should try talking to them about Vietnam and their work here.

    The other day I was at dinner with a friend. We were sitting at the same table as a man with his family. I was very interested in what they ordered because I like to see what people here enjoy eating most. We started talking and I discovered that he was an immigration officer from Cambodia. I learned that if I am a little more out going with people I don’t know, I can have some very interesting conversations.

    Translation (A Special Thanks to To Thu Tra)
    University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh University
    Center of Economic Service
    Parking Lot Regulations

    1.  For students and business guests:

    • Move and park according to the regulations.
    • Keep the ticket with you, if the ticket is lost, notify the employee as soon as possible.
    • We don’t take responsibility for any personal belongings left behind.
    • No smoking, no littering, no fighting, and no elbowing .

    2. For the parking lot employees:

    • Wear uniform, name tag and work at the assigned position, absolutely no smoking.
    • Activelty help out the customers to park car at the right places.
    • Sell tickets at the assigned rate.
    • Make rounds and check on car on a regular basis.
    • Have to right to refuse returning vehicles in case of mismatching tickets or suspicions of a thief.
    • In case of lost tickets, only return vehicles upon seeing the proofs of ownership (ID, car registration form)

    I thought that this sign was interesting because it says in the parking regulations that fighting is not allowed but while I have been in Vietnam I haven’t seen anyone get angry to the point of violence. I saw a motorbike accident in which no one was injured and none of the people were angry at the individual at fault. They just picked up their bikes and drove away as though nothing had happened. I am surprised that in the regulations no smoking is listed twice, once for the students and once for the employees. People smoke everywhere here whether it is allowed or not, which was confirmed by the smoking guards working when I took this picture.

    • DougReilly 1:33 pm on October 1, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Those are great! It’s funny how something so simple can explain something you’ve been noticing but hadn’t yet formulated in your head as a question, like, “What are all these besuited people up to?” Imagine if you could read all the signs!

    • DougReilly 8:32 pm on October 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Congrats, Appelsina7, you’ve earned your Vere Sandals this week. Keep on walking talking and learning!

    • Tra 9:07 pm on October 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Congratulations!!! It’s funny I’ve seen those “parking lots’ regulations” sign all my life but never stopped to read until I helped you with this

      • appelsina7 3:39 am on October 4, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        I saw it and thought it might say something interesting! In the US we have tons of signs saying things like “Watch your step” but I hadn’t really noticed any of that type of interaction here. Since that wasn’t something I had noticed, when I saw the sign I thought that it must be important if it was instructing people how to act.

  • appelsina7 3:22 pm on September 17, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    I Couldn’t Pick Just One 


    A Woman steps off bike

    guts the fish that she had bought

    blood on the sidewalk.


    Mother and child fall

    together, hard, to the ground

    they get back up again.


    They smiled at me

    children wanting to be loved

    handicapped orphans.

    • DougReilly 7:13 pm on September 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      The first haiku really reminds me of Basho’s call for “low” imagery…that haiku is about the beauty in nature, which can also be brutal or even ugly. Great haiku!

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