Tagged: Culture Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • sallyintaiwan 8:44 am on November 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Culture, garbage, , ,   

    Don’t Be Deceived! 

    The first time I heard this song played in the streets of Taipei I was so excited to discover that Taiwan, like so many American neighborhoods, had ice cream trucks! What a fun way to practice ordering in Chinese! I promptly walked across the hall in my dorm to ask if anyone else wanted to get their 50 Kuais out and order some with me.
    I was disappointed to hear from my friend, who is half Taiwanese and has spent summers, vacations, etc., in Taiwan, that what I heard was NOT an ice cream truck. REALLY not an ice cream truck. What I heard was a trash truck… But why would a trash truck need a theme song? In Taiwan one does not simply leave the trash to be picked up mysteriously, and without thanks. If you want to be rid of your garbage you must wait outside for the truck and help load it yourself (by this time, of course, you’ve already separated everything completely into recycling, trash, and compost… the compost truck follows close behind the trash/recycling truck, often with it’s own slightly different theme song.) The song helps people know when the truck is on its way and to be prepared. Every trash truck has the same song and you will always hear it before you see it! I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t heard this tune, but I no longer think, “Ice cream!” I wonder what will come to mind when I hear a real ice cream truck when I come back to the States…

    I’ve been trying to catch this clip ever since I first heard it but was never prepared in time to catch it! I finally got this video clip in Hualien this weekend (a county on the east coat of Taiwan famous for its scenery)—it turns out Taipei City isn’t the only area that uses this system! If you ever come to Taipei you will, with out a doubt, hear the trucks—don’t expect any ice cream!

    • Rob Beutner 6:01 pm on November 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      That is an interesting cultural difference. It is not a leave and forget situation. Cool post on an aspect of another country that is always interesting (at least for me) to learn about.

    • Kristyna Bronner 5:55 am on November 14, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Wow! That must have been so disappointing. It’s really funny how associations we have from home can completely change after spending time in another country! I doubt you’ll feel tempted by ice cream trucks once you’re back home.

  • appelsina7 7:09 am on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Culture, , , ,   


    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
    Tags: Culture, , identity, , , , ,   


    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 4:50 pm on October 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Culture, ,   


    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 (:

  • at5203 8:57 am on October 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Culture, , ,   

    First Blog 

    Hello world I sincerely apologize for the absence of my blogs. I will promise to keep posting on a weekly basis. So far my journey in Vietnam has been such a beautiful and enriching experience. Vietnam is a country deep rooted in folklore and spiritual energy. Personally I have always been attracted to the mystical and spiritual side of the world. The Vietnamese are strong believers of good fortune and good luck and that is why they have shrines in their houses and stores. The shrines are suppose to bring good luck and also avoid the presence of evil. The picture below shows as shrine inside a temple.  Most people pray to the shine and wish for good grades, good fortune, and good health. I hope my prayers for good grades have kicked in!ImageImageThis picture is the shrine inside the house of a Vietnamese buddy.  Her family’s hospitality was amazing and the food was delicious.ImageI have to warn you that before you guys judge this meal was probably one of the best that I have ever had. Although this is not a picture of a shrine it is meal eaten only at the end of the year because it is suppose to bring good luck.  However if you eat it at the beginning of the year you will receive bad luck.  Can anyone tell what it is yet? It is dog meat! Yum. 

    • DougReilly 3:30 pm on October 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Glad to see you up and running on the blog. I applaud you for being open minded and in this case, culturally relativist. The distinctions we make between pet and meal, companion and nourishment, is culturally bound and varies from culture to culture to a huge degree. I look forward to more daring and insightful posts from you! Doug

    • Tatianna Jasmine 5:29 pm on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Adrian!! Kudos to you for trying dog meat. While I was in Vietnam I could never get pass the idea of eating a dog. I am so glad you are being adventurous. Keep it up, i’d love to see all fo the other cool things you have been up to

  • Sasha 10:55 pm on December 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Culture, , , ,   

    Dear Japan… 

    Thank you for:

    1) Teaching me how to bike in a typhoon

    2) Letting me be a geek

    3) Pan (“pastries”)

    4) Making toe-socks cool!

    5) Teaching me how to ride a bike in a skirt

    6) Having streets so clean you can eat off of them

    7) The transit system

    8) Teaching me how to cook rice

    9) Showing me that the only big things in Japan are the spiders and the crows

    10) Window blinds. They are completely necessary, especially when the sun rises at 6 am. Every. Single. Day.

    11) Making bowling common (Yes. Bowling is in fact a sport!)

    12) No real cheese, regular milk, or index cards (anywhere!)

    13) Nice construction workers

    14) Japanese music

    15) Teaching me what nato is

    16) The most amazing food ever!

    17) Black swans

    18) Japanese doughnuts (which taste exactly the same as American doughnuts)

    19) Octopus tentacles

    20) Making history interesting

    21) Teaching me that it is perfectly acceptable, in fact encouraged, to wait until the cross walk says to “walk” rather than chancing it with passing cars

    22) The most lax airport security

    23) Kaitenzushi

    24) Colorful cars, buses, construction vehicles, and garbage trucks

    25) Motorcycle gangs dressed up as Santa

    (I’ve limited myself to only 25 things I would like to thank Japan for, as my list could go on and on.)

  • Sasha 11:21 am on September 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Culture, , ,   

    A Minority–Me? 

    I love being a minority. I know what you’re thinking: I’m a white, American girl. How could I possibly be a minority? In Japan, I probably stick out the most. Blonde hair and pale skin doesn’t exactly blend in too well with the Japanese. But I don’t actually mind. I don’t care that I’m stared at when I’m waiting for the train at the station, or when I’m sitting with a bunch of people at a restaurant. I see people’s sideways glances as I pass them on my bike, and watch as little kids point my way as I walk up and down the aisles at the market. I’ve also found that I value not knowing the language that I’m currently submersed in. I like looking at signs, mostly in かんじ (kanji), and not knowing what is being said or advertised, and walking by people and not understanding everything they’re saying. Even when they try and speak with me, their Japanese words sometimes all running together in ways I can barely comprehend, I still marvel at their native language.

    When I finally started my にほんぶよ (Nihon buyo: Japanese traditional dance) lessons, I didn’t really think too far into it. I was excited, of course, to be learning a traditional Japanese art, wear a traditional Japanese      ゆかた (yukata) and learn to properly hold a traditional Japanese fan. I somehow forgot that my teacher wouldn’t be speaking English. The first time I visited the りょかん (ryokan: Japanese style inn), I accidentally interrupted my せんせい’s (sensei’s) lunch. Strike one for awkwardness. Strike two for staring in awe as my teacher and her other students spoke to me in rapid Japanese. Strike three for growing up in America and being too embarrassed to dress in the traditional garments in front of the other women. I deserved to be laughed at after that one.

    I soon discovered that it’s relatively difficult to learn a dance with head movements and tilts while still watching the teacher. Yes, she was (I’m assuming) saying aloud the movements we were supposed to make, but all I could pick up was the occasional ひだり (left) and みぎ (right). My せんせい took to prodding my head in various ways and pushing my legs and arms into their proper positions rather than merely saying what I should be doing. Her encouragement was appreciated.

    While it’s still hard to learn the dance moves without vocal instructions, I’ve found I prefer it this way. They don’t seem to mind my minimal vocabulary, or my obscure hand gestures when asking a question. In turn, I actually enjoy watching them laugh at my mistakes and smile when I finally get something right or understand what they’re saying. To me, being different here is good; it’s a learning experience. I’m still able to understand people and create friendships despite the incredible language barrier. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc