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  • appelsina7 6:51 am on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , identity, , , , , vietnam   


    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
    Tags: , , , vietnam   

    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.


  • explorewithasmile 9:56 am on October 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ngo, , vietnam, war   

    Quotes from an American Vietnam War Veteran 

    Please think deeply about what I shared to you all, make any comments you may like and ask any and all questions.

    Here is the link to Project Renew: http://www.landmines.org.vn
    It has a wonderful video explaining the project in detail: http://www.landmines.org.vn/galleries/videos/video_01.html

    Thank you so much for watching

    : )

    • jhboisselle 1:49 pm on October 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for the thoughtful and provocative posting. It’s so powerful to hear first person accounts, isn’t it, and equally compelling then to take on the responsibility of representing another’s voice. The presence of NGOs and their varying missions, scopes and sustainability is an area that I’d love to hear more about as you interact with more individuals and groups!

    • Ellen 2:20 pm on December 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Great post, Taylor. It speaks to some of the issues we were wondering about during my visit. What a great opportunity to hear about NGOs first hand.

  • explorewithasmile 3:44 am on October 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , vietnam,   

    STORM! – Eastern Coasts of VN and U.S. 

    This is not the best video (his Vietnamese accent is horrible), but a good overview of the storm that is hitting Vietnam right now.

    Even though we are half way around the world – both Geneva, NY and Ha Noi, VN are bracing for a storm today!

    • Ellen 4:01 am on October 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Son-Tin vs Sandy!!

  • appelsina7 4:50 pm on October 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , vietnam   


    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 (:

  • explorewithasmile 3:01 pm on October 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , vietnam   

    Challenge 3: Map My Route 

    I decided I would show you all my morning workout routine.

    There are some downs to living in the university student district of Ha Noi, but a major up to living here is the fabulous park that is a quick jog away from our student guesthouse. The park is filled at all times of day with all sort of Vietnamese people both male and female doing various kinds of exercise like jogging, ballroom dancing, yoga, tai chi, zumba and even working out on the jungle gym!

    Almost every morning I go for an early run to the park. I run 1.5 times around the lake where I then stop at a jungle gym area to do lunges, squats, pushups, situps, pullups and other exercises on some of the equipment. Afterwards I run back the way I came home to the guesthouse for a quick shower before class.

    My Route

    Sometime other female students and I get funny looks and comments in Vietnamese, but people have started to get used to some of us working out consistently. Even the guys at the jungle gym area are getting used to us and inviting us in to the rotation on the pullup bar!

    The ideal women in Asian cultures, not just Viet Nam, are thin and muscle-less. So, for William Smith athletes it can be a bit awkward and sometimes uncomfortable to work-out and be ‘big’ here. Even still, there are a lot of Vietnamese women at the park participating in activities like dancing – I guess to stay thin!

    : )

    • DougReilly 3:37 pm on October 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I’m sure in the countryside you see some strong women. I recall some old ladies wielding machetes that I wouldn’t mess with. The topic of body image is very interesting, as is the thought that the Vietnamese guys you work out with may talk for many decades of the Amazonian American women that could beat them up! 🙂 Nice job using Google Maps to chart your run!

    • explorewithasmile 3:54 am on October 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Countryside women are definitely strong, but still super thin- I can’t find muscle definition on them anywhere, but they sure can carry a very heavy load in those baskets! The body image issue in Vietnam is very interesting; weight is talked about constantly in a very public sphere of discussion. Fat = money (and good cook!), but the ideally beautiful woman = thin, pale, weak. So generally in Vietnam, Americans are VERY BIG and perceived as VERY RICH!

  • explorewithasmile 12:45 pm on October 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , photo, vietnam   

    Challenge 2: Signs 

    Better late than never, right? I hope so.

    I found this iconic propaganda poster at the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Ha Noi. It was used to help fuel the unification movement in Viet Nam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh first against French colonialism and then, perhaps more importantly, against American aggression.

    The words (without proper accents) “độc lập thống nhất hòa bình hạnh phúc” in English means “Independence, Unification, Peace, Happiness”.


    Makes you think, huh?

    • DougReilly 3:33 pm on October 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Ho Chi Minh is a fascinating character. I loved visiting his house on stilts in Hanoi. I also like to think about his time in the US as a younger man, wondering what he though about us and if he ever had any inkling that we might send whole armies to kill him! Otherwise, it is interesting to see that politicians everywhere find great value in carrying small children in front of the public!

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