As time moves on... Some of the people in my group's work is starting to come out and give other angles and ideas to the work that was done when we were there. Here are some great links to that work.
I've been texting everyday with one of my Vietnamese students. She tells me about her schooling and upvoming exams, her curiousity about America, and she writes poetry. I'm so honored by her friendship. She sent me this picture, she is the one in front.
We also had a VN reunion dinner. It wasn't the same with a/c but I miss and adore these people so it was amazing to see them again
After the Giant Buddha, Mel and I split up for the afternoon. I took the train to HK Disney and she went to see some of her old Mission haunts. I couldn’t imagine that I will ever be back here again, so may as well get my Disney Asia experience out of the way! I have now been to Disneyland, Disney World, Paris Disneyland, and HK Disneyland. WooT! It was amazing!! And different. It is weird, the things that you can’t quite put a finger one that were different. Of course there are the park differences, just the rides and stuff, but that is normal. The main thing with that was the Mystic Place and Mystic Manor instead of Haunted Mansion and New Orleans Square. Mystic Manor was a mix of Indiana Jones and Haunted Mansion and a cartoon white explorer and his mischievous monkey that opens a box and brings all the artifacts to life (night at the museum style) and the ride is going through all the halls and getting scared and trying to get them back in the box. The whole Mystic Place is his gardens and freaky stuff to see and do instead of New Orleans Square. But again, all that is just the park being changed a little to fit the space and be different for different areas, the main things that are different are the cultural things I think.
First, the part is only open 10:30 to 8:30 and honestly, by 7pm almost everything was closed up. Rides were still open, but they were a ghost town. None of the kiosks or stores were open and there weren’t staff or people anywhere. Almost all the lights were off and I got lost trying to get back to Main Street because everything was so dark. It is not the same as in America where people stay all day and night and you practically have to kick them out of the door.
Second, there are only 2 rides with fast pass, there are no Max passes and the lines are pretty short. I only waited in a line for 30 minutes once and that was because I just didn’t want to walk back later so I didn’t do the FP for HyperSpace Mountain and just waited for it. It isn’t super crowded and a lot of people there don’t go on rides. There are a lot of people there that are sitting off to the side or watching other kids or people and letting a small group of people ride the rides as they sit off to the side.
Third, when I went to the shows, people were all amazed at the things. Things that American audiences don’t even react to, the crowds were ooohhhing and aaaahing to. The 3D Mickey Music show, people were reaching out their hands to touch the 3D items and ducking from flying objects and squealing when the water or air puffed, it was just such a different experience than watching it in America. Same with being on the rides, people were squealing and laughing and having the time of their lives, even on the Winnie the Pooh ride or It's A Small World.
Fourth, everyone moves so slowly. No one is in any type of hurry to get anywhere. The lines move slowly, the pathways move slowly, the food lines move slowly, everyone is just relaxing and in no sort of hurry. I just kept thinking that my friend Erica would be losing her mind with all the wasted time!!
Fifth, the characters that are everywhere are not mobbed by adults. Actually, hardly anyone that isn’t a small child gets pictures with the characters. Only about 5 years old and down get pictures and they look kind of surprised when someone older gets in for a shot, but they do it. The characters also all have big masks, none of them have natural faces, even the princesses, I guess so they aren’t asian princesses? It seems a bit racist, but it is what it is.
Sixth, the parade was practically empty. I guess because the park is basically empty by the time it starts, there were all sorts of front row seats for the parade. It did start to crazy rain at the end of it, but that never stopped anyone at DisneyWorld. I don’t think that parades are things in Asian countries so I don’t think that they know what it means on the description, nor do I think a lot of them are multitime returners so they wouldn’t know to stick around for it.
Seventh, The food has its Asian flare, as you would expect, but even the American food they try to have, just isn’t quite right. They have hot dogs, but they are on a stick and split and roasted and that is how you are supposed to eat them. Or they have popcorn, but it is a little sweet or cheese or mix. No regular popcorn. There was one churro stand, but the churros did not taste good and I was sad. They also had fish balls and sushi and fried fish sandwiches and everything you can imagine with fish being in HK.
Eighth. Even though it is Disneyland, Mickey and Minnie are not the main characters on display, it is Duffy and Sallie Mae, the Disney Bears and their friends. There is Cookie and a bunch of them and instead of Mickey balloons and Mickey ice creams and all that, it was all Duffy everywhere you went. It was very weird. I mean, you still could find Mickey stuff, but Duffy stuff was first.
Ninth, the feel wasn’t the same. You could see all the Disney elements, but because the people didn’t seem to buy in and believe that it was the happiest place on earth and they weren’t mezmorized and excited, it seemed to take some of that away. People didn’t have on lots of ears and swag and stuff like in America. Everywhere you looked you didn’t see different sets of cute ears, or bags, or family t-shirts, it just gave everything a different feel. From what I saw in VN, people don’t have TVs and extra time and vacations and I think, to a lesser extent, this is the same for HK and parts of China. They are not as poor as VN, but they are workers, they don’t have extra time or money to sit around and watch movies and youtube and be sedentary like Americans. They don’t go on big family vacations and spend money on their families in such decadent ways as going to an amusement park, if they go on a vacation it is to see family in other cities. I don’t think that they dislike Disney, but I don’t think it is as ingrained on a cultural scale as it is here.I think there are rich families and groups that it is, and they go here and want to be like Americans and buy into the whole thing, but I don’t think it works for the millions.
Finally, It is pretty awesome to see all the things with the wilderness of HK behind it. Even with things cleared away, the wild is creeping in and it is kinda cool. There are some areas that aren’t in use and you can see them overgrown and the jungle sneaking back in. Like that Flintstones Amusement park that is abandoned? It could be this place one day...
Mel went on her Mission to Hong Kong, so since we were so close, we had to skin on over for a couple days. Hong Kong was amazing! To be honest, HK was what I expected VN to be. It was a little poorer, dirtier, busier, and less shiny version of America. But it was more Western and more modern. There were huge oversized pop culture things to take pictures with everywhere. And cool food things. We just had fun. HK has these HUGE apartment buildings that start really far off the ground and go so far into the sky, no one here must be afraid of heights. You can't be. And these apartments are in clusters so millions of people can live in tiny little areas. Even though HK is a group of islands, there is still so much green and undeveloped land, it is amazing and feels like a jungle still. We did not get a massage in HK. Things looked a little sketchy. They had signed that said "No Sex Services" and they dressed up in costumes that you could pick?? Ummm geez, why would anyone think you offered sex services? And then they were down a dark alley or up 3 flights of stairs. None were just right there on the street with open windows and chairs like in VN. So we didn't go there...even in search of a cultural experience.
Things were more expensive in HK so we didn’t shop a lot. But we did take a cable car up 6 miles to the tippy top of a mountain to a Monastery and then walk up 9 stories to the giant Buddha. We made it all the way to the top and I was super proud of myself. We also saw a funeral on that day and all the village came out in robes and sang and walked in procession to the cemetery from the monastery. It was a beautiful thing to behold. I will hold going to the giant buddha as one of the greatest experiences ever. Right up there with the Vatican, and Notre Dam. Amazing!!
When I was growing up, I always heard about the Vietnam war and the Vietnamese were villainized, like the enemy in every war. I heard all sorts of slang words for the people and all sorts of horror stories about my family’s time in the Maycon Delta and with Agent Orange and how awful ‘Nam was. I had 2 dads, several uncles, and lots of family friends that served in VIetnam and grew up in a world that hated an entire country and its people. As I grew up, I realized that there was way more to the story of of the VIetnam war and it was more complex and political and there was so much more around the war than the very small slice I had been given. I read about the anti war protests and about the civil war in VIetnam itself. About how people in America were torn about our involvement and it created a mini civil war within our country and no one really won the war. When the troops returned, they returned to distrust and fear and anger and repulsion. The advent of video cameras and TV and nearly live stream news reporting made it hard for propaganda to spin the war and each station and reporter was able to twist and turn their stories as they wanted to. This left mainstream America confused and angered at some of the atrocities of war that they never had to face before. The returning soldiers became the scapegoats for the horrors, even though they did not invent war or were by no means to the first to do these things. It was again, complicated.
As I planned by trip to Vietnam, I knew all these things. I knew that members of my family still held hatred and fear for the country that I was visiting. I knew that longtime stereotypes and misconceptions existed and that they feared Vietnamese still hated Americans and that I would be kidnapped or held hostage and tortured for my ancestors crimes during the war. But I knew this wasn’t true, I had spoken with many Vietnamese Americans in my life and I knew they didn’t hold this hatred anymore than I did. Of course, there could be a few outliers, like there is here, but not a Nation of holding on to hatred.
As I expected, my entire trip was full of love and acceptance and amazing hospitality and friendship. The Vietnamese people are so amazing and sweet and industrious and as we sat at dinner in or Home Stay in Mai Chau the owner said it was his 53rd birthday and he never thought he would have a house full of Americans and we must drink wine with him. He was sweet and kind and we drank his homemade wine to toast his birthday and he genuinely hugged us all for celebrating his birthday with him. He is the one who made us all bracelets and selected one each for us based on what he saw in us. So amazing in every way. This is an example of what we saw all around all the time, but Mel and I went to the Hanoi Hilton or Hao Lo prison in Hanoi and it got really hard.
Vietnam was French occupied in the late 1800s, which is why there are bidet everywhere. There may only be a hole in the ground as a toilet, but there is a bidet on the wall. That is also why there is delicious sweetened condensed milk in the coffee, and baguettes and croissants. During this occupation, some VN people wanted to return to a “free” vietnam, free meant comunist VN to these people, but they were happier in the pre-France occupied VN and wanted to return to it. So they began a rebellion and in that, they just wanted to go back to the way it
was. The French didn’t like this and went medieval and shut it down. They took over a village and made it a prison and Hao Lo was born. The French were not kind to the VN rebels, they used the guillotine to chop off heads and put them on a pike and warn off other rebels. They put rebels in isolation cells and shackles them down. They were kept like cattle in little rooms and tortures, given little food, no air, no privacy. It was not awful then, just like it was awful when it was used it the VIetnam war.
Many people were kept in the Hao Lo prison during the war, including John McCane, and not only Americans, but Vietnamese from the South that were on the other side of the war. It is not a place with warm fuzzy feelings and I immediately began to feel sick as we walked in. The cells were dark and the air was heavy and sick. Looking at the place where all these people were held prisoner made me sick to my stomach. As we walked around and learned about the whole area, it was awful. The area about the Americans had the positive “all Americans were treated like guests” angle that the Communist party propaganda machine requires, and it was just eerie to see. Everyone knows that isn’t true, but their own people were also held here, and that was just ignored. Then there was the healing gardens and it was an area with a huge temple altar and negative cement statues of bodies in captivity. I had to leave the area because I couldn’t breathe. The pain and the emotions were so deep and heavy there, it is like you could feel the bodies there, stacked as high as the walls. When I visited Auschwitz, I had the same feeling. Some places just can’t escape the number of deaths that were there. Hoa Lo is one of them. But there was more to this place than just the Vietnam War and VN and the USA and I am glad I got to see that. The wounds that the people here are recovering from are deeper and more jagged that I had ever thought of and it made me think about my own Native American roots and all the Colonialism all over the world. There is so much more to all cultures than the last 40 years and our arrogance to think that the last war could define how they are as a people could be defined by us, by my family and their few years here. It was eye opening, but not for the first time, remembering not to think that we are all that important, but it also felt like coming full circle and being able to close something that needed to be closed for my family. I wish that my Uncle James could have come back, but he has passed and he was never in a right mind to be able to do so. And I hope that others who have this hate for a country that they were forced to go to and didn't really get to see can come back and heal, or like me, their children can, and see that it is not the stuff of their nightmares, that was all manmade for a time that needed it to be. I was crying when Melanie found me and we decided that we had seen enough of the prison and needed some air conditioning and our Vietnam saving grace, Highland Coffee!!
When I set off on this journey, we were talked to by Professor La Plante about having individual projects and writing about something that interested us. This was mainly for the students that were going for credit, but it was opened up for us old folks too. I was thinking about the nail and massage culture that exists for Vietnamese women and why/how this became a thing. My nail lady here in SLC is Vietnamese and I have talked to her at length about my trip (she was so, so excited about me going) and about her coming to America (how she nearly died many times) and how she and most of her family and friends work in nail business. She had talked to me about how things work in her mother country, or is it Uncle country? And what she thinks make people go into the work there and how that is a hope for America and what that turns into if they make it. So I thought if I got my nails done and massages in VN I could talk to the women and find out their stories, what brought them into this work instead of something else and most importantly to what I am curious about, are they literate?
My first night in Hanoi, we went across the street from our Hotel and went to a SPA and got massage. I selected a Hot Oil Thai Massage with my friend Laura and a couple of our friends got foot massaged downstairs. We went upstairs and were laid down on low wooden pallets with rattan mats on top. The room was hot and muggy but as soon as she began the massage it didn’t matter. It was so, so amazing. The modesty rules don’t apply and I only had a tiny hand towel on and she would move and adjust me at any time that she saw fit. She stood on my back, kneeled on my butt, wrenched my leg up, she was on all types of fire to get my muscles loosened after my 20 hour flight!! She was not very talkative, nor did she want me to be. After we were done, I talked to her briefly with use of the owner who spoke English. She did not speak English and did not go to ENglish classes when she was younger. She could read Vietnamese, but never read books for fun. THey both laughed at me like I was a crazy person. She said she liked working at the SPA and that they would call when they needed her to come in so she could just stay at her parents store helping until that time.
Then we went to Vo Nhai and there was not a massage or nail spa there. There were places that said they were, but when we walked in and asked, they said no.
Next we went to Nam Dinh and in our Hotel we had a Massage VIP and we were very excited. My massage buddy Laura and I went up to the 14th floor and found out that the VIP meant, sauna, wooden bath, spa and massage. It seemed a little overboard, but we were in for the experience. Again, my lady spoke no English and we had a little bit of a time negotiating getting me unclothed and into the small shower sauna that was there. Yes she undressed me and then stuck me in a burning hot sauna. Let's remember that it is 90degrees outside with 90% humidity, a sauna was not what I thought I needed or wanted. I had no idea how long I was or wasn’t supposed to stay there? At some point, I began to feel dizzy so I opened the door and said I couldn’t anymore. She laughed and came and walked me like an old lady to the wooden bath. It was awkward again, as I am naked and she is walking me into the bath. She moved me how to sit, and then, she like cupped both my breasts and giggled. I don’t think it was mean or melcilious, it seemed like she had never seen big boobs. Well, then she scrubbed and scoured me and motioned for me to stand up. She walked me over to the spa tub where I laid out flat and she turned on the jets. She left me in there to soak with some bubbles, then she came over and scrubbed my entire body with a luffa. She also grabbed my belly and squeezed it, like you would with a toddler. It was a little unsettling. She then had me stand and she used the shower head to rinse all of me off. She got a little hand towel and toweled me off, even my hair. She got a comb and combed my hair as I am standing there naked. She then handed me my underwear and had me put them on and sit on the massage table. The massage was similar to the Thai massage, but without the heat or the oil. I was squeaky clean and the room was cool after getting out of the sauna. The only real thing that was different was that she did this weird choppy thing that sounded like she was beating me with wood boards. It didn’t feel like it, but sounded like it. I didn’t have a translator so I wasn’t able to talk to her and the front desk person didn’t speak English either. I got a translator to go up with me later and she helped me ask some questions, but we couldn’t find my lady. We talked to a few others and most of them did not speak English and they didn’t go to school past 12 and they were happy to work in a clean nice place that had uniforms. They also very rarely saw women, this was a very visiting men thing that the did. No one would answer if it went sexual or not. My translator did say that not very many women in VN get massages, but do go get their hair washed and nails done. Again, no one read for pleasure, except for instagram and/or Facebook.
Also in Vo Nhai, Cass and I went to a Massage SPA on the street that offered a lot of different options; however, those options clearly mattered none. We asked for 2 different things and got exactly the same thing. We had to wear little hankie shirts and shorts and we were in the same room we soaked our feet, then they start the foot tools on fire and scraped our feets. Then they began the wood chopping thing on our heads??? It hurt and I thought I might die. THey massaged us almost everywhere, but not. They also cracked all our spines. They do not have an issue with infringing on chiropractor’s jobs in VN. Then at the end, they rubbed our faces, and pulled up little pieces of hairs and pulled on them like guitar strings. It was crazy. It was a painful and good at the same time. My lady at first was super young and Cass’s lady kept correcting her and telling her things. FInally, she just walked out. Cass’s lady called on the phone and a much more thorough lady came in. She was great. The older lady was one of the owners of the place and she was trying to train the younger girl. She didn’t speak any English but used Google Translate on her phone. She did not understand Cass’ google translate back, she wasn’t able to read it and google translated back and we had to have it talk aloud to her. Again, we didn’t have a translator, so all my info is really just subjective conjuncture.
Mai Chau did not have any place for massages. Sadly. I guess we could have started a massage circle in the big all person bedroom we had...but we missed that boat. Next time.
Back in Hanoi, we went to the first place again and got foot massages. At this point, my feet were blistered and like elephant cankles, but the sweet ladies were very, very kind to my aching feet.
In the end, through the half assed research that I did, nothing of note could be written, but my research was awesome and the massages were like $8 - $10 a time and having a massage every 3 days was amazing and I need that in my life. Maybe not someone bathing me and grabbing my chub, but definitely the muscle relief I needed was amazing.
We had plenty of tourism time mind you...We had an entire culture to explore and experience. When we hit Hanoi, we went to the Ho Chi Mihn museum which was a crazy weird place. It was like a museum of modern art with some Communist propaganda. Uncle Ho is portrayed as a kind, gentle, slight man wearing sandals and a loving smile trying to love his country back to being whole. It was such a difference to what a Western War Hero is portrayed as. Look at how we few Patton, Churchill, General Lee, or Washington. They are seen as strong and decisive and commanding. In their uniforms ready to shoot or cross the sea or on their charging horses. They aren’t old or bald, even if they were. It is a little crazy. Also at the HCM museum was an area called the Artifacts of American Invaders. In there, there were relics of airplanes, uniforms, decks of cards, mess kits, pictures of American families etc. The way that it was written was super interesting, like these Americans just fell out of the sky and left these things and then left. There wasn’t very much about the war or any finger pointing (here) it was just like a time capsule. It was very odd.
In Hanoi, we also went to the Temple of Literature and as a reader and writer I loved that this exists at all. BUT it was in the first days of living in this humidity and I literally thought my head was going to pop off of my body. It was so hot.
After we taught the 2nd conference, we went to Nihn Dihn and got to have a total tourism day. It was amazing to see a different part of Vietnam. We went on a boat ride where the sweet little Vietnamese lady rowed us with her feet down a huge real life Jungle Cruise. We went by this abandoned house, but it wasn’t abandoned, people live there. We went by cute bungalows and lotus flowers, huge limestone cliffs, and real life cliff climbing mountain goats.
In Nam Dinh, we took an afternoon and went to Hang Phượng Hoàng. Hang Phượng Caves are these amazing natural caves that a company has turned into a little resort and blocked off some swimming holes and made stairs and handrails and benches and planted trees and grass and sold beverages and hot dogs on a stick for less than a dollar each. This was such an amazing place!! It was a beautiful cool water and the weather was just cooler up by the mountain. All of the people were so helpful to us climbing up the caves. There were 2 sets of caves, one was little and down close and the other was a huge hike that nearly killed the group up like Angel’s Landing. I didn’t do that one. Whilst we were here, in our bathing suits, so many of the people there had never seen nor spoken their learned English to a native English speaker so we were like massive celebrities. We were swarmed by people asking for our pictures and to take selfies with us and to ask us in the same format over and over again: “Hello,” Hello “My name is _____, What is yours?” Dina “How are you today?” No matter what I say, “I am fine. I am ___ years old. How old are you?” no matter what I say. “Thank you” and walk away. This was how they learned to have a social interaction and it happened over and over. I played my role and smiled and took selfies and thought it was cute how excited the kids were to see a foreigner, and that it was a little creepy how the men would pretend we were their white girlfriends (knowing they would show their friends or put it up on social media), and started to get annoyed by very pushy women who would try to pose you like a doll into positions they wanted you to be in. I wore a fake diamond ring, so I didn’t worry about if it might be stolen, but it became a big point of interest, women wanted to be seen in a picture where both my diamond ring and my fat could be seen. I also learned that being fat is an odd and treasured thing in a country where food is not plentiful. They would pat my stomach or grab it like they would a buddha statue, totally innocently, but like it would give them good luck and prosperity. Insanity!! So women would be stretching my diamonded hand around their shoulder and touching my fat belly for luck and trying to catch a selfie!! NOT OK!! My American need for a personal bubble began to kick in. I was OK with the kids and teens, but started to say no to men and women. So then we had sneaky selfies where they stood far away and tried to get us in their back cameras. It is just funny to be in the center of something like this when in America I am utterly invisible.
I am not a coffee snob. I drink folgers. Instant. Walmart. Basically I drink coffee for the caffeine and not much else. I like the delicious creamer and that is about it. No more. My trip to Vietnam has made me a Vietamese Ca Phe snob! Vietnamese coffee is all spicy and rich and smooth and delicious and then they mix it with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk and I die a million dies!! If you have never tried one, I don’t even know how to tell you how delicious it is other than maybe like a Chai Tea with a delicious dark roast coffee… maybe? I drank so many coffees. They have an Egg Coffee with is SCM whipped with an egg an put on a coffee, so freaking good. But just the regular old coffees were so good. Hot, iced, instant. All so good. Coffee Coke. They say Italy or France is the land of coffees, lies. It is Vietnam. I brought some Ca Phe home and now I will only buy VN coffee. I am a coffee snob. How will I live?? Coffee houses also became a great refuge for us as they were air conditioned and when we were thinking we might die of heat exhaustion, we would go sit in a coffee house and order an iced or frozen drink and just sit and cool off. Now, their AC is by no means our AC. Think of an outdoor restaurant that is kinda cool when you first walk in but you are still sweating as you eat, that is how the AC there works, but compared to the 97 degrees 95% humidity outside, it seemed like a deep freeze at the mall in Vegas to us. A ton of Mormon Moms and me finding our bliss in coffee houses around Vietnam. A story to go down in history.
I loved VN cuisine before I left. Husbits and I were engaged at Mi La Cai Noodle House, so it has been in my soul, but after being there, I am not sick of it and I love it even more. First big win is that I learned to eat with Chopsticks. It has been 40 years in the making, but I can finally do it! I mean, I am no 1 grain of rice at a time, but I am not starving!!
The food isn’t spicy, that is the most asked question that I get. Nothing ever was really spicy. But it is flavorful and fresh and delicious. We had hot Pho for breakfast everyday. That was not my favorite. It was really, really hot and I did not love have hot soup when I felt like I was dying. But it was very flavorful. Lunch and dinner was usually rice, some meat, and veggies, and soup to pour over the rice and meat. The veggies were not our usual veg but things like bamboo and banana flowers and boiled greens, and eggs (yes that wasn’t meat so it was a veg), tofu, and peanuts. Sometimes we have carrots or sweet potato tots or bean sprouts. Mostly the flavor was from the soup broth and the course salt and lime or the chutneys on the table you could add if you wanted. Some people complained about having too little of veg whilst we were there, but it was all good for me, I thought everything was good. I did have massive sugar cravings at first, there just aren’t the same sweets everywhere, but then I found choco pies, and everything was fine.
We had to buy water the whole time, even to brush our teeth, so it was hard to remember at times, but because it was so, so hot and I have never sweated so much in all of my life, it was easy to remember to drink and drink and drink some more. We had to plan ahead and buy bottles of water to have at night and the next morning because all the places didn’t just have 7-11 or Circle Ks. I mean, those places exist, but in the big cities and not just conveniently and we didn’t have a car or means to carry bit things of water. Just a different lifestyle.
The sweet people would give us their delicassis and sometimes, we weren’t the most grateful. Chicken feet with toenails may have been one of these times. A Dinner with a chicken head battered and fried may have been one of these times.
Also, the french colonial influence in the food is interesting. I am sure that is where the sweetened condensed milk comes in; but there are croissants and baguettes and SCM on buns and waffles and it was all delicious, even if not very prevalent.
There was a McDonalds, ONE, in Hanoi and they had regional food and treats. Matcha smoothies and coffees and cheesecakes. They also had food that wasn’t so American, but I didn’t go all the way to Vietnam to eat at McDonalds, so I didn’t try anything.
The way of in Vietnam is just so different from ours. Of course, in the different areas, Hanoi, Nam Dinh, Vo Nhai, Mai Chau, the ways that their life is different, differ from one another. But just the general way of life and common comforts and way that they see life are just different from my life and it is a sharp reality check. I do not want to pose it in a have and have not light, nor in a poverty and wealth light, because I think that is is demeaning and their is nothing about their lifestyle that deserves to be demeaned and so much about mine that does; but I know with modern Western eyes, that is not what would happen. I just want to focus on the ways of life being different and that as a spoiled American, a lot of those differences were hard on me and time after time, the strength and happiness of our Vietnamese interpreters was a harsh reminder what a shallow person I have become.
Hanoi is a big, bustling city with scooters and cars everywhere. But it doesn’t look like a big, bustling city in any Western country. There are people just sitting on plastic chairs and step stools on the street eating food that has been prepared in woks on the street over open fires. Little stores are in people’s houses, houses don’t have furniture. People just throw the trash in the street and people walk around it. Scooters don’t have any rules really and they drive every way on the street and ignore traffic signals and other cars. Whole families riding on the scooters without helmets, people use them like trucks carrying all the huge things they can carry. People don’t wear shoes all the time, and they don’t wear fancy clothes, they don’t commute to big office buildings where they work for other people doing mindless things. They farm, they make things, they make thread and sew things, they make food and sell it, they make souvenirs and sell them, they tend and kill animals, they are connected to the work and the land and to what money they make from it. They live in the same place that they give massages or sell cokes and water or food, They don’t spend time with make up and doing their hair and having a ton of extra stuff. They don’t have big closets or houses with lots of extra space. If there is extra space, they rent it out or it seems to go unused.
Everywhere we went, people were kind and generous. People would give us free tea at the Coffee Houses, at the Massage Places, at the hotels, at the little food places on the side of the street. Street vendors would warn us to hide our money and phones because they were honest, but others might not be. People would help us by telling us the best food and where to go to get the best food. They would use their own phones to use their Grab app to call us a car (Vietnam’s UBER) so we wouldn’t have to risk taking a cab. They would give us change back when we got confused with their huge amounts of money and overpaid them in Dong and they could have kept the excess. They hugged us when meeting us and offered coffee and tea and treats when they would meet us as the schools or other functions. Everywhere we went we were met with kindness and hospitality and above and beyond help without proof of anything. We asked if we could keep our luggage at a hotel for 2 days so we wouldn’t have to lug it around Hong Kong, the owner said yes, before we even explained that we would be staying at his hotel on the way back through.
When we visited Vo Nhai, the things were about the same, but less. Vo Nhai was a much smaller village and so all of the things that we saw in Hanoi were there, just on a lesser degree. You could see that people lived and worked in one room, that people parked their cars or scooters in their front rooms and slept on the floor. That there wasn’t much industry and that people did what they could and that the children were left alone while the parents were working. There isn’t air conditioning, there isn’t power, actually, we found out that the power was turned off a lot to make sure there was enough for government buildings and factories leaving the villages without power at unknown times for unknown hours. People lounged around in the heat of the day and sang songs and played games and enjoyed each other’s company when it is too hot to work. They work early in the morning and late at night, but have this great down time mid day.
In Mai Chau, an even smaller village in the mountain region, the same pattern was continued. It was the same, but more relaxed because there were less stores and less buildings and less places for people to work. They worked as farmers and ranchers and some went off and lived and worked off in the large factories like SAMSUNG and left their families, including small children, for weeks at a time to earn money there. The large groups of kids were kind of left with aunts or grandmas as the parents went away with cell phones and only minor supervision because the aunt or grandma is running a Home Stay or keeping the family restaurant going.
In Mai Chau they used banana leaves as wash clothes, as dish rags, as sponges, as toilet paper. Basically, if we use a piece of material for it, they use a banana leaf. They also just slept on mats on the floor that they would move in the morning and worn the same clothes day after day. They went down to the river to swim in the water in the afternoon and walked to their old ranch to pick mangoes and avocados for a special treats. The whole thing is just worlds away from going to Disneyland or planning a vacation to Europe to spend thousands of dollars on excess.
The thing is, their lives are just simpler without so much of the trappings that my life has. They don’t have a ton of clothes to wash and dry and pick what to wear and with who and when and where to drive and who to invite where and why. They aren’t worrying about getting their kids to 4 different afterschool programs or me to 3 different jobs. They aren’t running to different places that are 45 minutes apart but everything just minutes from where they live. They make and eat simple things and they don’t worry about affording to go eat at fancy restaurants and getting their nails done, hair dyed, and their existential crisis about if their job is fulfilling. They also just kind of let the kids run around and play and be free. They didn’t hyper watch over them or try and over parent them, but allowing them to be kids. That is so against a lot of our Western sensibilities, but look at the Vietnamese people as a whole, the are kind and generous and hospitable and giving and hard working and this way of life has led to this being the national personality.