Vietnam! (Happy Tet!)
Vietnam was beautiful chaos. We arrived a day late due to strong winds that forced us to stay in Hong Kong an extra day (sadly we were not let off the ship even though we were docked there). Even though we arrived late, we had to leave on the same day. That just meant we had to make the best of the time we did have in port! (and like every other place we went to, i'll just have to come back some day)
That first day I went on a city tour. My roommate Alyssa and some other friends were also in attendance. We went to City hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post office, the War Remnant museum, the Jade Emperor Pagoda- complete with dancing dragons- and drove by flower street (Which I later went back to and explored).
The War Remnant Museum is not for the faint of heart. There is a large room dedicated to the deformities in Vietnamese people caused by Agent Orange, a herbicide used by America in the Vietnam War (Known as the American War there). There was also a good deal of anti-american sentiment and propaganda. This poster featuring US presidents is a good example:
I found it interesting how different countries frame their wars- A couple years ago I visited a Vietnam War Museum and memorial in New Mexico that was focused on the young American soldiers who lost their lives in the war. The conclusion I have come to is this- frame it any way you want: war sucks. In the following days I visited the Cu Chi tunnels (which were used in the war) where we talked- through rough translation- to a war veteran. He seemed proud of his country and their victory. The tunnels were very impressive and we were shown how the soldiers appeared to vanish into thin air. Here's a video I took of a demonstration:
The same day we did the Cu Chi tunnels we visited a Disabled Children's Center and painted a wall. They greeted us with huge smiles and a plates of snacks. We painted the wall and spent some time playing with the kids, but it honestly felt very forced. Something we discussed many times during this voyage was the idea of voluntourism. We passed out snacks to the kids, painted a wall, and a small donation was included as a part of our program, but I still couldn't tell if we were really making that much of a difference. Some of the students who came on the trip immediately began taking pictures with the kids. I just don't understand the idea of taking pictures with kids you barely know just to proclaim how good of a person you are on social media. The truth is, we just painted a wall and caught a glimpse of those kids lives. I don't think you can make a lasting change by coming and going in a day- but I do think that the experience made me think more about how I can make a real difference. Maybe that is the real "Impact" in these IMPACT programs?
Something major that I have not yet mentioned is that we were there during Tet (Vietnamese New Year) and everything was decorated beautifully in reds and yellows (the colors of new year). The children's center was also decorated for new year and our host wore a beautiful red and yellow dress. Almost everywhere I went there were beautiful decorations and masses of people.
We also went floated down the Mekong Delta one day and stopped along the way at a couple different places. There was a hut where bricks were made, a place where coconut candy was made, a stop for actual coconuts, a place where we stopped for tea and bought pointy hats, and a stop at a restaurant where we got to make our own coconut-pancake things (which were really good!).
Other adventures included multiple stops for Vietnamese coffee (So good! they use condensed milk), Rooftop bars (Vietnam is famous for them so I gave it a chance. Really nice views), Pho (prounced Ph- uh. I was on a mission to find noodles and I was not disappointed), and flower street during Tet (lots of lights and colors. and flowers).
The traffic was also crazy. Apparently there were more people than usual due to Tet, but there were motor bikes everywhere and crossing the street was almost a death wish. The technique is to find an opening and go without stopping. I didn't perfect that until Myanmar (Burma). Vietnam was colorful, and noisy, and had delicious food. We were there during one of the most colorful times of the year and I wouldn't have had it any other way.