Thursday, February 21, 2008

Modern Vietnam

I'm gonna keep it real.

Vietnam is not about pretty beaches and lush rainforest, picturesque villages with artisans and craftspeople, developing cities with bustling neighborhoods full of individual personality and charm. It's about toil and grime and staying off the streets by hawking worthless knock-off shit to westerners.

It's about catering to all the fat, white tourists stumbling off their tour busses as they chug from town to town. It's about "Good Morning, Vietnam" t-shirts and authentic vietnamese lacquer "art" galleries and those rice paddy bamboo hats. It's a caricature of the worst kind because the Vietnamese in these villages don't care about their national image, they're trying to make a buck. And the tourists are promoting this fucked up cycle of what Vietnam "is".

We've quietly mentioned these observations to each other and have tried not to let it affect our overall perception of the place but it is creeping in. It's depressing really. We've tried to make light of the fun/scary things that have happened, like the bus incident (which really was both fun and scary simultaneously) or to focus on the food, which is the real reason we came. But it's hard when you're constantly face to face with misguided cultural supply and demand every second of the day.

Vietnam, we hardly knew ye.


Elizabeth said...

I understand how all this can get to you, so I just wanted to write a note about why I really love Vietnam. (I hope this doesn't come off preachy because that's not how I mean it. I've just thought about this a lot and it's not often I have friends who are experiencing the same things I did.)

No, Vietnam isn't about beaches and when I think about the jungles, I mainly think about the terrors of gorilla fighting. And the villages... I just wonder what could have been... Most villages were destroyed by the French then finished off by the Americans in our parents' generation. (Hoi An was one of the few that were spared) They spent most of the last century as a tiny undeveloped country fighting for autonomy against mega global superpowers and somehow - the spirit of these amazing people, the same spirit which drives those entrepreneurs who are now hawking "Good Morning Vietnam" t-shirts to rich fat tourists like you and me - they won their independence against every odd imaginable. These people beat the French imperialists, the American hegemony, AND THEN the Chinese. And NOW, surviving a (somewhat on-going) experiment with Socialism. (they're also the ones who stopped the genocide in Cambodia which we ignored.)

It's really insane if you think about it. They suffered so much to earn and then keep their autonomy and be able to have their own little businesses. Hell yes - selling crap to their former enemies and making a profit. They have rebuilt their country that was bombed to bits and poisoned by chemical weapons and life has improved. If you look at the numbers, like child survival rates, they are incredible.

Vietnam is not sitting around feeling like a victim or crying for their iron rice bowls. The people are out starting their own little businesses and working hard to improve their lives. This is what I admire and love about Vietnam.

Isn't life for most people about having stable work, so they can provide for their family and most importantly, have hope for the future? I saw that in Vietnam, despite a recent history that would leave me crying in bed. Charm and individualism will come a little bit later. Just give it time. It's there in the gorilla-jungle-fighting-entrepreneurial spirit that's in every vendor, stall, and tourist company.

Mad props to the Vietnamese.


Woods said...

Your entry about Vietnam is how I felt about being in Thailand...

Sean said...

I love it. i want a good morning vietnam t. (M).
Are cultures really all that?