These past weeks have also been great because we are starting to branch out and make new friends. We were able to go to a coffee talk that was hosted by one of our roommates clubs. The issue on the table for discussion was gender issues in Vietnam. This was an eye opening experience for sure. The Vietnamese youth are modernizing with a more western mindset, yet the country has such a generational divide that these young adults feel frustrated. They can’t break free from the traditional old values, yet want to desperately explore being young and free. In the United States we certainly take all aspects of our education for granted. They do not have health class here in Vietnam, which was a huge issue that was discussed. I wish in the United States more students were inspired to go and just talk about issues like this that pertain more to the States or even other international issues. We had a great time at the talk and at one point they had to dress a boy as a girl and a girl as a boy. With no one volunteering, I raised my hand and the girls had a great time making me a tie and mustache. Since that talk we have seen some of those girls since and we went and played lazer tag with them.
This past weekend all of us went to Mui Ne for a fun beach excursion. It was nice to get out of the bustling city life. We got to sit on the beach and take a cool tour of the Fairy Springs, the Red and White sand dunes, lotus lake and a fishing village. All the sites were pretty cool, but the Vietnamese sand dunes could not compete with the ones in Dubai. Although in Vietnam we got sleds to go sliding down the dunes. I was completely covered in sand by the end of the day. Mui Ne was very beautiful and we all had a great time.
I have now also been on a motorbike! It is truly terrifying the first time you do it, but there is a method to their madness. You just have to go with the flow. I met the girl who was taking me on her motorbike only seconds before hopping on the back of her bike. I was clutching her so tightly that I think at one point she turned around and asked me to loosen up and I was like please just look at the road. After surviving my first ride, Khuyen was excited and decided to take me on a night ride to see the city light up. While traveling by motorbike is not my first choice, it is certainly is an experience.
These past few weeks have been so amazing. I have now been out of the country for a month and time is flying by. We just booked our spring break trip to the Northern cultural hotspot Sapa. Our midterms are just around the corner as well. While all of these sites have been so cool to go to, some of the most amazing snippets have been just looking out the window on our bus as we travel from place to place. Witnessing every day life and seeing the rural workers in the fields gives you a better sense of the unique culture of Vietnam. The poverty level is astronomical and some of the images are very depressing to see. Children in the streets begging, large families living in small one room houses and old women laying in garbage are just a few of the sad images that I have seen. Interestingly today in our Vietnamese studies class a communist party member came to speak to us about the Vietnamese political system. He trains party members and his outlook on the poverty level was quite interesting. He claimed that the party has policies installed to help these poor people, but there needs to be poverty for the economy to grow. Personally I haven’t seen a lot of efforts being made to help these people out and neither has my roommate Khuyen who has spoken adamantly about how much she hates the government here. This trip is continuing to broaden my horizons and I am enjoying every moment of it.
This past weekend we got to go to some famous war sites with both an American War Vet and a Vietnamese War Vet. Both men were very eager to share their stories and it was interesting to hear what they had to say. Both deeply regret the war and the negative repercussions that both America and Vietnam has had to suffer. The first stop was Kim Phuc’s house. She was the young woman in this iconic picture that shook the whole world.
Her life was turned upside down when her village was bombed and she was showered with napalm. Undergoing many surgery’s, Kim’s life was eventually saved, but there was a time that a lot of doctors thought the burns were too bad to overcome. Watching the footage of her skin falling of her body was horrific and in one clip there was a mother carrying her baby who was burned to death. Visiting her house right on the road of where the bomb dropped was surreal and while Kim now lives in Canada, her relatives run a little coffee shop in the house. They show the movie about Kim’s life and how her life since the bomb has progressed from being an innocent girl to now a piece of war propaganda.
Next we were off to the Cao Dai temple. Cao Daism is an old religion that was established in Southern Vietnam. Those who follow this religion are on a spiritual journey to free themselves from the cycle of birth and death. The temple is a beautiful site. Then we were off to the famous Cu Chi tunnels. This was an under ground network that runs throughout the country. These tunnels were the Vietcong’s home base during the war. All of their fighting was stealth and the American troops were often caught off guard by the guerilla fighting strategies. The Americans did figure out that the Vietcong were hiding under ground, but because the tunnels were so well hidden the Americans found themselves struggling to find the entrances to this massive underground database. One way to access the tunnels was through the river. Underground they had everything: layers of rooms where families lived, and even a hospital for their injured troops! There were meeting rooms where the operations for the Tet Offensive took place and they even had kitchens. The Vietcong came up with a brilliant system for letting the smoke out of the tunnels without giving themselves away. Through a layer of chambers the smoke slowly dissipated until just a wisp of smoke was released on the ground above. It was scary to see how the Vietcong used the jungle to their advantage. In one exhibit they show how the traps worked if you stepped on one. Anyone who stepped foot in one of these traps suffered a slow and painful death. For example there was a trap called the see-saw trap. If you stepped on it you fell into a ditch and the spiked boards caught on to your skin and swung you up and down only to fall on more spikes when your skin was torn through.
We got to crawl through the tunnel as well. This was really cool and the tunnel was so small. It has even been made wider to fit tourists, but I don’t think a lot of average Americans would be able to fit through the newly fashioned tunnels. This site was certainly eye opening because the Vietcong’s style of fighting is never taught in America. There are still bomb ditches where American bombs were dropped and in the central region there are still many land mines that have killed many people in recent years.
While Vietnam’s history is ridden war and destruction, the country’s future has had to face a completely different kind of battle. The reconstruction of Vietnam since the war has been somewhat of a rocky road. The country is not only caught amidst international power struggles, but it also finds itself fighting internal battles as well. Tourism has become a huge economic pull for Vietnam, yet it is also extremely controversial. The image Vietnam has chosen to promote in many of its tourist attractions allows for tourists to fulfill phantasmal ideas they hold about the war. Yet, the country also wants to promote themselves as “more than just a war.” With the pressure and desire to become a world power, Vietnam has placed itself into quite a sticky situation.
Scholar Victor Alneng argues that Vietnam’s tourist business promotes ideological ideas that westerns have about the Vietnam/ United States war. He calls this understanding, “Phantasmic” The Cu Chi tunnels is a perfect example of this phantasmic understanding foreigners dream of. While it is a historical site and that played an important role in the American War, it has also been turned into an amusement park. There is a hotel there and other tourist attractions, and most controversial of all, a stop on the trail where you could pay $2 to shoot a huge gun. Here is where Vietnam’s future identity is muddled. This tourist attraction has pulled large groups of Westerners in because it plays up this fantasized idea about the war. These envisioned images people have engrained in their mind about the war such as the heavy artillery and the chemical weapons come from Hollywood films and westerns expect to have that sensation of war when they step foot in Vietnam. While Vietnam is making money off these tourists, the country only seems to be plunging its image into this western obsession with the war. By doing this, the country’s global image is tainted and the country’s wishes to move past the war cannot be met due to country’s creation of a tour-able place.
Overall, I believe that Vietnam has every right to remember the war in any way they want. The war left the country in ruins and the damage is still present today. There can be a lot learned from tourist sites such as the Cu Chi tunnels, but you must be careful with what kind of image you are promoting. If Vietnam continues to support the fantasized ideas that Hollywood projects, then the country will never truly be able to move forward. Maybe Vietnam shouldn’t focus as much on the war as the main attraction for tourists, yet the country makes money off war because war sells. If Vietnam did minimize the focus on war there is a risk that people would be less inclined to visit thus eliminating some cash flow to the country. Quite an interesting juxtaposition.
The deadline for the Freeman-ASIA study abroad scholarships is quickly approaching!
Freeman Awards for Study in Asia (Freeman-ASIA) provides scholarships for U.S. undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need to study abroad in East or Southeast Asia.
Student Application Deadline – April 4th, 2012. Adviser Endorsement Deadline – April 11, 2012. Applicants should have a minimum 2.8 GPA. The program’s goal is to increase the number of Americans with first-hand exposure to and understanding of Asia and its peoples and cultures. Awards of up to $3,000 are available for summer programs.
Award amounts range from a maximum of $5,000 for a semester/quarter program to a maximum of $7,000 for an academic year program.
Freeman Awards for Study in Asia (Freeman-ASIA) U.S. Student Programs Institute of International Education
809 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017-3580
Tel: (212) 984-5542
Fax: (212) 984-5325
Enter for a chance to win great prizes, including a trip to Washington, DC to attend the CET 30th Anniversary Celebration on May 10, 2012!
- All contestants must have completed a CET semester, summer or JanTerm program.
- All contestants must be registered on the CET Alumni Record.
- Alumni may submit up to three photos. While photos should fall into at least one of following categories, we encourage alumni to submit images of special memories or moments that they feel best represent their CET experience.
- Places (architecture, scenic views, places of interest): Photos should show host city sites of interest, or destinations visited during a CET program excursion. Photos may or may not include people.
- Engagement: Photos should show CET students interacting with the local community in everyday life. Photos may include CET roommates or faculty, or members of the local community.
- Culture & Customs: Photos should show local celebrations, festivals, rituals or events.
- Academics: Photos should show classroom settings, guest lectures, extracurricular courses or program excursions.
CET has an array of fantastic prizes for the winning photographers. The first place prize is a trip to Washington DC (hotel and flight) to attend the CET 30th Anniversary Celebration on May 10, 2012!
- April 16, 2012.
- Winners will be announced April 23, 2012 on the CET blog.
- This contest is open to CET alumni only.
- Please submit high resolution JPEG photos only.
- Please submit no more than three submissions per alumnus.
- Photo must be submitted as attachments via email to: cetacademicprogramstv [at] gmail [dot] com.
- Please use this format to title photos: FirstName.Last Name# (ex: Marisa.Sterling01, Marisa.Sterling02)
- The submission email should include the following information for each photo:
- Your full name
- Name/Location/Term of the CET program attended
- Title of photo
- A short caption or description of the photo
- Home university/college
- Photos may be either images that you have taken, or images of you. If the latter, please credit the photographer whenever possible.
Please e-mail Marisa Sterling or call (+001) 800.225.4262, ext 7315.
Please note that CET reserves the right to keep any/all photos entered in the photo contest for promotional use. Promotional use includes, but is not limited to print, video and digital media. All photos will be credited when used. CET has the sole right to determine future use of all photos.