Written by Cindy Lu (Carnegie Mellon University), CET Vietnam Summer 2019
First experience of art therapy
Although I am a psychology major, I have never participated in any art therapies before. Actually, I was never a big fan of the art therapy since I am not comfortable with sharing my private thoughts with people and I am not good at creating art works. But, for the last two classes for our internship seminars, I was genuinely glad to have the chance to participate in the art therapy since I was able to know myself better, and to learn more about the stories of my friends.
Originally I thought that I would not even know where to start with the artwork; however, following the instructions of the therapist, I was able to go back to a piece of old memory. And then, as the therapist predicted, I couldn’t even stop when the time was up. At first, I was afraid that my artwork was too ugly, and even though I knew that none of my friends would judge my artwork, I was still not confident to present it.
However, when the therapist asked people to guess the meaning behind my artwork before I presented it, and some of them actually understood what I wanted to express through the artwork. I was really fulfilled. Because the artwork was also an expression of some of my inner thoughts, I felt that I was having a deep conversation with myself while making the artwork. I know that when I got back on campus, everything would be at a fast pace again; however, I wish that I could still bring this introspection experience and the feelings of calmness back to my busy school life and not to forget how I get started in the first place.
How to make bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake) and rice paper
Apart from the art therapy, I would also remember the experience of making bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake) and rice paper with local residents in Mekong Delta. I was told that the old nanny who taught us how to make the rice paper had already worked in that family workshop for more than sixty years.Before, I have only read about the “Craftsman’s spirit” in Japanese novels, but to see it on my own gives me a different level of shock. And I was deeply touched by it.
When we watched the old nanny making the rice paper, we thought that it would be an easy job as she was able to make one within seconds. However, the old nanny had kept doing it for so long, and she is truly a master of “making rice paper”, but we were not. So, it was a little bit challenging for us at first, but we quickly learned from each other’s experience, and we were starting to make very pretty rice papers towards the end. We then ate the rice paper with soy sauce, and it was very delicious.
In the evening, we also learned to make bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake) with the staff in the homestay. It is basically like a crispy stuffed omelette, but I was really satisfied with being able to make my own food. After the dinner, we also had the chance to listen to the local artists playing traditional Vietnamese instruments. And then, we started a talent show called “Mekong’s Got Talent” (but actually, it was more like a giant open mic night). It was really interesting to get to know the “other sides” of everyone in the program from their singing, dancing, and the card games.
Learning about the traditional medicine in cooking
On the last field trip for the development studies class, we visited a local family to learn more about the making of traditional Vietnamese food and the role of traditional medicine in cooking. In traditional Vietnamese cooking, a successful dish has to balance the Yin and Yang and to reach a harmony of the smell, flavor, and color. For instance, for the chả giò (fried spring roll), since we added a lot of vegetables as the stuffing, and we also wanted to make a vegetarian version, we had to add the eggs as the element of “Yang” to balance out the Yin in the food brought in by the vegetables. Through making chả giò, we had not only learned to make the food, but also accumulated our knowledge on how traditional medicine takes a significant part in Vietnamese culinary.
From the first week of being unfamiliar with everything to the last week of living like a local, I have learned so much in Vietnam, met so many genuine friends and visited a dozen of beautiful cities. Although my journey in Vietnam ends here right now, I will never forget about these two months, and I hope to be able to come back someday in the future.