Wednesday, December 3, 2014


It's my last day in Can Tho. I had a hard time sleeping last night. There has been so much to think about these past few days. I'm going to miss all of my friends here. They've become an extended family to me and they share this experience of studying abroad with me. I plan to head out to Cambodia tomorrow with some friends from the program. I'll be visiting Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. After that I head to Thailand alone. I'm scared to be traveling by myself, but I'll use this experience as a personal test to myself. I'll be in Chiang Mai and Bangkok before heading home on the 18th. For our final we were instructed to write a paper about our projects and experiences. I want to share this with all of you, as it is very personal and close to my heart. Until next time Vietnam.
Hẹn gặp lại ,

Studying Abroad in Vietnam: A Look Within
            I came to Vietnam looking for a study abroad experience that would allow me the freedom to explore on my own and to better understand a culture that was so foreign to me. I hoped to work with victims of human trafficking at a local NGO in Can Tho. At least, that's what I told all my peers when I first arrived in the country. To some extent all of that was true, but they weren't my main reasons for coming to Vietnam. In actuality I was looking for a place to run away to, and Vietnam seemed  like the perfect spot to hide. With its dense jungles and developing landscapes I romanticized Vietnam to be this exotic new world where I could find some peace within myself. I signed up for the program a month before my Mom passed away from two years of cancer. I knew that I would need some time to myself after she passed away, but that I also wanted to stay enrolled in school. I had already taken so many quarters with reduced workloads that I felt rushed to graduate before I became a sixth year senior. I also wanted to distance myself from my family. During my Mom's sickness I had to shoulder a lot of responsibility that made me feel overwhelmed after her death. I wasn't really angry with my family as much as I was angry with the situations I felt forced into. Going to Vietnam allowed me to create this new life for myself. This freedom to tell whatever narrative I wanted to about myself to my new classmates felt empowering. I knew that I would eventually tell my friends about my past, but I was happy to finally have the ability to choose when I would tell them. There was no time constraint, unlike the past where everything was dictated by time. I landed in Ho Chi Minh City feeling excited and confident about my decision to study abroad. As free as I felt from the past, the past was able to catch up with me a lot sooner than I intended.

            The first few weeks in Vietnam flew by. I remember being warned about having culture shock during the orientation, but I felt more at ease in this foreign country than I had been feeling at home. When I heard my fellow students talk about home and missing their families I felt a twinge of guilt. I couldn't relate to them. For me, Vietnam was the ultimate vacation away from home and responsibilities. I felt balanced in my new environment, no longer being torn between school and family. I naively thought that it would be easy to assimilate to the Vietnamese way of life. I thought that by the end of the program I could be considered a local. I attempted to dress conservatively and eat only from the cafeteria in an attempt to act like my fellow students. Within a couple of weeks my body still hadn't adjusted to the weather so I went back to dressing like I had been back home. A severe food poisoning put me of off cafeteria food and I starting cooking in the dorms. Every time I left my dorms I felt like an outsider. Women stared at me and pointed me out to their friends, while the men ogled my body and followed me on my evening runs. It felt like everything I did seemed foreign to the Vietnamese students, and in fairness it probably was. I know my whiteness attracted all of the attention and that made me even more uncomfortable. Being a white person in America, I have the privilege of not being reminded of my own race. However, in Can Tho I was the minority and a privileged minority at that. Although I felt pretty hopeless about making friends during the first couple weeks in Can Tho I still tried to introduce myself to as many students as possible. The interaction didn't feel organic by any means. Our conversations always consisted of the same topics of family, academic major, and relationship status. I was relieved to discover that we had a vacation within the first month of the program.
            We spent Vietnamese Reunification Day on Phu Quoc island. This was the first trip where we were unsupervised by our professors. Almost every day it rained on the island and we spent much of our time indoors. The second day of the trip I received an email from a man I didn't know. He was my Mom's ex husband's son. I didn't find out that my Mom had been married before she met my Dad until I was fifteen. I don't think she ever intended for me to know about him. She had married her first husband in a black dress, because the wedding had been a joke to begin with. All I know about her first husband is that he was an alcoholic who had cheated on my mother shortly after their marriage. To receive an email from this man's son completely threw me off. In the email he said he wanted to get to know me and considered me family. He said he remembered my Mom fondly and that he had so many great stories to tell me of his father and my mother. I felt thrown off balance and I didn't know how to respond. I didn't share the same affection for his father as he did my mother. I was confused as to why Mom had stayed in contact with her ex husband's son all these years, and had never mentioned it to my brother or I. In a way it felt like a bit of a betrayal. This secret that my Mom had kept from me, my brother, and maybe my father. I felt like I couldn't go to my father with this new piece of information about my Mom. I still felt the raw pain of talking about her, especially to my Dad. I knew I had to confide in my friends about what was going on and how I should reply to the email. I was so reluctant to tell everyone, because I still wanted to pretend that my life was normal. That my Mom hadn't just died. When I confided in my friends I felt relieved. I now had people who I could talk to about my problems. It only took a month until my life back home caught up with my life in Vietnam. I didn't expect it to happen that fast. You really can't run away from your problems. Running away doesn't help you life your life.
            Once we were back in Can Tho after the vacation it was time to start thinking about what to do for my final project. Initially, I had wanted to work with victims of human trafficking in the city. The selling of internet brides was starting to become a common practice in Vietnam due to the opening of its many borders. Unfortunately,  I was unable to get involved with anything pertaining to human rights because of the bureaucracy of the Communist party. Like many countries, Vietnam does not want to admit that they have human rights issues.
                        I preoccupied the rest of my time in Can Tho by volunteering at an orphanage. The Sisters of Providence Orphanage was opened in the early 1980's and is the only state funded orphanage in Can Tho for children affected by agent orange. There are about seventy children living in the orphanage and two adults with severe learning disabilities. Most of the children living at the orphanage have special needs for their physical or mental disabilities. There are forty three staff members, twenty three of whom are nurses. Apart from monthly funding from the government, the orphanage receives monetary and physical support from the community and outside volunteers (Anonymous).
            I felt apprehensive the night before working at the orphanage. Throughout college I rarely had any interactions with kids and a part of me was worried that I wouldn't know how to interact with the children. Regardless of age, I was also worried about the language barrier. I was supposed to teach these kids English when my Vietnamese proficiency was anything but proficient. I think my main concern was how I was going to react to the kids with apparent physical disabilities. I was scared of the unknown and scared of the infinite possibilities of accidents occurring.
            Once I arrived at the orphanage with three other volunteers I noticed how there was a complete lack of security. Without signing any papers or requesting back ground checks we were allowed to immediately start teaching the children. We were put into a room filled with about twelve kids, ranging in ages five to ten, with one nurse sitting in the corner. I thought I would start off the lesson by teaching the children the English words for different colors. Out of the twelve kids only six had books and pens to write with. Four out of the twelve children in the room had physical disabilities such as missing limbs or enlarged tumors. One of the girls in the room had a type of learning disability. The English lesson quickly fell apart with twelve kids in the room all seeking attention. I was surprised how trustworthy the kids were. I'm used to American children who hide behind their parents when being introduced to strangers. The children at the orphanage craved physical closeness. It seemed as if the nurses were there to raise the children, but not to nurture them. I found it very easy to get along with the kids on the first day. I was able to make them laugh at my amateur attempts at juggling.
            After the English lesson we went to the toddler and baby wing of the orphanage. The first little boy I met had shrunken limbs, but he could crawl faster than any of the other kids. Some of the toddlers had respiratory issues, so all I could do was sit there and hold their hands. When I was playing with the babies I noticed how unresponsive some of them were. Most babies react to peek-a-boo or other baby games. These babies seemed to either look confused or stare past me. I don't think the babies get enough attention from the nurses, because there are usually two nurses for ten or more kids. Another thing that bothered me that day was seeing how the toddlers were taken care of. They spent most of their day in cradles that were too small for them, and in order to keep the children in their beds the staff would tie a foot to the bed post. I thought that if there were more nurses maybe they wouldn't have to tie the kids down. While the older kids room had a few toys to play with the toddlers and babies only had a few stuff animals to keep them entertained.
            After that first day, I spent the rest of my two months in Can Tho volunteering at the orphanage. I was happy that I was able to get along with the children, but I was unsure about how much I was helping them. The English lessons always ended up turning into play time and the majority of play time was keeping the children from hitting each other. I was surprised to see how violent some of these kids were. Most of the time the children were left to figure out crime and punishment on their own.
            At the end of my time at the orphanage I wanted to write a research paper about my experiences. However, because I didn't have government approval, the director of the orphanage requested that I not write one and declined a professional interview. Yet again the party's bureaucracy and secrecy stopped me from conducting further research on a topic concerning human rights.
            When I first arrived in Vietnam I had these preconceived ideas of what I wanted to do and what I was going to accomplish. Now that I'm at the end of the program I don't have a publishable research paper and I didn't help any trafficked victims. I've come to realize that this trip has turned into a quest for personal growth rather than academic achievement. Before Vietnam I felt lost, because the most important person in my life had just left me. I thought that doing something spectacular for human right in Vietnam would academically re-energize me. In reality, having all of the experiences I've had has made me reinvigorated for school. I'm excited to graduate and I feel ready for the real world, whether that means graduate school or a job. Most importantly I feel like I'm ready to go back home and see my Dad and brother. I needed this experience of living in Vietnam so that I could find clarity and understanding in something that seemed so infallible to me four months ago. I don' feel like I have to run away from my Mom's death anymore. Her life and death has helped to shape who I am as a person and she will continue to be a part of my story.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

They Call Me Crazy

There are few times in your life where you meet someone for the first time and they tell you their complete life story with such openness that you feel as if you've known them for much longer than an evening. We've been in Central Vietnam for 5 days now and its been a confusing time. Da Nang was the central base for US forces during the war and many of their bases and tanks are still there. We've visited historical sites such as the DMZ, 17th parallel, the ancient city of Hue, the merchant city of Hoi An, the Marble Mountains, and Vinh Moc tunnels. During all of this time our tour guides have told us a very one sided history. Much of Vietnam today seems like a one sided history. The story of the war is told along the lines of the US caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, divided the country, and destroyed the land. I cannot completely disagree with those statements, but what the new generations of Vietnamese are also told is that it was Communism and Ho Chi Minh that saved the country and reunited the people. The majority of Vietnamese I have met have told me that the war is over and that the country is okay. We shouldn't think about the war, because it is sad and in the past. Last night I heard a very different story. A story I think a lot of Vietnamese Americans on this trip wanted to hear. A few of us went to a burger shop on the beach in Da Nang. Weird right? Who would imagine such a place in Vietnam? We went to the small shop with the intentions of grabbing a quick bite and heading to the beach. Instead we spent four hours hearing the life story of the owner. I am in a country that watches our internet activity and punishes those who criticize the government, so I don't feel comfortable tell you his/her name or his/her shop's name. The owner started their story with his/her relocation as a child. When the VC began to take power, his/her family was kicked out if their home and sent into the mountains, because they were southern. They spent a year in the mountains, living with a mountain tribe. When they returned to Da Nang they found Northerners living in their house. They had to live on the street and work small jobs to make enough money to eat. As the war intensified and the Americans set up base in Da Nang he/she began interacting with the US troops. At the age of 12 he/she became and interpreter for an American doctor. The two would go to villages distributing medicine and taking the very ill to a hospital in Da Nang. His/her stories of that time period are incredible. After the war he/she was sent to prison for a year, like the majority of Southerners who had interaction with US troops. After the war he/she raised 8 adopted children and opened up his/her own restaurant. He/she gives individual tours of Central Vietnam that are completely different than what I've experienced. He/she tells the his/her story of the war from a pro American Vietnamese side. Much of what I've experienced is a lie told to tourists. Every tour I take I have to analyze what I'm being told. This person told me his/her opinions of the government and that in itself is something that rarely happens in Vietnam. Last night was my favorite experience in Vietnam. I've never met a person like who I met last night. He/she is brave, compassionate, and open in a country where these attributes are not supported or taught. Here is one story he/she told me.

"At the age of fourteen I was spending most of my days on the American army compound in Da Nang. It wasn't safe for me to live at home where I would be recruited to fight for the Viet Cong. I would wash clothes and cook food for the GI's. At first I looked up to them as adults, but as I spent more time with them I realized they were children like me. Most of them were eighteen years old. Still kids. When they got scared they would call for their mothers into the night. At this age I still didn't know which side I was on. The way the war was going it seemed as if I would have a pick a side soon. I made good friends with an eighteen year old GI named Charlie in the camp. It was around Christmas time and his parent's had sent him a big package from home. Christmas was a foreign thing to me and I was very interested in the big box filled with red, green, and blue presents. Charlie's parents had sent a box full of presents for all the children in the village that he patrolled every week. Before leaving the base to deliver the gifts to the children, Charlie gave me a small red present filled with candy. The last image I have of Charlie is walking out of the army base holding a huge box of presents. A day passed and Charlie didn't come back to the base. A patrol troop was sent to the village to go look for him. When they got to the village the villagers told the soldiers that they had seen Charlie with the presents, but that they hadn't seen him since. A few days passed and the general of the camp had found a new tunnel that was right outside the village. The soldiers smoked out the tunnel and found 8 VC men. After questioning and probably torturing the men the general found out what had happened to Charlie. The general knew we were good friends so he told me when I ask him about it. During this time more and more VC fighters were going into the villages trying to recruit more fighters. The villagers couldn't resist the VC or they would be killed. Well, it turns out that Charlie had gotten to the village and was able to deliver the presents to the kids. Charlie was invited into a hut of a villager. He was sitting on a chair with a small child on his lap, watching the little guy opening his present. A VC member was standing right behind Charlie and slit his throat while Charlie was distracted with the kid. They tied Charlie to the chair and weighed him down with a large rock and threw him into the river. The general found Charlie the same day he interrogated the VC soldiers. I was heartbroken. I would loose many friends during the war. One week, one month, two months. I never forget them. One thing I admired about the US soldiers is that they never left a man behind. The VC would sometimes use their own men as bait, and hundreds of bodies were never discovered after the war. The day Charlie died I knew I could never support the VC. I don't feel Vietnamese. Not one hundred percent. I'm somethinpg else, I don't know. Crazy. They used to call me that all the time on the army base, because I was so young and so involved. Crazy."
Photo credit: Kelsey Eiland

Before coming to Vietnam I considered myself to be very anti US involvement in the Vietnam war. Now that I'm nearing the end of my journey I feel a bit different. I think a lot of actions of some American soldiers and a lot of US policy was bad during the war. However, I think there were those soldiers who were actually fighting for a better Vietnam and a freer people. The country had been divided long before the Americans arrived. More Vietnamese died after the war than during it, due to famine and incarceration. After the war the people did not have a choice. It was Communism or die. Forty years later Vietnam is a different country. Many more people are educated, there is international economic cooperation, development is booming, and hey, there's even a Burger King 15 minutes from my dorm. However, Vietnam is still a place where you could be killed for criticizing the government, where there is a huge amount of political corruption, and where the concept of freedom is defined by the party. People don't talk about the government here, even in private spaces. At first I thought it was strange, but after  hearing my new friend's story I finally understand why. Fear is like a genetic trait. It can be ingrained into a person's being, passed down generation to generation through stories and memory.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Visitors and Travels

I had the privilege of spending my week with Spence. At 4:30am I jumped the dorm fence to walk to the main gate to catch a ride to the bus station. My ride to the station never came so I hailed a taxi and made it to the station just in time. I really dislike traveling within Vietnam, because I'm a target for getting ripped off. If a foreigner came to Vietnam for the first time with no knowledge of what things actually cos,t they would end up paying quadruple the price. I was approached at the station for a cheaper bus fair if only I followed a man around the corner to his bus. Knowingly I just went inside the station and got on my bus. I reached Saigon's main station and was again rushed by taxi drivers. There are two reputable taxi companies in the South. You have to be sure that their meter works and that the car is clearly marked with the correct labeling. Since I was by myself I made sure to get a small cab rather than the larger cab that was offered to me. I picked up Spence from the airport. His flight was running a bit late so I got a ca phe sua da (iced coffee) and waited with my Spence sign. He arrived energized and a lot harrier than I last saw him. It was great to finally be together. Typically, Spence and I spend a few weeks in between seeing each other because we live 6 hours apart. Two and a half months felt pretty long. To get to our first destination Spence and I had to take a cab to downtown to catch a ferry. The first cab offered us 900,000vnd (45usd) for a ride. We ended up taking a VinaSun cab for 150,000vnd (7.50usd). Like I said, major scam artists here. When we got to the ferry we learned that it had burned down last year. I had tried calling the company earlier in the week. Their phone lines and website were still in service, but I hadn't been able to contact anyone. Luckily for us there was a bus leaving for Vung Tau. The ride took a couple hours and once we arrived it was time for dinner. We had whole fried grouper, morning glory, and rice and a local spot. Vung Tau is the most pristine place I've traveled to thus far in Vietnam. We were welcomed by clear weather and a not so busy atmosphere. Our hotel was right on the beach and it was mostly filled with families visiting from Saigon. The first day we woke up early and decided to hit the religious spots first. We crossed a man made rock bridge that becomes hidden by the afternoon tide to a small pagoda on an island. we hung out there for a bit to enjoy the view and peacefulness of the pagoda. 

Our next location was a walk up about 200 steps to a large statue of Jesus. Funny to think of Jesus being on a Vietnamese island, but there are actually quite a bit of Catholics here. The statue is hallowed out so you can go inside the statue and take pictures on the arms.

We had a great lunch of steamed clams and crab fried rice. After a quick nap and round of card wars we went down to the beach to enjoy the last rays of sun. Spence got to see his first Vietnam sunset, which is something quite special to see. That night we decided to grab various sea food from vendors on the beach. We had some of the best grilled octopus I've ever had, some whole grilled shrimp, and more seafood fried rice. The food was cheaper than Saigon, so we were paying about 5 dollars each for every meal.

Early Monday morning we took a six hour bus ride to Can Tho. At night Spence and some of the people from my program went out for pho. That week Spence came to all of my classes, even the two and a half hour Vietnamese classes. He got the opportunity to try a lot of street food, see the floating market, visit my campus, visit a Khmer pagoda, visit a Chinese pagoda, see Can Tho Ancient House, and be there for me on my birthday. We started to day off with the floating market, pho for breakfast, a seminar on human trafficking, Vietnamese class, dinner of banh xeo, a party with cake, and dancing at the club.

Thursday afternoon we left for Saigon after class. During class we talked about Vietnamese government and the concept of freedom within the lines of the law. People can't really talk about government here and they definitely can't criticize it. I was happy to leave for Saigon afterward, because there are some terrific restaurants  and we went to my favorite one Thursday night. It’s a grill restaurant on a rooftop in district one. We had fried frog, grilled whole shrimp, grilled squid, veggies, and drinks, all for about twelve dollars each (which is quite expensive for Vietnam). On Friday we went sightseeing and went to the war remnants museum (my third time now). Halloween night Spence and I were Wilson and Tom Hanks from castaway (I was Wilson). The street we were staying on Bui Vien, was packed shoulder to shoulder and scooter to scooter. We went to clubs and play a round of pool with another person from my program.  On Saturday we had the whole day to explore Ben Thahn market and haggle with sales people so Spence could find some good gifts. We spent our last night going to a very good Japanese pizza place. I never have cheese, so this was quite a treat! It was sad saying goodbye to Spence on Sunday, but I was still so appreciative and happy for the time we got to spend together. Spence reminded me of how much I miss home.
Until next time,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vocational Training: Garment Factories and Souvenir Handicraft

Hello All!
So this week in lecture we focused on vocational training. High school students who don't get a high enough score to enter college or university have the option to go to vocational school for vocational education training (VET). Many of these workers come from the countryside. This is partly due to the cost of higher education and the extra cost for tutors in high school who help to improve testing scores. Rural families encourage their children to fallow the path of vocational training, because the schooling is shorter and training usually results in immediate employment. In contrast, a university education is a four year investment that does not guarantee a job right after graduation. Vocational training is a good option for people who don't have the option of going to the University  and need a fast, steady income.

On Wednesday our Vietnamese class went to a handicraft store where all the products are made by people with mobility handicaps. Almost all of the souvenirs are made out of coconuts. Within an hour we were all taught to make heart key chains by carving a heart out of a coconut and polishing it several times. I used a small detailing hand saw with the help of my teacher to carve out the heart. Then one of the workers showed me how to polish the heart with three different sanders before I finished it with wood polish. It was fun getting to do a bit of carpentry. I went to carpentry camp for a few summers when I was younger and I enjoyed our Wednesday lesson as much as I did those classes. The business is able to provide jobs and income to those who are usually not able to work because of their disability. The owner of the company told us that her business is a good way for handicapped people to meet each other and make new friendships, and even relationships.

We went to a garment factory on Thursday. I was really surprised that the conditions inside the factory were so good. The factory floor was cool, clean, bright, and the employees were organized. We met with a company manager who told us that the average employee makes between $150 to $200 every month. To put things in perspective, teachers make around $300 a month. So it would seem that garment factory workers can make a livable wage, depending on their family size. Sweat shops do exist in Vietnam and I realize that the factory we saw is one of the best. We wouldn't have been allowed to see it otherwise.

Spence is spending this next weekend with me! More pictures and stories to come!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

We had our last week of classes for Stephanie and my's American culture course. We finished up the class with a discussion on media influence in American on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the students gave their presentations. I was really proud of our students for presenting on Wednesday. I knew all of them were nervous to stand in front of the whole class and talk in English. Stephanie and I attempted to do a musical performance for our class, because our boss is very musically inclined and suggested we perform. Steph and I decided to do the cup song from the movie Pitch Perfect. We practiced all weekend to try and learn to movements and song for the class. Let's just say it took us three times to even finish it for the students. After the second try I wanted to hide under the desk, but luckily I had Stephanie there to force me to finish. I've really enjoyed teaching this class. I learned a bit about my own culture and I was able to compare it to my student's knowledge of Vietnamese culture. I also learned that it takes a lot of time and energy to be a teacher. I am a fairly introverted person, so it takes a lot of energy to "perform" for students for an hour and a half. Even though it was a lot of work, I'm glad I got to experience what it is like to teach on a somewhat professional level.

This week in class we got to learn about the economic development plans for Can Tho.The Mekong Delta is rich in natural resources and is the largest provider of fish, rice, and agriculture for Vietnam. Labor is cheap and there is plenty of land available for development. The Delta seems like the perfect place to develop, except for the fact that there is little to no established infrastructure. Investing money in the Mekong would be very unprofitable, because there is very little to invest in. However, once the Mekong Delta becomes established this area will be the new hot spot for development. Can Tho City plans to create many more manufacturing factories and companies in order to increase land profit. By the year 2020 Vietnam plans to be an industrialized nation. Among other things, this means being able to produce their own technology to create their own products, rather than importing most of their technological products from other countries. From the information I've gathered it sounds like Can Tho is going to change drastically in the next 5-10 years. With all this growth comes new product and product waste. I worry that Vietnam will cut environmental corners to reach their lofty goal of industrialization by 2020. Educated locals no longer swim in the Mekong that runs through Can Tho City. This was not the case ten years ago. There is a clear trash issue already evident in the Mekong river. Waste management seems to be one of the City's largest problems. When I'm out in town I usually carry my trash around with me until I return to my dormitory, because it is so difficult to find a trash can on the street. Most waste is either thrown into the river or streets, where is it later burned. I am scared to think what will become of Vietnam's contribution to environmental pollution once they ramp up their industrial sector. There are environmental laws in place to regulate businesses' pollution, but inspectors can be bought off and visits are scheduled. In an attempt to educate the public the government is implementing environmental awareness topics to be taught in early primary school. Children are taught to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The problem for Can Tho is that there is no recycling plant or system in place for these children to put into practice the theory of recycling. I do not think Vietnam is prepared to deal with the impending environmental implications that will come along with a fast growing industrial sector.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vietnam's Educational System

This week was a slow one at CTU. Professor Cary left on Tuesday and our new teacher Professor Glen should arrive sometime next week. So for the time being we are in the capable hands of our program adviser Hung. A new development on campus is that we have about 15 new students living in the international dorms. We have two boys from Denmark and everyone else is from all over the US. I got to say, its pretty nice having more English speakers around and even nicer to have some of the attention taken off of our group. I had another week of classes for the American culture class. The students have really come out of their shells and they are much more willing to participate. We had the topic of social interactions and dating on Wednesday. Everyone in the class was very excited to learn about what dating culture is like in the states. In Vietnam people usually start dating around the age of 18. Before a couple is dating they are boyfriend and girlfriend. There are very few casual relationships in Can Tho. Once students have graduated they begin to seriously consider marriage. It was difficult to explain all of the different kind of relationships that exist in the United States. The students were most perplexed by the concept of "friends with benefits".  I was asked twice if I was going to be marrying and starting a family with my current boyfriend. To be honest I didn't know how to answer the question. As a 22 year old living in California I don't think about marriage and family being in my immediate future. By the end of the class I think what most surprised me was the Vietnamese students' willingness to commit to marriage and a family at such a young age and after having so few partners in their life.

We focused our class research on education this week. On Thursday we had a meeting with an expert on Vietnam's new policies to revamp the education system. It seems as if Vietnam is moving away from an authoritarian system to an authoritative system. The difference between the two teaching styles is that authoritarian teaching favors blind submission to the teacher, while authoritative teachers have a set of rules and boundaries, but are responsive to the students needs.  The Vietnamese government is looking at the US and UK school systems and they are seeing which aspects can be applied in Vietnam. After our lecture on Thursday we went to visit a high school to see what a typical day is like for the students, High school students go to school for four hours rather than the US eight hours. During those four hours the students are just lectured at. In order to practice what they've learned they have to pay for extra classes or private tutoring. I found this to be completely unfair, because obviously only the more well to do students can afford tutoring. Senior high schoolers need to take a test to graduate and they need to take a second test to get into college. Depending on their score they will get into a university or college. A college here is like a junior college in the states. Similar to the US, it is possible to transfer to a university from a college. There is an issue with overcrowding for higher education here and not enough teachers to teach the students. To my surprise teachers have one of the lowest paying salaries. I suppose I thought that in a socialist system that teachers would have a higher pay wage because they have such a large influence in the shaping of the future generation. To compensate for their low wage, teachers need to have multiple teaching jobs. Through this system the students become more of a commodity to the teachers rather than pupils to teach. Vietnam's educational system has a lot of problems to face and I don't think that applying certain practices from the Western system will improve it. Nor does it seem as if there is a clear plan to revamp the system, because every outline I have seen just uses broad explanations for improvement. Regardless, if Vietnam wants to make the next step to join the international arena they need to improve their educational system and accredit their universities.   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Candy Colored Land

This week was quite busy for me. I had two lessons to teach for my American culture class. My roommate and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach this course to a group of 25 college students. Stephanie and I created the rubric for the course, so we have a lot of freedom to teach the topics which we feel best describe American culture. This past week we taught history and politics. Our students started out as a very shy bunch and its nice to see them open up as the weeks progress. I don't think I want to become a teacher in the future, but I am greatly enjoying the experience.
 Something else that I have recently started doing is volunteering at an orphanage that is close to my school. I am thinking that I will do my independent research project on this. Many of the children in the orphanage are affected by agent orange, autism, down syndrome, and other disabilities. I've always been interested in the Vietnam War since I read "The Things They Carried" in my sophomore year of high school. I am well aware of the chemical destruction that the U.S. government devastated this country and its people with. What surprises me is how prevalent the amount of people who are still affected by dioxin. Orphanages throughout the country are filled with kids suffering genetic defects due to the chemicals that were dropped during the war. It wasn't until this April that the U.S. government finished its first decontamination site in Da Nang, but over 20 sites still exist today. At the orphanage I spend time with the children. I teach the older kids English and I act as goofy as possible to get a smile. The toddlers love snuggling and the babies just want someone to hold their hand. I was so surprised to see how trusting and ready for love these kids are. Usually, when I babysit a child for the first time they are hesitant to leave their parents and distrustful of me. When I walked into the orphanage a little girl immediately jumped into my arms for a snuggle. I will try to spend as many Sundays as I can at the orphanage in order to spend time with these kids and learn a little bit more about Vietnam's programs for orphans.
On Thursday of this week our class went into the countryside of Can Tho to see a particular type of farming system. The farm we visited was using a closed system farming method which means that the farm was sustaining itself within itself. The farm was using the manure from the pigs to collect into gas and fertilize the plants. In turn the pigs were fed the plants. The only thing that made this system imperfect was that the farmer was also feeding the pigs grain from an outside source. I can see how this type of farming can work for one farm, but it would be very hard to implement this method on a broader scale, because it requires a lot of land. One of our professors works for the agricultural department at Davis, so he likes taking us to farms in order to see the different farming methods.
After the trip to the farm I hopped on a bus to Saigon to visit with my best friend Robin. Robin is teaching English in China for the next year and is only a four hour plane ride from me. I will be going to visit Robin at the end of my trip. We stayed in the backpackers district on a very touristy street. There are very few foreigners in Can Tho, so it was a bit strange to be around so many western faces. Robin and I filled our bellies with delicious Saigon food and we checked out the night scene. Robin was very happy with the availability of fresh produce and the "candy colored" Saigon buildings. I was just happy to see a face from home.
Love love,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Artistic Expression in Hanoi

It's been a while since I've done a blog post. We were in Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, and Hanoi for about ten days. Then after that my classes started for my American Culture class that I'm teaching. Needless to say I've been really busy. So, a little bit of info about my time up north. We started our journey by flying to Hanoi. We spent just half a day in Hanoi before taking an overnight train to Sa Pa. The train was really cool, because it was an old style steam engine. It pretty much looked like the Hogwarts express from the inside. The only bad part was that a few mosquitoes had gotten onto our train and bit us in the middle of the night. We arrived in Sa Pa early in the morning for a few days of trekking with Hmong women as our guides. The Hmong are a group of indigenous people who live in the highlands of Vietnam. They grow a lot of rice and are known for their intricate handmade clothing. The hiking itself was fairly easy, especially after the three day backpacking trip I had taken with my partner at the beginning of summer. The Hmong women were very helpful for the less experienced hikers and the scenery was gorgeous. I got to see my first water buffalo! We spent the night at a farmhouse in one of the villages. Our hosts were happy to share some of their homemade rice wine with us. Man oh man does that stuff burn. The second day we trekked to a new village and met some local Hmong children. I think most of the villages make money off of tourists, so all the children were very persistent in having us buy stuff. Later that evening we hiked out of Sa Pa and took the train back to Hanoi.

From Hanoi we went straight to Ha Long Bay where we stayed on a boat for one night. We went spelunking (kind of), kayaking, and swimming before the sun went down. My bed on the boat was so comfortable that I ended up reading and falling asleep early, while everyone else watching this very drunk Scottish man sing Karaoke. The morning before leaving Ha Long Bay we went to a pearl farm. Apparently Phu Quoc and Ha Long Bay are the only two places in Vietnam that grow pearls, and I've been to those two places! Although I've had plenty of opportunities to buy pearls, I haven't had the interest to. Once we returned from Ha Long Bay we had five days in Hanoi to run around. Our time in the capital was very unscheduled. Every place I travel to I am most interested at visiting places of worship. When I went to Italy and France with my family I loved seeing all of the churches. So when we got to the capital I knew I wanted to see as many pagodas and temples as possible. Other than temple hopping we walked around the old quarter, went to bars, bought a bunch of souvenirs, and visited museums .

 One of my favorite things we did was meeting Hanoian photographer Jamie Maxtone-Graham. Jamie used to shoot in LA, but moved to Hanoi to start a life with his Vietnamese wife and daughter, Jamie's work is very different than your typical Vietnamese photography. What I mean by that is that it is very interpretive and is something that can be analysed and looked at in different ways. Typical Vietnamese photography is very safe and the photographer is clear with his/her intentions of what the photo is. For anyone interested in Jamie's work here is a link to his website, After meeting Jamie we were invited to go to an art gallery exhibit that Jamie's friend had arranged. The exhibit was a live, movie, and photograph show of one of Hanoi's first drag shows in 1999. There were photos taken of the night hanging downstairs, a movie of the night playing upstairs, and a topless man who was covered in sparkles and a headdress. I think he was meant to be a walking piece of art. I actually felt very at home at the art show. There were a lot of westerners and the people who were there all looked like they could be from Berkeley. Later on in the week we read an article in class that talked about how some performance artists in Vietnam are viewed as anti-art by the government and artistic elites. There was an example of a father laying on top of his son while his son read a poem aloud. This was supposed to represent a father's repression of his son. Performance art like this is viewed as anti-art by many traditional Vietnamese artists, because performance art doesn't necessarily need to be defined. Interpretive art frustrates traditional thinkers. The gallery exhibit that I saw in Hanoi is a perfect example of a new type of artistic expression that is popping up in Vietnam. The exhibit used many forms to present the drag show. The meaning behind the show was not clear and the viewer had to create his or her own interpretation. I think this style of art will become more popular in Vietnam as the government allows for more forms of art and expression to be showed. 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sexuality and Gender Roles in Modern Vietnam

This week in class we talked about family and the individual. Our two readings focused on an abusive mother-daughter relationship and men who have sex with men (MSM) relationships. Both readings talked about the commodification of sex. In the first reading the mother would exploit her daughter by forcing her to sleep with various men for money and items while the second article talked of men having sex with other men for money. Later in the week we met with a man from the gay community, Quang, who spoke to us of the commodification of sex. He said that the use of sex for money did happen in Vietnam and that it was a pretty well known fact for both the homosexual and heterosexual communities. Homosexuality is becoming more accepted in Vietnam, especially in Saigon. However, homosexual couples are rarely open in public, they cannot get married, and they cannot adopt as a couple. Vietnam in general is a country with little PDA. For the three weeks I have lived here I have never seen a couple kiss. So I can understand why it would be scandalous for two men to be holding hands in public. Apparently lesbian couples are more accepted. I think this is because of the extreme differences in gender roles here. Men are expected to be manly and marry in order to continue the family line. Females can be more physical with their female friends, although they are expected to marry as well. The secrecy of MSM relationships has caused a spike in HIV/AIDS due to lack of safe sex information and loose lifestyle. Some men seek sexual pleasure from other men outside of marriage, because they have been pressured to marry by their parents. The multiple sexual partners, limited information on safe sex, current culture of the gay community, and recent spike in Methamphetamine use have all contributed to the 33% statistic of men with HIV/AIDS in the gay community.

The same day we met Quang we also met a fortune teller. Vietnamese people, especially the older generation, meet with fortune tellers about twice a year. Couples go to fortune tellers to learn when it is a good time for them to get married in case there is a conflicting period during the Lunar calendar. Our friend Quang had never been to a fortune teller and did not have the intention of ever going to one. As a thirty year old man, he has extreme pressure from his parents to get married and start a family. I think family is the biggest factor that shapes gender in Vietnamese society. From birth, boys and girls are put into categories. I know this is also true for the United States, but there seems to be more acceptance in the US when a child deviates from the norm compared to Vietnam. Boys are given much more freedom to go out and date than girls. Girls must be delicate and boys must be manly. I have been told over and over that the most important thing in Vietnamese culture is the family and the continuation of the family line. Because of this, it is very hard for Vietnamese to adapt to the idea of homosexual relationships. For traditional thinkers, accepting homosexuality would mean changing their view of relationships, family, and sexuality. I see this same struggle in the United States. Being from California, almost all of my friends believe in gay rights and equality. It seems to be my parent's generation that still has difficulty accepting that gay rights are human rights and that gay people are human people. From talking with Quang and hearing about what it is like to be gay in Vietnam I was reminded of what it was like to be gay in the US in the 1980s. I took a LGBT studies class in San Francisco where we learned about the beginning of the gay rights movement and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By comparing the two, I would say that Vietnam is at the beginning of its gay rights movement. And I'm really happy about it.

“Be careful, you are not in Wonderland. I’ve heard the strange madness long growing in your soul. But you are fortunate in your ignorance, in your isolation. You who have suffered, find where love hides. Give, share, lose—lest we die, unbloomed.”-From the film Kill Your Darlings

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Phu Quoc Island: Lord of the Dogs

We spent out National Day vacation on Phu Quoc Island. Phu Quoc is Vietnam's largest island and is known for its own breed of dog, beautiful beaches, pearl farms, natural exports, and jungle. Jihoon and I booked three hotel rooms on the north side of the island for the eleven of us which ended up being the perfect amount of space. Our bungalows were literally on the beach. We took a bus to a port city where we connected to a ferry to get to the island. Both forms of transportation had Vietnamese pop music and comedy shows playing so loudly that not even my headphones could fully block out the sound. Pop music is extremely popular here. I've had a hard time finding anyone my age who is into rock and roll. When we boarded our ferry we found out that our seats had been double booked and we were given seats on the bottom part of the boat. It was a very bumpy ride, but we arrived intact! It was dumping rain when we arrived, so we spent the first night getting settled and eating our first pizza in Vietnam. I quickly noticed how deserted the island was and I later realized that we were there during the off season. Much of the island is at the beginning stages of construction and most of the roads are dirt paths. I think Phu Quoc has ten or so years before being finished as a tourist destination, because most of the construction is hand and shovel rather than large construction companies.
We took a beach day our first day, because the weather was so nice. I spent most of the day reading my new Steven King novel, swimming, and walking on the beach. The group reconvened for sunset which was something out of this world. We spent a good hour down at the beach just watching the sun go down and listening to music. The water was so warm that we went swimming at dusk. We went to the Buddha Lounge for a bit of dancing. The bar was German owned and I liked hearing a different version of club music compared to the same old beat of Can Tho. The next day we woke up early to be tourists and explore the island. We got a private bus and toured five sites for the price of 5usd. Our first stop was a Buddhist pagoda in the jungle. It was absolutely beautiful. The various religious statues and graves were scattered on the hillside. I explored and came upon a bunch of hidden idols in the forest. At the top of the hillside there was a small garden where a monk was praying in a gazebo. I sat there for a while and lit some incense for my Mom and uncle. I'm not sure what insect was making the noise, but there was a buzzing sound at the top of the hillside. 
Our second location was a waterfall in the jungle. It was about a fifteen minute walk to the waterfall, which was packed with tourists so I climbed over the side of the fall to explore. I got stuck at a river crossing which was too difficult to cross on my own so I got Jihoon to hike with me. Together we were able to hike another fifteen minutes past the fall until the brush became too thick to go any further. The forests here are very different. The ground is springy from all the moisture and there are vines everywhere, 
where we got stuck
After the waterfall we stopped of at a store that sold wine and other goods made of honey myrtle. We had a little wine tasting and it tasted very similar to port (extremely sweet!). We had lunch on the south side of the island. The south side has white sand beaches and you can walk out fifty yards without the water going above your head. I had never been to such a soft sand beach and the water was crystal clear. The sand felt like flour under my feet. We played with starfish and hermit crabs and snapped a few photos before having to leave. We would have loved to stay there the whole day, but the day was quickly coming to an end.
Our land destination was a pearl farm that was owned by a very eccentric Australian man. We learned how the farm speeds up the process of pearl production by inserting a small plastic ball into the oyster and repeating the process up to three times depending on the oyster. I spent our last day on the island reading my book and hanging out with one of the local dogs. I named him Sandy while the boys named him Ballzack. I think Sandy fits him better. We went to the night market for dinner and splurged for crab, fish, octopus, prawns, veggies, and a bottle of wine. We headed back home to Can Tho the next day by plane this time. It was only a thirty minute plane ride, rather than a six hour bus/boat ride. Our vacation within a vacation was so relaxing and beautiful. I can't believe we travel to Hanoi, Sa Pa, and Halong Bay on Thursday! Next Sunday marks my first month in Vietnam and a quarter of the trip over. Crazy! 
He would guard our door at night

Love to you all,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sex Tourism: Defining Cultural Identity

Before coming to Vietnam I knew that sex tourism is a huge source of income for the country. This fact was actually the largest contributing factor for me to study abroad in Vietnam. At the age of thirteen I knew that for my eventual career that I would want to work towards reducing the amount of human trafficking in the world and help develop victim's rights. This spring will be ten years of working towards that goal. I specifically chose UCSB for their Global Studies program, because when I was in high school I Googled "types of majors to work for the UN". From my ten years of periodic research, I would say I know the defining signs of trafficked victims. Although I know what to look for, I feel as if I have been too mesmerized by Vietnam to give attention to some things I have seen. Our teacher would call this our "honeymoon period", and I feel as if this time has changed for me after today. A group of seven of us decided that it would be a fun idea to get massages in town. We have seen countless signs for massages near our neighborhood and so we were tempted to go and try one out. We met up with a local friend who knew a reliable place, so we gladly followed. The place that we were supposed to go to was too full to massage all seven of us at once and so we moved on to a different place down the street. From the outside it looked like all the shops. Our friend asked the male owners of the shop if they could accommodate six of us. They could, so we happily entered. Looking back now, I feel as if I should have known the warning signs. It's a difficult thing to stop a bad situation from happening when it's happening. We paid for the massages in the lobby (and I use that word sparingly) before entering the massage area. The women masseuses were behind curtains while the three men took care of the financial transactions. The men looked like what you would imagine massage brothel owners to look like. They were all wearing polos of various American designers, sporting silver chains and gold rings, and smoking during the entire transaction. Something didn't feel right, but the process was very fast and we were ushered into the massage rooms. By massage rooms, I mean we walked through a curtain into individual cubicals that were lit by a dim red light. Waiting for the female masseuse I began to get nervous and on edge. At the time I thought it was because this would be my first massage in a foreign country. Now I realize that the feeling was my body telling me to get the hell out of that place. The massage itself was extremely uncomfortable. A woman about my age entered the room wearing the tinniest dress. My Mom was a massage therapist for many years and I consider myself quite knowledgeable of various massage techniques. It was clear to the start that this woman was not a trained masseuse. I won't get into detail, but as a woman I felt as if the interaction was way too sexual and I was extremely uncomfortable by the end of it. After meeting up with the group, we came to the same consensus that the whole interaction was strange. Again, I won't get into detail, but I know that that place gives services other than massages. We tipped out our girls and the end total came to a little less than two dollars (an average price around town). I talked with my roommates for a long time about what happened. A part of me feels stupid for allowing what happened to happen. I feel as if I should have known better. I'm angry at myself for financially supporting that kind of place. The scholarly side appreciates the interaction. I want to help victims of human trafficking and I know that means becoming aware and getting involved. I think its important to bare witness to atrocities in order to be apart of the solution. As always, I see the good and bad in what happened today, but it has also lead me to questions. Like, did those girls get the tips we gave them? How did they get into that kind of work? Were they forced to work? Were they happy? Were they healthy? All of these questions I wish I could ask them.

This experience has lead me to reflect on the other forms of sex tourism I have seen since arriving two weeks ago. Sex tourism is not foreign to me. Growing up in the Bay Area I have seen my share of prostitutes and sketchy massage parlors. The difference between Vietnam and the Bay is that sex tourism is more hidden in the U.S.. Although I get frustrated at the insufficiency of U.S. policy on human trafficking, it is eons better than here. In 2012 Vietnam enacted strict laws and policies to combat human trafficking. The problem is that there are not enough resources to support the laws. I am starting to realize that this problem is a reoccurring theme. From the little time I have spent in Vietnam I have seen prostitutes soliciting johns, big bellied white men holding the hands of ten/twelve year old boys, escorts accompanying white businessmen at elite bars, and white men on holiday with their Thai/Vietnamese/Malaysian girl for the weekend. Before the trip to the massage brothel today, my mind seemed to push these experiences to the side. I know I could be wrong about what I've seen and I could be incorrectly judging people. Regardless of this, I am going to be paying attention from now on. There's a new fire in my belly and I want to learn about/recognize sex tourism while I'm here. I think these experiences are hard to see, but good for me to see, because they solidify my desire to spend my career combating human  trafficking. 
Spending two weeks in a country doesn't give you an accurate understanding of it's culture or people. Vietnam is a country filled with many ethnic groups. The people in the North are said to be different than the South. The youth population is huge and experiences a very different Vietnam than their parents. In our class we were asked to write about aspects that shape/help to define Vietnamese identity. I don't feel confident in answering that question, because I have seen so little of the country and have met a small portion of it's people. This week I spent time with some students from the university. I had a lot of fun, eating street food, going roller skating, drinking coffee at cafes. Earlier this week I went to the floating food market with my classmates and saw the sun rise on the Mekong. I learned about dating culture from an extremely limited article in my Cultural Vietnam course. Although I have done a lot and seen a lot this week, I do not feel as if I can confidently describe Vietnamese identity. I am starting to see some factors which contribute to the formation of identity here. From hanging out with the students from CTU, I see that friends have a huge influence in a person's life. Just like in the U.S., students at CTU are living away from their parents for the first time and their friends become their support system. As far as dating goes, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity all preach abstinence which influences the low rate of sex outside of marriage. However, the emergence of Western culture is beginning to change Vietnamese ideas about dating through movies, music, and magazines. From the short time I've spent in Vietnam, I can say that religion, family, peers, and established cultural norms help to construct youth identity. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The first days at CTU

I've been living in Can Tho for about 5 days now. The flow of CT is much slower than HCMC. The traffic moves a bit slower and crossing the street is not as terrifying as it was. We are living in the international dorms at the very back end of campus near a river. I've done a couple runs through the campus and it is very beautiful. There are many trees surrounded by tall grass with the occasional lily pad pond spread throughout campus. I've seen many dogs on campus, because there is a vet hospital at the front of campus. So far I have noticed 4 species of butterflies who I imagine are drawn to campus due to the many flowers that line the roads. At night the campus is electrified with the sound of fogs and crickets and it reminds me of home. Our second day in CT we did an amazing race challenge where we were split up into groups and had to collect pictures of various locations throughout the city. 2 groups were on bikes and 1 group had xe oms (scooter taxis). I was in the xe om group, because the bike I had purchased the previous day broke down within the first ride. We had about 15 items on our list and we made it through to about 12 of them before time was up.
View from cafe Ho Sen

Veggies at Cai Khe

The quad outside of my dorm

Chinese pagoda Chua Ong

Not many people speak English in CT so I have been lost in translation more than a few times this week. Whether it's being constantly stared at, having my bike break down, getting my key stuck in the wrong bike lock, ordering the wrong food, or getting lost...the communication between me and whoever is helping me has been unsuccessful most times. We have yet to start our Vietnamese language classes so all I know how to say is "my name is kaitlan", "how much", "where is", "the bathroom", "thank you". "no", and "egg". So as you can imagine, I don't get too far communicating on my own. Luckily when it comes to food I can just point at what I want. My stomach has been doing okay with the food...I've had some bad days, but that's to be expected. We found a really good pho shop that's not too far from campus. On campus the food options are banh mi, rice with meat/fish/tofu, or noodles, so I usually adventure outside for one of my meals. I found a really good coffee shop across from campus that has outside seating with a koi pond. I'm having difficulty ordering plain iced coffee with no sugar. The traditional coffee (cafe sua da) comes with a lot of sugar and condensed milk and that's what I've been mainly drinking. 
This cost about $1.75 
On Thursday night we went to Tiny Corner Cafe to meet with some English speaking Vietnamese students. Here is a link to their Facebook page They will probably be posting pictures of that night later this week. There are 12 of us in the program and when we arrived at the cafe there were roughly 40 Vietnamese students. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but all of the students were very nice and extremely outgoing. The girls that I talked to were very interested in my relationship status and my dog Babi. Hopefully I can see the girls again and invite them out. I'm going to try and teach a couple of them yoga! I tried to talk to the girls about the South China Sea conflict, because our blog post this week has to involve a conversation about the conflict. The girls didn't seem interested in talking about the issue. The only comment I was able to get out of the conversation was that Vietnam doesn't have good relations with China. Here's a little history of the conflict: The South China Sea is extremely rich in oil, natural gas, and fishing. China claims a large portion of these waters, including the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. The other countries involved, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, claim overlapping territory with China. The South China Sea has been a conflict for a long time. Originally, the other 6 countries involved were colonies of China and eventually gained their independence and sovereignty. Exclusive Economic Zones state that every country has the right to the natural resources found under the ocean 200 miles off shore. By this rule, China does not have claim to these regions. Tensions escalated in May of this year when a Chinese drilling operation banned the passage of boats in their drilling zone. By international law, all ships have the right to safely pass through these zones. On May 2nd Vietnamese coast guards and Chinese vessels had a stand off to protest the drilling operation. There were multiple collisions and one Vietnamese fishing ship was rammed by a Chinese vessel and sank. There were massive protest in HCMC where Chinese factories were burned. The protests resulted in the death of 4-6 Chinese people, hundreds of injuries, and the accidental (or maybe not) burning of Taiwanese and Korean shops. The U.S.'s position on the South China Sea conflict stated by Hilary Clinton is that if international agreements are broken and the movement of vessels are not free than the U.S. will intervene. So far the U.S. has been aiding Vietnam by building up its navy and increasing economic trading. The U.S. doesn't want China to have full control of the area, because that would give China huge economic advantage. The U.S. wants to create a buffer zone between itself and China by building up South East Asia. By the year 2020 60% of the U.S. navy will be in South East Asia. I personally think that the U.S. should not militarily intervene in the conflict. I think it's a good plan for the U.S. to create a buffer zone in South East Asia, because it will help SEA countries with their economic development and restrict China from having sole access to so many natural resources. Here is a map to explain the territorial boundaries claimed by each country.
Some of us are going out tonight to check out the town. Should be fun with some rice wine and Karaoke!

Love to all,

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Important sites and new tastes

We spent our first night in Can Tho last night! We are living in the international dorm at the edge of campus. Right now I'm rooming with three other girls, but that could change depending on when the new rooms are ready. We have a large common room where our beds are, individual lockers, a fridge, a desk (speckled with what seems to be dried bird poo), a toilet, shower, and sink. Our beds come with mosquito nets, although the rooms are pretty tightly sealed. I think I'm going to try and find a foam topper for my bed, because the beds are about an inch thick. The Hello Kitty bed sheets make up for the lack of mattress for now. I definitely see potential for this room. It just needs a little love and maybe a poster or two. At least we have Game of Thrones to keep us company!
Comfy Cozy

Before we got to Can Tho we had our last couple days in HCM. Friday night some of the girls went out to dinner after a short day of orientation. We went to Secret Garden which had a beautiful view of the city. The power flickered on and off with the occasional flash of lightning. There is a lot of lighting in Vietnam and the rain pours down in heavy sheets. Later that night I was really tired, but I rallied to join the group at SkyBar. SkyBar is a bar that sits atop a skyscraper in the HCM city center. Everything has been pretty cheap in the city, but SkyBar is close to matching American prices. It was definitely the most lavish/poppin bar I've ever been to. We got a HUGE bottle of Ciroc and danced for a few hours. The other guests at SkyBar pretty much kept to their own table, but our group moved around the bar dancing in any open space we could find. It was a late night, but totally worth it.
Dinner on a rooftop 
We spent all of Saturday doing touristy stuff. We went to Cu Chi to see the underground tunnels that the guerrilla fighters of Cu Chi built during the war. Cu Chi was a heavily bombed area during the war and is about an hour outside of HCM. The villagers of Cu Chi responded to the US invasion buy building an elaborate system of underground tunnels where they would live during the day and surface during the night. The guerrilla fighters set up traps, such as home made land mines and pits filled with spikes. The experience felt like an amusement park more than a historical tour. People would take pictures next to old tanks and the tour guide was making jokes throughout the tour. I've noticed that the tours we have been on so far (the palace and the tunnels) have glamorized war and definitely tell one side of the story. We crawled through the tunnels, which was quite frightening at first because the space was about 3ftx3ft and with very dim lighting. I couldn't imagine living down their, but some Vietnamese lived in the tunnels for ten years. The next portion of our day was spent at the American War Museum. The pictures captured during the war were incredible to see. What was most interesting and saddening were the pictures of people affected by agent orange. Still to this day their are kids being born with birth defects due to the poisonous gas that was dropped during the war.
Crawling around Cu Chi tunnels

A destroyed forest

The effects of agent orange

A trap at Cu Chi \tunnels

After the tours we had an AMAZING lunch at this restaurant that offers a variety of street food. Once we got back to the hotel I slept for at least 12 hours. The jet lad has been better now that I'm in Can Tho and I've been in Vietnam for a week. I've written this blog over the course of a few days, so I've actually been in Can Tho for about four days. I'll be sure to be posting about that soon. For our core class we have to keep a blog with a themed question every week, so my next blog is going to be a little different. 

Love to all,