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.