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Differences in the North and South

I have been in Vietnam for almost 3 weeks, but I am just starting to settle into my day to day life in Da Nang. I started my journey in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, exploring it for a few days before flying south to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the former capital of South Vietnam prior to the reunification of the North and South in 1976. The difference between the two cities was incredibly striking to me. From the layout of the city and its streets, to the people that inhabited them.

 

While I enjoyed both cities it was very clear that Saigon was more welcoming to tourists, from the service I received in restaurants and taxis, to the interactions I had with people in the streets. Saigon appears to have more money being put into it as it is the commercial and financial hub of Vietnam. It is vibrant, very modern and felt like a thriving city full of life and exciting things to come.

 

 

Hanoi was an incredible city to experience as it felt older and somehow more “authentically” Vietnamese. I think Hanoi is exactly what I pictured when hearing everyone’s stories before coming to Vietnam. The streets were absolutely chaotic with motorbikes everywhere, including driving down the wrong way of traffic and on sidewalks. I loved crossing the streets, having to walk out into oncoming traffic and watch the vehicles effortlessly move around me. The food was also a fantastic experience. Everywhere I went I would walk in, point at what I wanted, and food was delivered to me within a minute or two. It was incredible that no verbal communication was required, and that they did that with every customer that came in. I never felt unwelcome anywhere I went, but I definitely felt out of place and sometimes a burden to the people that I interacted with.

 

While the country is united again there are definite distinctions between the North and South which I mainly experienced through hospitality in the two cities. My tour guides in the South also seemed to be more willing to discuss the war and explain how the war effected and continues to influence daily living in Vietnam. However, that might have been because of the tour guides’ knowledge and not an actual reflection of the views on the war of the North and South. I hope to be able to return to both cities to explore them further and learn more about the people and the culture! Such a great way to start my Vietnam adventure.  

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Vietnam: the chaotic beauty

I am writing in the kitchen of my apartment here in Da Nang, Vietnam. I arrived in the city a few days ago; after 2 weeks of travelling the country from South to North by motorbike. My butt is sore (from riding for so long on broken roads), but my heart is full of memorable experiences and spectacular sights. This blog will focus on the resilience of the Vietnamese people I have met, witnessed, and experienced.

 

The first day after arriving in Ho Chi Minh city I visited the War Memorial Museum at the heart of the city. The most amazing thing I had found through all the horror of the stories from the war, and pictures of the suffering & atrocities, was the positivity of the nation. Every person we spoke to had nothing but bright stories to tell, and forgiveness for those involved in the war in even the worst of ways. The museum had many sections on remembering the awful parts but also sections on how the people persist and how the future is brighter and stronger than ever. Everywhere you see people working hard and doing their best in an economy that is less than perfect. When speaking with the people I asked, when appropriate, how they view tourists (specifically Americans) and they reply with smiles, understanding, and welcome. The people have suffered the effects from the war and centuries of colonialism; but now are simply happy to be making their way in this world in relative freedom and pursuit of happiness.

 

There are many people still affected by the consequence of a war that ended almost 50 years ago, the land mines and bombs still scattered throughout the country are numerous and the people who were and are affected by the aftermaths of Agent Orange are certainly present. However, every person I had the chance to speak with was kind, courteous, and welcoming to a person who is clearly foreign. I feel comfortable in this chaotic and beautiful country in a way I did not expect. I am excited to meet many more people, form relationships and understand the culture that I would describe as industrious, fiercely positive, and persistently hospitable.

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Now that it's over...

Having been home for a little bit now, I am beginning to experience many different feelings in regards to our experience in Vietnam. One of my fears was that I would revert back to my old ways when I come back to Canada, and so far I have noticed this concern's relevance. It is easy here - where we have all our needs met - to get wrapped up in things that in Vietnam seemed incredibly trivial. For example, the concept of "public image" is different. In Vietnam, I was looked up to by many. Whether this be due to mislead views of white people, or just an appreciation of foreigners, I found it incredibly shocking that we were such objects of awe in Eastern Asia. It makes me sad, because when back in Canada I interpret most attention or interactions as negative ones, most likely judging the sad state I feel I am in, or trying to tell me how I should better myself for next time. But in Vietnam, this never happened. No one made me feel bad for being myself, and no one made me feel judged - and on the rare occasions where I was judged, I welcomed it with open arms, which usually resulted in some sort of bonding between myself and those who were questioning my actions! Most moments where judgement was occurring towards us, it was delivered with a naive honesty that was based on a concern or compassion of something. Our new found friends were not racist towards our diverse group because they are bad people, but because they didn't know it is considered rude to act that way.

Now do not get me wrong, racism is awful and we should actively work to prevent it. However I realized how sensitive we have become in Canada. We are so scared of offending people in North America now, that everything we say must be filtered. I think this brings up an important notion, because if we are filtering all we say, are we able to be truly honest? Now I do not want people to confuse honesty with cruelty, rudeness. etc. Being honest can be done in a caring way that is evident of the compassion that backs it up. I think a lot of my anxieties are because of all the filtering I am aware is needed before I speak or do anything! Without these concerns in Vietnam I felt I could be more myself. I felt I could express myself genuinely because I knew these people came from a caring place. I don't always feel that back home, but I hope I can continue to feel this way here in Canada. In Vietnam, no one wanted to hurt us. I guarantee our ethnic background had something to do with this, but it also reminded me that this is an option in regards to how we lives our lives. It makes me wonder if Vietnam will grow to become more like Canada's culture as the country develops. Will Asian countries remain collectivist or drift towards the individualist nature of North America? 

I learned a lot about myself on this trip. Ultimately this experience taught me the benefit of taking risks. The missed opportunities that go by when you live in your own little bubble, letting strangers pass you by with regard only for what is on your to do list for that day. We are so wrapped up in our own lives that many of us forget that life isn't anything without having a passion for life itself, for the people, for the world. I have been helped and accommodated so much here, arguably more than I would have been back home. Experiences make life worth living. You might have to do things that feel uncomfortable to get these experiences, but it will not be something you regret. Go with the flow, and don't be hard on yourself when things don't go as planned. There isn't enough love in this world, so let's decide to embody it and enjoy the life we have.

tạm biệt - hẹn gặp lại!

(in English: Goodbye, see you again! )

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The BEGINNING

Your early twenties can be a time of opposites. I have friends who are in the military, having kids, buying houses but also friends who live with their parents and require permission to stay out past midnight. As for me? I’m a Canadian woman, currently in the last year of my education degree. The final year of your degree is something no one adequately prepares you for. The years pass in a blur of stress induced all-nighters and caffeine fueled adventures but the transition into the real world sneaks up on you when it’s least expected. The University of Calgary has been an integral part of my adult life and I am excited to share that it is the reason I am currently writing this post from the comfort of a beautiful little café in the old-quarter of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. My final year at the University includes an amazing opportunity to participate in the Teaching Across Borders program: a program that immerses pre-service teachers into international pedagogy and expands their understanding of the world. Though there were multiple countries to chose from, I have chosen to teach English to students in the developing and expanding city of DaNang, located on the coast of central Vietnam.Having arrived one month early to explore this new place I will call home for the next couple months, I feel as though we’ve met before. Vietnam and I have been in an online relationship since confirmation of my acceptance into the TAB program. I have spent countless hours on Pinterest, Trip Advisor and reading lonely planet guides – yet, none of it compares to seeing the breathtaking views of HaLong Bay or the brightness of the Hoi An lanterns in person. Having adequately explored the area I am now excited to begin the educational portion of this trip and step into the classroom. I hope to bring new global perspectives into the classroom and I know I will take away new methods of pedagogy, and a new understanding of international approaches to teaching. I am not nervous for the experience, but rather nervous for the way my teaching methods will be perceived. My aim is to be respectful of the Vietnamese ways in the classroom while concurrently introducing Western methods to create a hybrid of the two. More than anything I am excited to work with the students and teachers of our host schools as the people, and their kindness, have been a feature highlight since I have arrived. I'm both thankful and excited for the upcoming week and could not be more great full for the TAB program.

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Thi ân bất cầu báo

Its been just over two weeks since I got to Danang, Vietnam, and the time has been filled with adventures and learning.  I have gotten to know my adopted city a little better, as well as explored some of the surrounding districts.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned during my time here, it’s that the Vietnamese people are some of the kindest people in the world. Every single day I am pleasantly surprised by just how wonderful and welcoming everyone I meet is. I think this is best summed up by the Vietnamese saying, thi ân bất cầu báo. Translated to English, this means that when someone does something for another person, they don’t expect anything in return. They do it because it’s kind, and for no other reason.

People here go out of their way to show kindness. Everyone I pass on the street smiles and says hello; even people on motorcycles shout hello when they drive by. Just earlier this week, I spent an hour having a conversation with a person who didn’t speak a word of English through Google translate. Even though Google translate does a really poor job of translating sentences, he was happy to keep trying the whole time.

Furthermore, we have been adopted by two ladies who have taken it upon themselves to make sure we have a good time while in Danang.

Ms. Hoa works on campus, and on the first day we met her she invited us to her home to have dinner and meet her family. Her son, Hui, regularly comes by our rooms to pop in and say hello.

Again, neither Ms. Hoa nor her husband speak English, but they just want us to feel welcome in Vietnam, and since our first meal have invited us over every Sunday for family dinner. It’s really fun to spend time there, because Hui and Ms. Hoa teach us words in Vietnamese and we teach Hui, who already speaks relatively good English, some more complicated phrases in English.

Our other adopted parent is Jade, who is a teacher at one of the schools we have been placed at. We met on our first day at the school, and by the time the meeting was over she had offered to take us to the market to pick out fabric for the traditional Ao Dai and find a tailor the next morning. She took her kindness a step further when, the next morning, she took us out for breakfast at a hotel her sister worked at. Her sister wanted to meet us, and then discounted our meal by 50% as a thank-you for coming to visit.

 

It was wonderful to have Jade there to help us choose fabric, as she bargained for us and acted as a translator. It would have been impossible without her. When we went to pick the Ao Dai up, they turned out perfectly, and she was so happy for us. Since then, Jade has gone out of her way several times to help us, especially when there is a language barrier. Just yesterday, Allison unfortunately lost her glasses when swimming in the ocean. Jade took her that night to get a new prescription, and by this morning Allison had a new set of glasses—a feat that would have been next to impossible without her assistance. Furthermore, Jade has offered to take us to Hue, to act as a tour guide in the upcoming weeks.

The people of Vietnam have made being in a foreign country much easier. They are wonderful to be around, and they make you feel right at home—even when you don’t speak the same language. I already know I am going to terribly miss the people who have already made this trip unforgettable when I return home.

 

 

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Stumbling through Beautiful Danang, Vietnam!

I have been in Vietnam for over two weeks now, and it has been an action-packed two weeks. The days feel so long here, because our crew is out and about doing things from when we wake up right until we go to sleep! Vietnam is a beautiful place that can make me smile, laugh, and also put a confused look on my face. Every moment is interesting.

First of all, the schools we are working at are amazing. My schedule consists of teaching an English Language Club at a primary school on Monday and Thursday, and volunteering at a junior high school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. We are also going to be running English Conversation Classes with the university staff at the campus we are living at. Stepping into schools in Vietnam is like a red carpet, all of the students are so excited to see us that they crowd around us, grin and say hi, ask us questions constantly, and chatter amongst their friends while looking at us. It is seriously like being a celebrity! I hope to gain some insight on why students are so excited about foreign teachers. In Canada, students to not react this way about any special guests. I am so privileged to be able to have this experience of education in Vietnam, so it is wild to me that students are excited to see me, when it is so much the other way around.

It’s impossible not to be immersed into the culture of Vietnam every day. We took a weekend trip to Hoi An Ancient Town, which is an important site in Vietnam, just 40 minutes from Danang. We strolled through the markets, beached, motorbiked around the city and spent time sight-seeing. More people than I expected speak some English in Vietnam, but the language barrier is still a constant culture shock. Communicating with locals is so fun because everyone is so friendly, and we always seem to get where we’re going or accomplish what we need. However, the language barrier is evident and sometimes difficult. I’ve never before experienced not understanding someone in this way, and knowing that someone I’m talking to completely doesn’t understand me. I am happy to be placed in a country where I don’t speak the language, and I’m trying to learn as many bits of Vietnamese as I can.

Mid-Autumn festival was going on for a few days during this past week in Danang. From our dorm we could hear drumming and shouting in the streets, which sparked our curiousity enough to wander the streets following the music. After watching a lion dancing practice in Hoi An, we were eager to see the full performance. After exploring our neighbourhood for a bit we were able to find the celebration; a group of boy dancers will ask homes or businesses if they can perform in their building, and if the owners say yes, the dance is meant to bring luck and fortune. There is drumming, costumes, and a huge crowd to watch the performances. We followed the troupe for a few blocks before they climbed into their open-back bus on to their next location.

A funny and sort of alarming moment was getting through a severe storm last Monday night. It had been raining and storming all day, and we even got caught in knee-deep puddles on our way back from school. In the evening, the storm got so bad that there were announcements over the speakers on campus. However, they were all in Vietnamese so we couldn’t understand the warnings. Our neighbours tried to explain what was going on, but all we could understand is that there was a hurricane and we should stay inside for the next few hours. Thankfully the storm was overnight so by the time we woke up everything was back to normal, yet it is strange not knowing what to do in an intense situation! This was a special case, but the daily weather in Vietnam at this time of year is typically hot, humid and sunny days and stormy evenings. The storms in Vietnam are absolutely beautiful.

Excited for more storms, sea and fun adventures! 


Japanese Bridge in Hoi An

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