So I know I said the following posts in Vietnam would be more about classes and what we’re doing, but because every day I learn more and more about the culture here, there’s no way I can’t write about things I’ve picked up on in the past week. Here we go!
Supermarkets: I went to the supermarket here for a few items and had a really interesting experience. For one, they “check” your purse before going in, meaning they put it in a plastic bag and staple it shut, or they take it and put it in a locker, and you can retrieve it on the way out. Additionally, after you pay for your items, a security guard will check your receipt against the items in your grocery bag. I guess this is a way of ensuring that people don’t shoplift, though I’d be interested to see if that happens often.
The main reason I added this category was because of the experience I had while buying lotion. I barely brought any on this trip, but after very cold weather in New Orleans, I realized I needed to buy some as soon as possible. Nothing in the main supermarket was written in English, even though some items are by typical American brands like Vaseline, Colgate, etc. I eventually found the lotion section, but as I was browsing the different kinds, I realized that every single bottle was a skin-whitening cream. I know only a little bit about the skin-whitening “craze”, often in East Asian societies, for fairer skin to become more white. But it didn’t set in until I was in this store where it was listed on every single option. Needless to say, I ended up finding the last bottle of a typical American lotion, and spent more money that I should’ve, but I didn’t want to buy a product that would bleach my already pale skin.
Also, exploring food markets that are in a completely different language is actually hilarious. None of us know what anything is, so we all just try a bunch of different foods. You just have to roll with it.
Recycling (or lack thereof): – I haven’t seen one recycling bin since I’ve been here, which is very concerning, since many people drink bottled water and other beverages. I don’t see people using disposable bottles nearly as much as in the U.S., but recycling still should be available. However, what’s also interesting is that there are very few trashcans as well – they are often very difficult to find. At home, there’s never a problem finding a trashcan, and I think this reflects the consumer culture. I think people here generally have less trash since they’re buying very little packaged food, and fresh food is abundant and affordable.
No tipping: For the most part, people don’t tip here. In taxis, restaurants, etc., which is definitely a weird concept to get used to. Also, most of my cab rides have cost under $5, which is CRAAAAZY.
Hot water: you have to turn it on for your shower. It really makes me think about the energy that I’m using to prepare for and during the shower. It seems to be pretty prevalent in my friends’ homestays as well, along with the 2-button flush on toilets. The U.S. REALLY needs stuff like this in at least public places, in order to crack down on people who are needlessly wasting energy and resources.
Season clash: It’s winter in Vietnam, but it’s also in the 70s every day and very humid. Yet everyone here is wearing winter coats, scarves, hats, and jeans. My group strolls down the street wearing tshirts, shorts, skirts, and dresses, and we’re sweating up a storm because of the humidity. I know everything is relative, but really, winter coats when it’s 75º out?
P.S. The pictures of the snow at Wesleyan (and at home) are BEAUTIFUL and I’m sad to miss the snow days and sledding on Foss. Enjoy the beautiful snow emotions while they last (because the snow will last all semester hehehehe I’m glad to be in warm climates).
Classes/Activities/Academic things: We’ve had 8 classes so far (1 of each of our 4 classes each week) and countless guest lectures about various aspects of the health care system in Vietnam. It would be too much to describe each lecture, so here are the titles of the lectures and site visits (with a few descriptions) we’ve had:
- Overview/Introduction to Vietnam and its government
- Vietnamese health care system
- Epidemic transition & burden of disease
- Language class (x4)
- Globalization & risks to health in Vietnam
- Environmental health problems and programs in Vietnam (major issues: lack of clean drinking water, waste management, air pollution/smog, food hygiene and safety)
- Tobacco control in Vietnam – the smoking prevalence here is RIDICULOUS. Something like 1 out of every 2 men smoke (not many women do), which only worsens the smog situation here.
- Disability & the national response in Vietnam
- Agent Orange – very very interesting – I know my parents’ generation knows much more about this than I do, but since the Vietnam War was the war we discussed least in high school, I didn’t know much about it upon arriving in Vietnam. Learning about the health effects of Agent Orange, the main herbicide and defoliant used by the US military in the war, was appalling – the Vietnamese citizens that were exposed to it suffered greatly with multiple health problems, and the offspring of those citizens are still affected to this day. AO also affected soil and water, so it contaminated the vegetables and fish that people relied upon to live. I saw pictures and video footage of children and grandchildren who have severe health problems, including various birth defects and mental disabilities, extra fingers and toes, and other awful things. This is just the tip of the iceberg on AO, but it’s very important to know about in terms of current public health effects on the Vietnamese and the offspring of veterans in the U.S.
- Application of Accupressure (type of massage) – Traditional Medicine in Vietnam
- Vietnam National History Museum
- Thanh Xuan Peace Village – essentially a rehabilitation center for children affected by various disabilities, often stemming from the effects of Agent Orange. They aim to promote peace about the topic of Agent Orange and work with children ages 2-20 so they can become well enough to have a job and live on their own. Unfortunately, I think a lot of what they do got lost in translation while we were there, since we had to use a translator.
- Department of Traditional Medicine at Hanoi Medical University (the university at which our
classroom is based) – this was freakin AWESOME. They do a lot of different treatments to reduce pain and tension in the body, specifically acupuncture, massage, and herbs. This was a very interactive visit, so a lot of my friends got to test all of these treatments (and I got my first massage…5 minutes, but still worth it), which definitely made it a lot more fun.
First weekend in Vietnam: This was a much-needed weekend after a week starting with 43 hours of travel, followed by 4 packed days of classes, lectures, and navigating the city of Hanoi on our own. I spent all of Saturday in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, which is an (often touristy) area by the beautiful Hoàn Kiếm Lake. My friends Steph, Sophie, Mariam and I spent 2 hours at a rooftop café with an incredible view of the lake. We all had “moments” while we were up there of alllll the feelings about being abroad and privilege and college and friendship. All in all, it was wonderful. We spent the rest of the day walking all over, eating (when in Hanoi…), and discovering cool nooks and crannies in the city.
On Sunday, the four of us, plus our friends Adrianna and Hannah, traveled to the Bat Trang Ceramic Village just outside of Hanoi. We got to see a crazy amount of teapots, teacups, bowls, chopsticks, and everything else you can imagine in every pattern you can think of. We also got to make our own pottery on pottery wheels, which was a lot of fun, though we didn’t take it home (probably for the best).
General update: every day is still an adventure. I’m loving every new experience and every friendship and every time my host mom asks (through my host sister) more about my life. She already told me that I use chopsticks well, which makes me warm and fuzzy inside because my host mom is the CUTEST. Speaking of cute, so is my 5-year-old host brother – he discovered my roommate’s GoPro during my host mom’s birthday dinner the other night and decided to look at it like this.
While every day is still very exciting, every time I’m stuck in a language rut and don’t know how to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English (aka every other minute), I unintentionally start speaking Spanish. I’ve told my host mom “Sí sí!” and “Como se dice…” multiple times, and even more with street vendors when I have no clue how to ask for something I want after already saying “no meat” and “only vegetables” and “tofu” in Vietnamese. It just makes me even more impressed with everyone I’ve met here who speaks both Vietnamese and English (I’ve spoken with a lot of students my age), because they are such different languages in terms of the tone and inflection, and I can’t even imagine trying to become fluent in Vietnamese.
This weekend, everyone on my program is traveling to the scenic Halong Bay, where we’ll stay on a boat, kayak in bright blue waters, and hopefully explore some caves, among other activities. Hopefully the next blog post will be more exciting than this one. I can’t wait for more adventures! Have a wonderful weekend!
P.S. Wanna see what an IHP group looks like when walking around? Or worse, crossing any street in Vietnam?? This is exactly what we look like. You’re welcome.