Letters From Vietnam: To my Hometown from Abroad
04 December 2018
It has been such a long time since we’ve seen each other and I apologize for that.
I am now living in southern Thailand with a friend whom I’ve been in contact with for years but only recently met when we decided the brainstorming stage was worn thin and we were ready to start a project together.
He’s a photographer and videographer and we’ve decided to combine our artistic talents toward a humanitarian project which will be officially announced early on in 2019.
I was writing to you because I was reminded of the days we first met some time ago in Hanoi. Hanoi is the crazy capital of Vietnam. Imagine your head on a constant swivel just to walk to the park. The traffic is pure insanity — nothing like we are used to in Kansas City. Perhaps where you’ve been in India, you’ve seen the type of madness I’m trying to get across.
There are no useful sidewalks as most everyone parks their scooters and motorbikes on the sidewalk leaving you to walk the side of the road and pray you don’t get sideswiped. This part of the city, I enjoyed. Something about the insanity attracted me.
In Hanoi, only locals can navigate the streets. You have to know the rules of the road to get through the traffic. In comparison, Bangkok seems like orderly madness.
It was my second time being in Hanoi in November. The previous time I spent about a week there, but this time I was only there for the night before my flight back to Thailand. I had already seen all the ‘attractions’ (although I hate this word), so I was in no particular hurry around the city.
From my hostel, I went for ice cream around one of the largest lakes in the city. Hanoi is known for their inner-city lakes and this one, in particular. It is beautiful and you wouldn’t imagine how well-maintained the park surrounding is given its enormous size.
Locals and tourists alike share the paths along the lake and, in the evening, the lake really lights up. Be it the full moon’s glow or the vibrant glow of the neon lights of surrounding hotels and restaurants, the entire park becomes a romantic, cozy paradise somehow secluded from the buzz of the city. Walking slowly with an ice cream cone in hand, I had nowhere to be and a night to kill.
A group of five Vietnamese students saw me alone and eagerly approached me with giant hopeful smiles on their faces. They were university students studying English and their assignment was to have a conversation with a foreigner. I’m sure it took a team of them to build up the confidence to approach an English speaker when their language level was mediocre at best.
One endearingly asked for ten or fifteen minutes of my time so that we could sit down and record a conversation for their class assignment. I’m not sure whose assignment it was or if it was all of theirs, but they all patiently waited to ask their questions as I answered them one-by-one.
I felt like I was a celebrity answering paparazzi. It was flattering and I could tell they were excited and nervous and every feeling in-between. When they found out I was from the United States is when they really smiled. I suppose there is no bad blood leftover from the atrocious war between our two countries. At least, between the younger generations.
The conversation reminded me of our own during English class of sophomore year when you were only a few years introduced to the United States. They asked me questions about my country and I returned them. We learned a lot about each other, and then the conversation kind of lingered for the sake of their assignment.
Among the things I learned about their culture is that much like the stereotypes say, they do eat dog meat in Vietnam. Although, unlike the assumption, the majority of Vietnamese do not. If I understood right, dog meat is a sort of tradition and is only consumed during one month of the year.
I told them I wouldn’t be opposed to trying dog meat; it was an attempt to show openness to their culture, but they reacted as if I was evil. Clearly, they were not dog meat eaters themselves. We had a laugh and soon the conversation ended as it began raining.
I walked home as the cool wind blew and the temperature dropped below a November-low of 70 degrees. Locals already had their winter jackets on. While I shivered home, I contemplated their tradition of dog meat consumption. I wondered what caused the majority of Vietnam to no longer take part in this culture trip. Has it always been like that? Or is that a consequence of the western world’s influence?
It intrigued me to research further when I got home. It turns out, Vietnamese opinion about eating ‘man’s best friend’ has been waning the past half-century, but a majority of Vietnamese still believe in eating dog meat. The biggest problem Vietnam faces in regards to dog meat is the fact that the meat has become very expensive and therefore dog-nappers will steal pets to sell. One 40-pound dog can sell for $100 which is roughly equivalent to a month’s salary in Vietnam.
Still, I wonder if the waning opinion is due to Western influence. It is incredible how many influences are played out over here. Anyway, I hope you’re well and your adventures get going again soon! I’m so glad we have connected again. You’re inspiring, my dude!