Day 4: Hanoi
In our first blog, we noticed the "antitheses" that are prevalent in Vietnam. Today, this theme was driven home as we experienced blending of both ideas and cultures in our early morning run, visit to the Temple of Literature, and return to the Peace Village. Since the purpose of our trip to Vietnam is global education (learning about different models of community service, greater understanding of cultures outside the American/Parker bubble, etc.), the antitheses that we see enhance our understanding of Vietnamese culture.
Some of us began our morning following this theme as we finished our run around Hoan Kiem Lake. In a plaza across the street from the lake, we saw elderly men and women going about their morning excercises: some were practicing zumba next to a group practicing the more traditional breathing exercises and tai chi, while nearby a large group of couples waltzed to a wide variety of music (including Western techno/pop and the Vietnamese anthem). We joined them in many of their excercises and were delighted (and more than a little surprised) when many of the members of the breathing excercises group often burst into spontaneous laughter--an expression of emotion that seems to be a part of Vietnamese culture.
When we visited the Temple of Literature with our pen pals after breakfast, we had our first encounter with ancient Vietnamese culture and the influence that it has on modern Vietnam. Built in 1070 by Ly Nhan Tong, the Temple of Literature was the first national university in Vietnam. The university admitted students by a strict imperial exam and taught students Confucian values. All studies were completed in traditional Chinese script (calligraphy still adorns the temple to this day); however, modern Vietnamese script is Romanized, so the majority of our pen pals couldn't read the Chinese script. Since today was Poetry Day in Vietnam, we were fortunate enough to see a mix of modern and ancient Vietnamese culture though the parades and poetry contests that were taking place at the shrines of ancient scholars and kings. Clearly, the Confucian emphasis on education remains intact in modern Vietnam.
After lunch, we returned to the Peace Village to continue our interaction with the victims of Agent Orange dioxin poisoning. Returning to the Peace Village was not a part of our original itinerary, but we changed it because many American volunteers who participate in these kinds of community service projects often only visit for a day, and therefore the impact on both volunteers and the inhabitants of Peace Village is not as strong. While we were still very much aware of the impact of warfare, Parker and Peace Village students were more familiar with each other after an afternoon of drawing with the children and making bracelets. At the end of our visit, many of us purchased some of the same bracelets that we helped make as mementos of our newfound connection with the inhabitants of Peace Village.
We finished off our day with a high-spirited karoke session with our pen pals that included both Vietnamese and American songs. We were impressed by our pen pals' knowledge of American songs, and this helped us realize that while antithesis is a repeating theme in Vietnamese society, perhaps similarities present another powerful theme. We can draw comparisons from modern-day Vietnam to ancient Vietnam, the West, Soviet nationalism (e.g., hammer and sickle signs all over the city), and China. From what we've seen so far, Vietnamese culture is a unique blend of similarites that are presented side by side to form eye opening contrasts, or in literary terms, antitheses.
Day 4 Photo Highlights
Day 4 Video Highlights
Today we visited the Temple of Literature, which now is a great tourist attraction but actually has been part of Vietnam for over one millennium. Today is the day of the poet because it is the first full moon of the new year. We experienced a music performance by four ladies who played a variety of traditional Vietnamese instruments. One of the most famous Vietnamese instruments is the đàn bầu, a single stringed instrument that can produce a great variety of songs. With this great performance we were able to experience an important part of Vietnamese culture: their music.
In the Temple of Literature we also found a man writing a parchment with traditional Chinese characters. It was very interesting to see how through all the years the purpose of the place has not changed in essence. The man was writing were centuries ago the scholars would gather and study.
As the days go on, we continue to know more about the Vietnamese culture. Our bonds with the students from the University of Hanoi grow fonder every day too. Tonight, after dinner, we went out to sing karaoke. The enthusiasm from both groups to form lifelong relations not only between the people but also between both of our institutions (Francis Parker School and University of Hanoi) is a result of such bonds.
See the videos here.