February 16, 2014

Francis Parker - Vietnam 2014

Day 5:  Hanoi

As we spent our last day in Hanoi, we were able to see the blend of tradition and progress in Vietnamese society that we have seen in the city thus far as we explored the Museum of Ethnology. We also spent time with and said goodbye to our pen pals from Hanoi University as we shopped in a market in the French Quarter.

In the morning, we ventured to the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology, a public museum and research center that displayed the traditions and culture of the fifty-four different ethnic groups of Vietnam. We saw displays of traditional clothing and crafts, as well as Vietnamese musical instruments such as the unique Giarai zither. In the outside exhibition of the museum, we were able to walk into history as we explored recreations of traditional Vietnamese houses, including the Ede long house, the Tay slit house, and the Yao stilt house. As we climbed wooden ladders carved from tree trunks and walked through the houses of pomu wood, we experienced a piece of ethnic life. Among the various artifacts in the museum were many water puppets, which we were able to see in a performance our first day in Hanoi. The water puppets, although undisturbed behind glass at the Museum of Ethnology, are very much present in modern Vietnamese life, as traditional shows still continue to this day. Traditions that may be quite old remain in Vietnamese society and contribute to a sense of cultural unity as Vietnam moves towards a more progressive future.

Even within the museum, which was meant to exhibit traditional culture and practices, there was still the mixture of old and new that we have seen since our arrival; a splash of forward thinking and modern education came in the form an exhibit on sexual education. The exhibit contained information on safe sex, sexually contracted diseases, and the opinions of Vietnam's youth on what sex and love mean to them. Tourists are not the only ones to view this exhibit: many Vietnamese students have seen the display as a part of their public education, and Vietnam increasingly embraces an open view of sexuality in an otherwise more conservative country.

After our visit to the museum, we went to a local market with our pen pals from Hanoi University, where many bought souvenirs to commemorate their time in Hanoi. The students helped us bargain for a wide variety of products, including tea pots, jewelry, belts, wallets, and fans. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to our friends from Hanoi University as we learned more about what Vietnam means to them and as we continued to strengthen our connection through group games and activities. The Hanoi University students have been very welcoming and open with us about their community and society, and we are very thankful to them for the international friendship we have developed. As we travel to the Mekong River Delta and Saigon we hope to learn about and experience more of the complexity of Vietnam.


Day 5:  Photo Highlights

After seeing a contemporary exhibit that revealed the liberal Vietnamese perceptions of growth and development in adolescents, we ventured into the part of the museum representing the historical roots of 53 minority cultures coexisting with that of the Viet people.
 In the outdoor display, we saw the significant diversity of Vietnam mirrored in the diversity of architecture. Dusty, winding pathways led to tall, two-story structures with bamboo-thatched roofs and walls as well as ornately decorated, stilted huts surrounded by water. In each building, the smell of tea wafted through open doorways while sounds of quiet chattering met our arrival.

Our afternoon was comprised of an all-too-brief reunion with our friends from Hanoi University and an exciting trip to the Old Quarter market, where bargaining is part of the commercial culture.

From the market, our Hanoi friends led us to the Hoan Kiem Lake. Here, we interviewed our pen pals for a video project representing the perspectives of our Vietnamese peers on the meaning of Vietnam, the definition and significance of friendship, and finally, the hopes for this new year now that Tet celebrations have come to a close.

After four enchanting days with the Hanoi students, we said our goodbyes and played a farewell game of "Ultimate Ninja." 

 Thanks to e-mail and social media, we will be able to keep in touch with our new friends despite the physical distance between us.

As daylight faded, we paid a visit to the legendary turtle of the Hoam Kiem lake. It is said that the spirit of the Vietnamese people is captured in the reptile's immense size.

Our final stop for the day was at a nearby restaurant for dinner. Here, we were given the opportunity to reflect on the meaningful connections we made in Hanoi and look forward to our upcoming trip to the Southern Delta.

~ Megan

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