I’ve just returned from Halong Bay last weekend, and here are my thoughts recorded throughout the trip.
As time passes, I find it sometimes hard to identify with my fellow European counterparts here at the volunteer Peace house. Many of them are younger than I am too. Being a 24 year old, sometimes I feel like I want different things out of my travel experience. I wanted this trip to Vietnam to be at once a of declaration of self independence, which is why I prepared myself very much for solo travel. This is what happens when you read too much Thoreau before heading overseas.
Its such a unique experience to be with an international community. Sort of like a mini cultural exchange sometimes. But there is just one thing that feels like an ache whenever I’m with them.
I tell many of my European friends that Singaporeans are often a confused people. Singaporeans still retain much of their Asian values. We have much in common with the Vietnamese people. Yet our preferences and lifestyle choices are becoming steadily westernized.
On buses, in restaurants, I often get stares from Vietnamese people, wondering why this guy that looks exactly like them speaks English better than any Vietnamese they know. Sometimes I wonder if those stares are stares of envy. Through the International Volunteer Headquarters’ orientation guide, I was told that the Vietnamese people love to be seen around foreigners and westerners, and having friends from other countries. Its a big thing for a country, where contact with other countries is so very limited.
When they see me laughing and joking happily with other volunteers, they want to do so as well, yet their limited grasp of the English language hinders them from doing so.
They would love dearly to be part of intellectual discussions, western humor, culture. Yet the average Vietnamese youth can only convey basic expressions in English.
When I am with my fellow volunteers, I feel grateful that I can communicate with them easily. All of a sudden the dual language education I was afforded in Singapore since young becomes such a gift.
Fellow Singaporeans, you wouldn’t understand the value of a dual language until you see that Vietnamese waiter standing at the corner of the cafe, looking at you with envious eyes, at how you’re laughing and joking with “white people”. The Vietnamese people would give everything to be seen and have European / Western friends, much less have great conversations with them.
Sometimes I feel guilty participating in our jokes mocking Vietnamese practices, ways of doing things, what with strange bureaucratic practices, “rubber timings”, and broken Engrish. We’re in their country, yet we judge them through foreign eyes. We’re guests in a host’s country. How should a guest reciprocate a host’s hospitality?
We’re actually mocking ourselves when we make fun of Vietnamese practices. These people have been through so many occupations from foreign powers, and with their current government’s policies, it is no wonder that they stare at foreigners in amazement all the time
When we make jokes about Vietnamese or Asian customs. I often feel a sudden pang of loneliness. All of a sudden my Asian-ness becomes very apparent. While I my choices in lifestyles are very much western influenced, I am and will always be Asian at heart.