The Not So Bad Beginning

Before I went to Vietnam, I heard news about the red tide in Central Vietnam and a few other issues, I could not help but think about how I wish I chose to study abroad a different year or a different country. However, after visiting my grandfather’s grave and delivering canned goods to my grandmother, who thanked me because they lost their second most staple food, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for being so selfish. Many of the residents here do not have much and during my first week in Vietnam, I was able to talk to and learn more about their culture and their daily struggles.

The villagers start their day as early as 4am: selling goods at the market, preparing food, or working. Shown below is small market in Vietnam. It has a style similar to a flea market, where individual vendors set out their goods and customers are allowed to bargain for prices. Unfortunately because of the cheap quality of their materials and goods, these small vendors only make a few dollars a day at most, a problem for many individuals throughout Vietnam. Some families are fortunate enough to have family who live in other countries who send money back home, but there are many others who travel far from the outskirts of this village to sell their goods at this market try to make those few dollars in a disparate attempt to feed their families.

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Grocery Shopping with Ngoại

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Small Market in An Bang, Vietnam

My family is one of those families who are fortunate enough to live in another country and work; however, the hardworking, luxurious life I have back at home makes it easy to adapt in some aspects and extremely difficult in others. For one, the weather here is very similar to Florida, except it is not as humid  thank goodness! So, in spite of the lack of AC, the heat hardly bothers me. It has also been very easy for me bathe using a bucket of cold water; I find it more enjoyable and eco-friendly than actual shower heads.

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“Showers” in Vietnam

One thing I struggle to adapt to are the bathrooms here in my grandmother’s home. My current bathroom has two openings that is supposed to act as a window, but it more so a decorative hole in the wall with no screening or way to close it, so it is easy for a hoard mosquitoes to come and attack me while I’m brushing my teeth or using the bathroom. Out of paranoia of being bit by a mosquito carrying a disease or virus, I have resorted to brushing my teeth in my own bedroom. I also have struggled accepting that I am not “Vietnamese”, but a Viet kieu, a Vietnamese-American. The people here treat me differently and it bothers me that they would want to treat me as a “Queen” merely because I am an American and someone they consider of higher status. I cannot help with housework, throw away my own trash, or even walk to places without being escorted by someone. It’s frustrating because while other people may think of it is a compliment, I have trouble accepting that we are anything but equals, who just live in different parts of the world.

Although traveling to another country has a few cons,  I do enjoy being in Vietnam overall. For starters, I love the fact that everything is in close proximity of one another; this village is so small I can walk to one place to another without having to rely on someone for transportation. Since very few people have cars, it is also very common to see an ox transporting heavy materials through the village. Also, everything here is so CHEAP. Going out to eat or having fun generally costs about one dollar per person or dish, I mean who wouldn’t love that, not to mention the food here is absolutely delicious. This is just the beginning of my adventure abroad, I cannot wait to see what else this beautiful country has to offer.


Leah Phan

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