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May I touch your nose?

Recently, I have chance to travel regularly with my Vietnamese friends. Some of them call me ‘weird’ as I am less got influences from Westerners that I have been traveling with last over 10 years. It confirms to me again that there are many big differences in the way of traveling, living and thinking between Vietnamese and other countries.

Light travel is always better?
Vietnamese prefer traveling as light as possible. They may not understand why and how come Westerners have to carry a backpack around. They are also curious of what is inside those bags. Just finished a week trip with 5 friends, I realized all they brought were 5 little bags that weighted 30kgs in total (I guess their laptops already weight half of it). Vietnamese are not great organizing travelers, it is understandable as tourism is still something new and luxurious for most of people in Vietnam. Most of Vietnamese can not afford to have a vacation, even short vacation. Don’t be surprised when you take a domestic flight and see lots of people walk out with a little suitcase.

I have heard my customer saying that she was quite scared when someone was just staring at her in public places. You will certainly get even bigger attention if you have white skin, blonde hair or larger dimensions. Why? Vietnamese are curious about what they don’t really have. Some Vietnamese even point, talk or laugh at you but trust me, most of those actions are not bad meaning. People also just wanted to grab attentions from you only. Still uncomfy, isn’t it? Just a culture gap!

Questions & … hard Answers
I used to take people on overnight or day train along Vietnam. Day train is a trip of fun as you may meet lots of locals. Travel with hard seat is even funnier as this is where poorer Vietnamese people gather. Nothing happened in first couple of hours, but when everyone seemed to be ‘friend’ with eye contact, local started walking pass us (no talk yet as they might have been still shy) and after few times, they talked to me first. The first person made ‘ice break’ then others followed him. Party started!

Many of them thought this was the best and maybe only chance that they could talk and see the Westerners in real!

Many questions were out. Beginning with ‘basic’ ones like: where is your hometown? (where are you from in English), what you do to live?, how old of your parents?, How much you earn? Marriage yet? (for couple), How your children are? Where are they (children) now? Who take care of them when you are here?etc.

When the atmosphere got more friendly, they went to quite more personal questions. ‘Why don’t you let your children/parents travel with you?….’ Someone even asked if they could touch Westerner’s nose as they wondered how comes Westerner’s nose was so straight and high or was there any bone on top of it? (I think this is good question as I have the same concern :))

Culture differences made some uncomfortable situations occasionally, Vietnamese also remain heaps of bad habits, it takes time to change actually but trust me, most of Vietnamese has warm hospitality to tourists which is a big part in Vietnamese culture. However, they just may present their welcome in different ways that sometimes not the way you expected.

Family Strings

Family is always special for all of us, maybe the performance is made differently in different cultures but I think the core values are quite similar. Someone has said ‘you will not understand Vietnam until you get to know enough how important of Vietnamese family ties’. I agree and just trying to find the reasons to prove it and you may find the difference that Vietnamese culture presented.

First of all, Vietnamese people get strongly influenced by Confucianism which was the religion of social Feudalism. It settled the society by its rules in order to create the standard of values that people must follow. One of the important rules in Confucianism is the value of family relation. It puts the high rank for relation between member in family such as husband and wife, parent and other relative, parents and children, old generation and young generation. Amazingly, throughout thousands of years, those values are still passing from generation to generation.

Vietnamese have been trained and learnt to be suitable for community and family. Particularization is not acceptable. If someone lives for himself, he already chooses his own way to be minority in society. People based on their family to find the peace and safety conditions in their lives.

Family in Vietnam stands like a system of mini society, the header often is the oldest who has a strong ‘voice’ and involved in most activities in house. It processes smoothly under rules and flexibility of each family. In the West, if you don’t have money, you may ask you bank, but in Vietnam I will firstly ask my mum, if she doesn’t have it, she may ask her sister, sister may ask her brother in law. We live in that system call ‘circle economics’ or like LAN network in your office.

Those values pass to Vietnamese from very beginning of people’s lives. The lesions of respect and greatness to parents, grandpas and loves to home country were touched sophisticatedly to people when they were a little. The first lesion in school is how to respect teacher and other rules on preserving family culture values. Is this also the core values of famous nationalism in Vietnam?

1986, Vietnam opened its door to other nations, gaining great records in economics. Besides, Vietnamese is facing to unexpected changes in culture values, but the family values still in well preserve. There is an invisible string that ties up people in family relationship, the family is still most important for Vietnamese in despite of outdated Feudalism that I will try to explain in another post. Vietnamese still hold the strong believe that their family is the one and only like the song that all Vietnamese know when we were in kindle garden. The words are very simple but meaningful to us:

There are many stars in sky

There is much rice on the rice field

There are number of bird voices in the forest

But, like the sun, my mum is the one and only!

It may have been too long post now; I got to go home. Bye Bye!

The hat of memories!

If you asked me what is the most meaningful object that represented in Vietnamese culture? I choose a conical hat!

I did not know much about it until getting old enough and remembered the story that had told by my grandfather when I was small. I and my sisters used to be sent back to my hometown when we had left school for summer breaks. It was time for my grandfather meet nephews and makes them happy with countryside games and foods. Most of countryside women are wearing conical hats; it’s cool and also protects people from sun. My grandfather had one too. Her hat used as a wheat candy basket that I often firstly checked and fought with my uncle’s children when she came back from market. She told me when a girl is shy; she uses the hat to cover her face, the act of charming girl! Or the hat could be a handy fan on the heat working day in the rice field. And when people are waving someone or getting attention, they wave their conical hats.

The conical hats in my hometown is not the same as the other parts of Vietnam, it’s not romantic like the hats in Hue which the boy make one with a poem between layers that visible to girls when they held up to the sun. It’s also not as hard as the one in Mekong delta which made of from the coconut’s leaf. My grandfather told me the best hats must be made from the palm leaf that made it lighter and last longer. The shape is covered by many round bamboo rings from top to bottom that represents for Vietnamese union, the round of perfection, round of earth and sky!

My grandfather had passed away, but the image of her walking with conical hat back from the market will stay with me forever. The candy I fought for is the sweetest one I have ever had. Time flies, those values sometimes are forgotten by us, a young generations, fashion trends are changing, people maybe don’t wear the conical hats anymore in the future but the memories are still so fresh to me, to anyone who had been one time followed our grandfathers to the market.

Some scenes of conical hats in Vietnam

Vietnamese are not ugly

Beauty is said to be ‘in the eye of the beholder”.  Someone from the West may think Julia Roberts is charming.  She certainly may be, but some of the older generation in Vietnam may think differently.

I have a friend who broke up with his girl just because of a comment from his Mum about his girl’s high cheekbones.  The Vietnamese think that a girl like that will bring bad luck to her husband – and may even bring death to him!  The round face shape represents prosperity and wealth to Vietnamese. While you are travelling around Vietnam you may see many Vietnamese woman who cover their faces with masks and gloves, said to be necessary because of the pollution in the streets.  This is only part of the reason; the main reason is to protect their white skin.  That is the second of the two main beauty rating standards of Vietnamese.  First is slim shape, second is pale skin!

These values may be different in different parts of the country too. For example, Hue people have as many as 10 values of beauty: they put the sweet voice first; teeth and hair are also ranked highly. Mountainous areas value strong people: if you possess big and strong legs, that will attract lots of boys and girls around you.

Vietnamese parents also suggest their own standards to guide their children in marriage. They think a girl with a small waist (called a “bee’s waist”) strongly indicate excellent prospects for hard work and bearing of children.  This thinking still exists in most Vietnamese people since 90% are still farmers with limited education.

You are not acquainted with the values above?  No worries, because Vietnamese people think that all Westerners are beautiful because they are white and tall, but Vietnamese have trouble in recognizing or remembering Westerner’s faces as they seem to be all the same. I have heard lots of stories about this situation, so don’t be surprised the next day if your new friend just passes by without a word to you.

Today the values are changing as the young Vietnamese people are exposed to international values, but trust me, the traditional values developed over thousands of years still exist for the majority of the people.

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