Only 14 days left. It’s about time that I talk about culture shock. Traffic was certainly a shock, and I sometimes still cling on to the Vietnamese roommates when I cross. But honestly, the biggest culture shock for me was the clothing. In Vietnam, under the scorching sun, people wear jacks and long pants to avoid sunburns and being tan. Like many Asian countries, being pale is a desirable trait, and people detest being tan. How ironic that in the United States, pale people purposefully get spray tans to appear tan. In Asia, beauty filters make people more pale; in the US, some beauty filters make people more tan. Yet after having lived in Vietnam for 6 weeks during the dry season, I can understand why people would choose to cover up their skin. In Da Nang, for the first time in my life, I got sunburnt and my skin peeled. It was quite an experience — I didn’t know that the skin under the peeled skin would be a patch of white. I also didn’t know how itchy sunburns could be. I accepted it as being karma for making fun of my friends that get sunburnt easily, since I was never susceptible sunburns before this. The burning sun sometimes makes me think that long pants would be nice to give my skin a break.
Our meals are family style. I normally take the role of distributing the rice, and if no one else does it, then the lemonade. I distribute the rice for everyone, as is customary in Korea. In America, though, this is not always common. Also, in America, we tend to say “thank you” and “sorry” for minor things as well. In Vietnam, because handing a bowl of rice to everyone is common and almost expected, people do not say thank you in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese roommates were a little confused at first by the fact that we said “thank you” or cam on for each bowl of rice and lemonade.
Speaking of meals, there’s something that I had gotten so used to but was mind-blowing for my friends (and me at first). Pho, apparently, was breakfast food in Vietnam. Yet for us foreigners, who is used to having pho for dinner or lunch, it’s hard to imagine having pho for breakfast. Now, I can’t imagine not having pho for lunch. It’s incredibly easy on the stomach, you can add chili sauce to make it as spicy as you want, and it’s delicious. Although I eat it a good 3-4 times a week, I still don’t get sick of it. In fact, when I leave Vietnam, having pho every morning is one of the things I will dearly miss. There’s a similar dish called bun (pronounced like boon with an upward tone) with a different type of noodles and broth, but I still prefer pho.
Another culture shock: avocado’s treated as a fruit here. Which makes sense because it is a fruit. In America, though, because we put avocados in our sandwiches and salads, I have always thought of it more as a vegetable than a fruit. (Note: after talking with Austin, this may just be a me problem, and not a culture shock for all people.) If you order a smoothie of “mixed fruits”, you’ll find avocados there. Avocado smoothies are one of the most popular smoothies here, though my students by far prefer sinh to dua (coconut smoothie). Therefore, for the Vietnamese roommates, guacamole was weird because we put onions into our guac. For them, having onions with fruits was weird, whereas for us, trying avocado smoothie was weird. It was surprisingly very delicious, and I would recommend trying it.
This post wasn’t meant to be about food, but because food is such an integral part of our lives, I will talk even more about it. I love Co Tuan. Co Tuan is the lady who cooks the amazing food for us every day. Her food is nutritious, delicious and healthy. She also understands my bad Vietnamese and is extremely kind and caring. Along with King Mason, Co Tuan is a community partner that I will miss. King Mason has started telling me jokes at the worksite - despite the fact that I don’t understand them - and I’m definitely getting better at communicating with him. He even said that I was a good worker! :) When I heard that, I felt like my life had been made complete.
I will be sad to leave. Having a set routine every day, eating three meals a day, and sleeping a healthy amount seems to never happen at Duke. The serendipity of Quang Tri, the Vietnamese roommates, Hien and Vu, the masons, Co Tuan, and my students will not be forgotten. The times I’ve spent here have been fabricated into my identity, composing a part of me now. As of right now, I’m not sure what long-term impact DukeEngage Vietnam will have on me. But as I grow older, I will look back at this time fondly, longingly, and think over the lessons I have learnt here. And I will want to come back, always. That I can say with certainty.