Kyoung Update: Vietnam

by kyoung on July 2, 2007

Greetings!

Kyung Hee University supported my school to embark on a mission to Hanoi, Vietnam to begin a new chapter of the university’s GCS movement–a global coalition of goodwill and international cooperation for peace. I include pictures from the trip and more information about what I saw and learned below.

Enjoy!

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Our trip consisted of several official activities, including a seminar with Hanoi University students to discuss Vietnamese and Korean culture and history, cultural events, and site visits to NGO organizations providing support for children and the extremely poor in rural areas.

It is hard to put succinctly into words what I saw. Vietnam is a developing country making amazing steps towards greater economic growth. Tourism is booming and many areas cater not to local citizens, but to those who travel to Vietnam to experience its culture and natural wonders. But the life most of us are accustomed to do not apply to the life in Vietnam. Informal economies and great discrepancies between the have and have-nots are apparent on the street. For example, in the pictures you’ll see some colorful houses inspired by French colonial architecture and right next to them, you’ll see stark homes. The colorful homes signify that one home is wealthy, while the one next to them is not.

The first sign that Vietnam would not be what I expected was when we drove from the airport to the hotel. I noticed there were few, if any, traffic lights on our way. The next day I was amazed to see 100 motorbikes per car, and probably one public bus per 10 cars. Everyone is on their own motorcyle, running around the city without any transit regulation. You cross the street at your own peril but no one gets run over. In fact, it was curious to see young couples and people of my generation circling the city on their motorbikes for fun at night.

Due to the nature of our visit, we spent most of our time in rural areas outside Hanoi where it was humid and scorching hot. We learned about “cow banks,” a microcredit program for poor farmers who borrow cows from NGO’s to grow their agrarian output. Cows are usually loaned to the most needy, as selected by local village councils. Farmers are given two years to use the cow–usually, they breed it, sell the newborn calf, and return the loan to the NGO–but they get to keep the original cow.

Traditional rural homes in Vietnam are secured by the government–after all, Vietnam is still a communist country. A traditional home is no bigger than a studio in Manhattan–a kitchen, bedroom, and living room are all included in one small space. Usually, you will find a shrine to worship ancestors and food offerings at the center of the living room. We also saw a center for disabled children born from Vietnamese people exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. It was interesting to learn American and even Korean soldiers exposed to Agent Orange during the war have been compensated, while the Vietnamese have not. Children born from people exposed to the toxins did not know what to do with their disabled children. The center I visited provided them with basic education and training to learn how to live in society–they learned basic math, reading and writing. It was touching to not only see the volunteers daring to go to the middle of rural Vietnam to help these children, but the vigor and will with which these children learned given the opportunity.

I believe we barely scratched the surface of Vietnam during the few days we were there. But I was most humbled and wishing to do more at the time. I guess at a personal level, I have become conscious and aware that my life has been most privileged. Ambition and greediness seems preposterous when so many others live with so much less. At the same time, I realize how important it is to be tolerant of the world we live in, with all the inexplicable inequalities that exist, and to treat all with greater dignity and respect.

Peace,

Kyoung

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