Vietnam ; The World They Live In
Two YNO reporters went to Vietnam for 10 days to experience the Short Culture Exchange Program sponsored by the Center for International Programs at YU. We learned about Vietnam's culture, language, history and the impact of the Korean Wave. We felt their vitality and saw some famous motor cycles on the road. Let's take a closer look at Vietnam.
Yeungnam University has enjoyed a sister relationship with HUFLIT (Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology) since 2004. Both universities exchange students every year. Yeungnam University welcomes about 3-4 exchange students from HUFLIT every year and dozens of YU students visit HUFLIT through short cultural exchanges for 10 nights and 11 days. Exchange students from HUFLIT are undergraduate students, and the students that are sent by YU participate in activities with students who major in Korean language.
Vietnam has been colonized by many countries for thousands of years. The Vietnamese people call this the "1,000 years of China, 100 years of France, and 30 years of USA." Korea and Vietnam's direct connection started during the Vietnam War. At that time Korea participated in the war due to its alliance with the USA. Korea and Vietnam have experienced improved relations since 1992. Currently, many Koreans live in Vietnam, and Korea is one of the largest international investors in Vietnam.
Before leaving, we read some books and did some research about Vietnam, however, what we read was not exactly match our first impressions.
Hard to Forget, War Remnants Museum
Korea and Vietnam share several similarities, for example; they both experienced terrible civil wars last century. Vietnam's colonial period under France is also similar to Korea's experience with Japan. We visited the War Remnants Museum first and saw real weapons that were used in the war. There were many photos that illustrated the horrors of war.
The museum consists of 3 themed exhibitions: Truth of History, War Crimes, and Prison. Each exhibition focuses on different realities of war and the condition of the prisons which were used during the colonial period under France and the Vietnam War. Many photos on the walls show harsh massacres of entire villages, or babies who were murdered with guns. These photos are displayed frankly without any filters for the visitors. The message is clear, the madness of war can eliminate compassion and dehumanize people very easily. However, several paintings painted by kids were hanging on the other side of the wall. They were a pure message of protest against the war and a call for peace. "We love peace!"
Strong Vitality and Tradition of Resistance
You can access the exotic views of the country side of Vietnam after about 50 minutes of driving outside Ho Chi Minh city. After passing by a thick forest of rubber trees and saying hello to residents you can see Cu Chi Tunnel, which was used during the guerilla campaign conducted by the Viet Cong. Originally the Cu Chi Tunnel was built by the Viet Minh who fought against the colonial occupation by France. The pathway inside the tunnel is so narrow (50cmX70cm) that American soldiers were not even able to go through them. It was too small and dark, but it was also the best place to hide and avoid air raids by American bombers. We could feel the strong vitality and spirit of resistance. At that time, the tunnel was used as a last resort in the struggle for existence rather than as a weapon.
Different Situation, the Passion for Studying
When we first saw the HUFLIT (Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages Information Technology) building, we couldn't believe it was a university. It felt like a factory. There was not even a hint of a campus with gardens and trees. There were only students who were studying at HUFLIT. Surprisingly most of them thought their university was large. They couldn't image the size of the campus at Yeungnam University. All students have to test in order to enter the university, and they must also apply for admission to a specfic school within the university. We met Hi, a junior, who changed his major from Chinese to Korean when he was a sophomore.
Vietnamese students can't take the classes they want and they must take the classes that are determined by the school. Also their grades are open to the public on a notice board. All the students of the school know each other's grades. We met Lyne who studied at YU for two years, she is now working at HUFLIT as an instructor in Korean. At first when she began studying abroad at YU attending lectures and doing the work was difficult, but the best thing for her was that she was the only one who knew her grades.
The Otherside of the Korean Wave
Before going to Vietnam, I read books to get some information while I was still in Korea. According to the information I discovered, the Korean Wave is very popular there. I wanted to experience the Korean Wave more directly and to find out the opinion of some Vietnamese students. So, I tried to interview some students who major in Korean.
Why did you choose Korean as your major?
I like Korean, Korean actors and singers. Super Junior (group singer), Pajama Party (Super Juniors' song) is the best.
Do you have any Korean products?
I have a Samsung digital camera and television, CD player and cell phone.
What do you like to watch?
I like KBS dramas.
At first, I expected to see the Korean Wave as part of their daily lives. It was surprising that the Korean Wave in Vietnam exists as a pop culture entity only. I interviewed about 10 students, though their reasons for choosing their majors were almost the same. They just liked Korean popular culture including actors, signers, dramas and so on. However their route after graduation is usually similar; study abroad in Korea, and then no idea. We interviewed other students whose opinions were a bit different from the majority of students.
Sophomore�Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy
Why did you decide to study Korean? What's your future plan?
I like Korean dramas and popurlar culture a lot. That is the reason I decided to study Korean. After graduation, I'd like to go to Korea to study more about Korea. After that, I want to get a job in broadcasting.
I heard that you're now in exam period. Isn't it difficult to learn Korean?
Korean is a slightly tricky language to me because of the honorific expressions. But it's all right. Do you want to take a look at my test paper?
The test was not very difficult, it focused only on grammar. Korean majors at HUFLIT seemed basically interested in Korean popular culture and many of them answered that it was the reason they decided to major in Korean. Ho Chi Minh city is less influenced by Korea than Hanoi. We discovered that the Korean Wave in Ho Chi Minh city is mostly a pop culture phenomena, and not deeply absorbed into their daily lives. It is especially promoted by massmedia which can come and go in fads.
This is a weak point of the Korean Wave. In the mean time, there has been much media coverage about the Korean Wave's bubble and crisis. I felt the same things in a well-known center of the Korean Wave in Vietnam. The Korean Wave can't expect to make progress under these conditions; that is relying on pop culture icons or idols. On the other hand, Japan invests in Vietnam more systematically. Their government offers a large number of scholarships to universities and students who major in Japanese.
Nevertheless, one good thing for our sake is that the students at HUFLIT study Korean very hard. Even though they chose their major based only on interest in our pop culture, they study seriously. I was surprised when they asked for help to learn Korean without any hesitation. They study Korean very hard because only 3 of 300 students can have the opportunity to study in Korea at Yeungnam University. I saw the bright side of the Korean Wave at that moment. As long as their passion and effort exists, the Korean Wave will never disappear.
Dizzying Air Pollution
The moment when we arrived in Vietnam, we had trouble breathing. Motorcycles are the main form of transportation in Vietnam. All the members of most families have motorcycles. Even though there are traffic lights and crosswalks, they are mostly useless. Traffic laws are only obeyed when the police are watching. When pedestrians want to cross the crosswalk, they have to win a staring match with motorcycle riders. If you were able to read the riders' minds, you may not try to cross the street all day long. When Vietnamese children turn eighteen, they can get a motorcycle license. It's similar to a driver's license in Korea. Attending a motorcycle driving school is common in Vietnam. You can see peculiar sights with motorcycles. Motorcycles can carry a minimum of one and a maximum of four. It's amazing how they can ride motorcycles like that.
One reason why there are so many motorcycles is due to the geography. Walking though pedestrian passages is hard. Because of its rocky and difficult geography, Vietnam is not able to construct even roads, so Japan gave Vietnam seventy motorcycles, as a gift. After that, Vietnamese people saw how convenient motorcycles were. They soon became the main source of transportation. There are many service centers, and there are even rental centers. On the other hand, cars are used much less, and only rich men can have cars. We saw a GM Daewoo dealership, but there were more cars from other countries than there were from Korea. Korean-made vehicles in Vietnam are mostly trucks and cranes.
People who have been on a ride in a taxi in Vietnam usually feel like the driver is very skilled. Driving cars on roads crowded by motorcycles feels tight to Koreans whose special quality is always being in a hurry, but there was no problem because of the Vietnamese tendency to go slow. Instead we were able to call and use taxis easily, it is very convenient for travelers.
By Knowing the Food,
You can Understand the History of a Country
When we think about Vietnamese food, we usually think about rice noodles. The Vietnamese also eat rice noodles for breakfast. However it is difficult to find authentic Vietnamese rice noodles in Korea. The noodles that you can buy here are changed to accomodate Korean tastes. The rice noodles we ate for the first time were very oily. Rice baguettes are easy to find and easier to eat than the noodles. Vietnam produces a lot of rice, so they make baguettes with rice flour, and they are sticky when you chew them. Seafood and vegetables are important ingredients in their food. They had a long history of being controlled by France, so tomatoes are also used in many dishes. They have many cooking methods using the same ingredients, you can feel pleasure just watching them prepare food. However, we can't guarantee you will like the taste. Vietnamese always use many herbs. It is fragrant, but it could be unfamiliar to foreigners.
After seeing the many different sides of Vietnam, we concluded that evaluating another country with indirect information is not a good idea. Around the many historic spots, we felt their strong tradition of resistance and vitality. Also roads full of motorcycles was strange to us, but soon we got into the swing. Before long we became intimate with the culture of Vietnam. By interviewing HUFLIT's students we experienced the Korean Wave indirectly, but it was mainly focused on pop culture, so we were confused and disappointed.
Our view of Vietnam changed through these experiences. The people, simple and honest by nature, will always stick in our minds. We experienced their special qualities, food, and were warmly received wherever we went. That will always be a valuable memory to us.
Interesting Facts about Vietnam
1. Vietnamese people always leave one portion of a dish-It's a tradition. The reason for rejecting the last bit is that juniors respect their elders and the elders want to take care of their juniors.
2. Do not stand in the middle of a group when you are being photographed. You should make an even number with Vietnamese people when you take a picture. That's because of the odd superstition that people who stand in the middle of a group could die.
3. Don't grab your lover's hand-Unlike Korea, putting your arm around or grabbing your sweethearts hand is frowned upon in the university and on the street.