- Posted by Jacobus Du Plessis
- On February 3, 2017
- 0 Comments
I’m trying, but I can’t give my full attention to the beautiful sunrise unfolding before my eyes, the sound of motorcycles driving by gives me a fright and grabs my atte ntion. The man shouting out today’s specials holds my attention for a little longer: ‘cheap sim cards!’, ‘Halong Bay tours!’, ‘water puppet show!’ And then I smell it. The smell of freshly cooked Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) with pieces of spiced Vietnamese sausage on top. It’s too much for me, I can’t concentrate on the sunrise anymore. Vietnam is awake. It’s time to go.
Modern Vietnam is a confusing place for Westerners. For many of us our knowledge of Vietnam begins and ends with the Vietnam War era. We have watched the classics like ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ so our idea of Vietnam is tainted with war references and ideas. But Vietnam has changed, times have changed. While we were growing up watching movies about old Vietnam, the new Vietnam was growing up as well and it’s about time we take notice.
First, let’s take a look at some of the facts:
- Population +-90 million
- One of the fastest growing world economies in the 21st century.
- Member of the World Trade Organisation
- One of the only remaining one-party communist states in the world.
- Foreign investment in Vietnam is huge. Vietnam is set to become one of top 25 economies in the world by 2025.
- Vietnam is home to some 54 different ethnic minority groups
- In 2012 Vietnam received up to 6.8 million tourists.
How do we define modern Vietnam? Modern Vietnam is a society that from the outside looks like it almost seamlessly adapts and blends foreign cultures into Vietnamese culture. Northern Vietnam is criss-crossed with ancient Chinese style temples and buildings with the symbols of the traditional Chinese writing system featuring prominently on them. French-style cafe culture (with a twist) is popular in Vietnam. Cafes are everywhere along the tree-lined boulevards of many cities. And in the South of Vietnam frequent leftovers from the days of American occupation can be seen. Some even say that American style capitalism that flourished in South Vietnam during the 1960s left a mark on the culture of the Southerners which remains even today.
But all is not as it seems. Vietnam does not only adopt, it also adapts. The Chinese style buildings are elaborately decorated Vietnamese figures, gods and demons. The French-style cafes are not what you’re used to. They serve you coffee in a uniquely Vietnamese style with a dripping filter placed on top of your cup which fills it up drop-by-drop. Add a dash of condensed milk and an ice cube and you won’t know what hit you. The French baguettes that you buy on the side of the road are filled with essentially Vietnamese ingredients to make a delicious sandwich called banh mi. And the capitalist mannerisms you find in the south are interspersed with a deep cultural understanding of respect and your role in the community. Vietnam is a magnificently diverse country and there are cultural surprises waiting around every corner of the country.
How did this come about? A simple history lesson will give you an idea of the remarkable resilience of the Vietnamese people. A period of 1100 years was spent under Chinese occupation. Almost 200 years of French occupation and finally 20 years of American intervention. Yet, the Vietnamese culture remains unique. It takes what it likes from other cultures and it makes it its own.
Today new influences are at play and the Vietnamese are aware of all the latest pop culture, Hollywood movies and music that westerns are used to. Free market trade is plentiful in Vietnam and the people are getting wealthier year-on-year. This all creates new changes and stirs the Vietnamese melting-pot still further making it an exciting time to visit Vietnam and see what this new phase of Vietnamese life has to offer.
So what are you as a quick visitor to make of this? You probably have between 10 days to a month to get acquainted with this extraordinarily complex layout of culture, history and geography. My advice to you in to get rid of any preconceptions – think of yourself as a clean slate – and just appreciate Vietnam for what it is, not for what you expect it to be. If you go in with an open-mind and an open-heart the Vietnam will reward you with the experience of a lifetime.