A head-on collision with Vietnam

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During J-term 2019, 367 students and 32 program leaders will participate in one of Luther's 18 courses around the globe.Each course is a different journey and has a different blogger (or several). Below you'll find a blog post from the Paideia 450 course, "Stability and Change in Vietnam." Check out the January Term 2019 Course Blogs page for more on each of the courses! Although it's impossible to keep up with everyone, these blogs are designed to provide glimpses into our students' adventures.

Hello all,

After almost 40 hours and 8,000 miles of total travel we have arrived in Vietnam. Mothers, fathers, worry no more, your sons and daughters are here—safe and sound.

It's been a hectic day, but a day we have all been eagerly anticipating. And, having come from Decorah, where the temperature has been hovering around the mid-30s for the last week or so, the sight of palm trees and the feeling of heat on our skin were both more than welcome.

Already, Day 1 has offered new experiences. Driving in Ho Chi Minh City, for example, has proven to function by a different set of rules than we are used to, resembling a controlled chaos of some sort.

What appears to be a rather dysfunctional system of driving—i.e. ignoring street lights and signs or merging into swiftly moving traffic—is actually a beautiful example of human trust; of cooperation; of give and take. And the abundant use of car horns is a testament to that give and take. Car horns? you might ask. Yes, car horns. The honking, beeping euphony that are car horns in Ho Chi Minh City. You see, as opposed to the anger and road rage that often drives the use of the car horn in the States, it would appear the honks and beeps of car horns here intone something entirely different—a certain polite caution or good-willed alert, as if to say, "beep beep: pardon me good sir, but I will be passing you now, if you would be so kind as to not merge into me that would be greatly appreciated" or even "beep beep: my dear friends, I have places to go, people to see, etc., etc. would you mind if I blew this red light real quick?" And these polite cautions will often result in a response of some sort, usually in the form a nod or wave or sometimes a return beep, an on-road conversation: "beep beep: at ease traveler, be on your way. We, too, have been in a rush, have had places to go, people to see, etc. etc. Don't mind that red light."

Inevitably, there are some beeps of frustration. This cannot be denied. But, on the whole, the cautionary beeps far outweigh the angry ones. They become part of the hustle and bustle that is city life, that is Ho Chi Minh. Perhaps that is why car horns sound so jarring, so angry, so violent in the States: because they are used sparingly, reserved for when absolutely necessary or out of anger and annoyance.

But maybe we're glorifying this system of driving, the use of car horns. Maybe the Vietnamese would be better off as conservative beepers; as conservative mergers; as traffic light followers. Or maybe we, citizens of Iowa, of the U.S., might be better off communicating more? Being tolerant of each other's on-road wants and needs? But who knows? Who is to say? We've only been here a few hours. All we can do is try to interpret what we see.

Once outside Ho Chi Minh City, we saw acres upon acres of rice patties, with farmers up to their waste in water, long white cranes of some sort striding elegantly through the farmland, and water buffalo. What was very much a concrete world quickly became a lush, green one. Still, we did see the effects of modernization—in the form of new condos and apartment complexes sporadically positioned throughout our route.

When we did arrive in Vung Tau we briefly went our separate ways. Some of us, lulled to sleep by the long day's journey, napped. Others went to the bank to exchange their American dollars into Vietnamese dong. And others went to the ocean.

For dinner, we had an assortment of beef, muscles, clam, pork, rice, and fruit at a local restaurant, a filling and satisfying end to the day. We watched the sunset from our tables, which overlooked the Pacific Ocean and slowly but surely the effects of jet lag began to set in.

Despite its length, Day 1 was enjoyed by all. We were eager to leave the travel behind us and excited to finally be in Vietnam, ready to learn and absorb and experience the culture.

Stay tuned for the next update.

Aidan and Natalie

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