Foreigners look for window into VN’s culture

Update: June, 03/2016 - 09:00

Last week, Việt Nam News asked readers what they want to learn about Việt Nam if they visit the country on a short trip, as well as what they have learned about Việt Nam if they have stayed here longer. We also would like to know which they prefer: self-exploring Việt Nam’s features through homestays with locals and learning Vietnamese in order to read literary works in their original language, or learning via translated literary works and by attending cultural events conducted in foreign languages.

Here are some of the comments:

Pim Verweij, Dutch

My name is Pim, I’m from the Netherlands and currently live in Việt Nam to study tiếng Việt (Vietnamese). Three years ago, I lived with the local Hmong community in the villages near Sa Pa to conduct research for my master’s study. I’m a cultural anthropologist and have a great passion for Northern Việt Nam. When I visited the country for the first time in 2006, I immediately fell in love with the former French hill station called Sa Pa. The combination of the green valleys, the fresh air and the rich cultural variety of the ethnic groups attracted me very much. After my first visit, I kept returning to Sa Pa every time I got the chance. And during the time of my master’s research I was very lucky to stay with a local Hmong family for a period of three months. They welcomed me into their village as if I were a son of the family. Never before had I felt so at home outside my own country. They were proud to show me how to cook traditional food (including the famous Sa Pa black chicken!) and how to pay respect to their ancestors. I also learned a lot about traditional herbal medicines and local farming techniques.

The lives of the ethnic minorities in the mountains have been unchanged for many generations, but now, since the area is opening up to tourism, everything is changing quickly. For my research, I looked at these changes and how it affects the daily lives of the locals. I tried to observe these changes through the eyes of the local people, to see how they experience the daily influx of tourists to their village. What are the benefits of tourism for the village and are there any side effects?

My time with the local Hmong family was a time I’ll never forget. Since then, I am happy to visit the family every time I’m in Việt Nam. One important reason why I am currently studying tiếng Việt in Hà Nội is that I would like to talk with locals without experiencing a huge language barrier. Around Sa Pa, some locals speak English (they learned from the tourists), but how interesting it would be to speak in Vietnamese with them! But until then, there is still a long way to go...

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Hà Nội

Việt Nam is like an iceberg where you can only see a little above the surface. With your long, interesting and unique history, a good local guide is essential. I am endlessly fascinated whenever I turn off a main road into an alley.

I would love access to an English-speaking professor, a graduate student or a high level IELTS student who could explain the nuances of Vietnamese culture. Quality, educated tourists could exchange ideas and making lifelong bonds.

I’m planning an extended motorbike ‘victory tour’ across Việt Nam during my last year here. I will visit a honey farm, a coffee farm and stay in ethnic homestays. I do not need pricey, pushy or greedy travel agents.

I know that if there were a regional office in each provincial government co-ordinated by a local university (business management department), quality tourists could meet and enjoy a life-changing experience. Combining social media with a checklist of interests, you will find a perfect match.

I have read for years about the worsening problem of sea saltwater encroaching into the Mekong rice fields and, ironically, the closing of sea salt factories. High-end tourists are older, educated and worldly. Tap into this niche market to encourage their attendance. Learn from them about business, marketing and perhaps discover new methods to fight climate change.

Invite me back in 10 years.

Seng Hour, Cambodian

If I am a visitor on a short trip to Việt Nam, I would like to learn about famous foods and cultural heritage. I would love to self-explore more than attending cultural events, because it looks more fun and creates a lot of good memories for me and local people.

Yusup Solihin, Indonesian

If I’m a visitor on a short trip to Việt Nam, I would like to learn about culture, language and traditional food of Việt Nam. And I think it would be really nice if I could live in the house of a local citizen, accompanied by a friend who is fluent in English to serve as a mediator between me and the host. Then I’d like to go shopping to the traditional market, eat local cuisine cooked at home and learn daily phrases in Vietnamese language. But other than being directly involved in the community, I think it would be necessary to learn more about Việt Nam via translated literary works and by attending cultural events conducted in foreign languages.

Nara Kwan, Thai

There are many things that I would like to learn from Việt Nam. The first is culture. I think that Việt Nam is a country that has a long history, so there are many interesting cultures, architecture, ancient arts and more. I really like all of these things because they are of great value and grandeur. The second is tourist attractions. There are interesting places in Việt Nam that are both natural and cultural tourist attractions. As for natural attractions, I am interested in Hạ Long Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As for cultural tourist attractions, I like Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hồ Chí Minh Museum and Hội An ancient city because I would like to learn about the history of these places. The last is food in Việt Nam. I love food prepared with many vegetables, and in Việt Nam, many kinds of food are healthy. So I would especially like to learn how to cook Vietnamese food. VNS