Vietnam

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I've always wondered about my ethnicity. Some people say that I look Korean, Hawaiian, or maybe even Mexican, but I always reply with the same answer; "I'm half Chinese and half Vietnamese!" I soon got very annoyed with the same question about my race, so my mom suggested I take a trip to her hometown in Vietnam to clear up some confusion about where I would have been if he hadn't immigrated to the United States during the Vietnam War.

In early June of the summer of 2006, we packed up and took a trip to a small town near Ho Chi Minh City. Although the 24-hour flight was exhausting, I was soon amazed with the sights I saw- sights that were both aweing and disgusting. On the ride there-in what Americans would call an ugly, cheap-looking Mercedes van- I saw beautiful mountains in the distance, farmers wearing long-sleeves and large hats in the rice fields, harvesting the small grains of rice, and children playing with their water buffalos. On the other hand, I watched as poor beggars pleaded for us to buy their knock-off lotto tickets that they buy for cheap and try to resell ( nobody ever won the lottery that way; there weren't any winning cards), made a sour face at the roasted dogs, cats, and rabbits being sold at small stands on the side of the road, and saw people throw their trash- no matter how much it could damage the environment- on the side without a second thought. I knew that this would be a great challenge to adapt to the new atmosphere.

I awoke to the sound of mopad tires screeching against the asphalt outside. I walked outside to the front yard and discovered a beautiful dog, without a collar, with a litter of puppies. I turned around and saw a mother feline with her kittens. There were stray canines and cats everywhere, and due to the enormous population, would be hard to stop the number from growing. My sister came bursting through the door, and with a stricken look on her face, asked me to help her talk to my aunt, since she had no idea how to speak Vietnamese. I was panic-stricken, too, as it was considered disrespectful to not communicate with your elders. It took awhile for me to adapt to having to talk in Vietnamese, for most people where we stayed could not speak Vietnamese.

Our family spent most of our time riding our mopads into the markets in the middle of the town. This was where everything was sold. It was located in the exact middle of the community, and it had such an foul odor that would get some time to get used to. There was a meat section, where one with a weak stomach would not last, for there were all different sorts of animal parts, even pig ears to be boiled into a stew, or cow tongues to be sautéed into a stir-fry rice. There was a vegetable and fruit secion, where exotic fruits were sold, such as mangoteen or durian. What outbursted in my mind was the price- since a dollar here is worth about 15,000 dong (Vietnamese dollar), and things are sold by the thousand, most things were cheap. Grapes, for instance, were sold for 7500 dong a kilo (2.2 pounds), which is equal to $.50 here. There are clothing sections where fabric is not the best quality at all, and where household items are sold, made out of cheap plastic. People were sprawled onto the dirty floor, and people watch as we pass by in amazement, with nice clothing and clean skin. I didn't feel but sorrow for such poverty in this region that I quickly grew to love.

We whipped by on our mopads; me, clutching onto my aunt who came with us from the U.S.; and my sister, holding on for dear life, onto my mother, as we finally reach our destination at the Lotus Pond, filled with hundreds of thousands of beautiful, white-pink lotuses floating atop the water. I run to the strange trees that surround the pond, with enormous "warts" that are climbable and roots that grow out of the ground.

We drove on to a temple, where bald monks dressed in orange robes, barefoot, one behind the other, holding candles, sang in a language that I didn't recognize. We walk inside the smoky building, strongly scented with incense, buddhas towering over our heads. I watch as people bow down to the gods, praying for health and prosperity. My mother did the same, so I followed her lead.

I cried as we walked back into the airport, but I knew that I had to be thankful for a chance to visit a foreign country in the first place.
I rode the bus to school a couple of weeks after I got back, and my Filipino friend said, "You know, my mom said that the Phillipines is almost as pretty as Vietnam." I responded, "Yeah, it might be prettier, but, oh, you haven't seen what I've seen!"





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