Thursday, October 12, 2006


I've just gotten back from my excursion to My Son and may not have Internet access at my next stop (Hue), so will take advantage of having it here to give you another report.

But before I do, in answer to Maura's questions: Practically nobody in the center and south of Vietnam speaks French. I've been told older people still do in Hanoi, and I know the French Ministry of Education sponsors programs teaching French and recruiting students for French universities, but my overall impression so far is that English is the predominant foreign language taught and spoken here. However, the Vietnamese seem to have a lot of difficulty with English pronunciation. I know that the Germans, French and Spaniards on the tours I've taken have a hard time understanding. Being a (former) English teacher, I can usually guess what they're saying, and I repeat the words in standard pronunciation, but the people I'm speaking to usually have a hard time re-saying the words with the same pronunciation.

The rainy season is almost over, but my guide this morning told me last week a typhoon, which also hit southern China, passed through this central part of Vietnam and caused a lot of damage. (Perhaps that's why a lot of the homes look dilipidated or half-built). And in the low parts of the town of Hoi An, the river regularly overflows its bed.

My trip to the sanctuary of My Son took me 80 kms. inland into the "mountains". The countryside up there was very different from here, which is like a delta and very low land. Many of the temples, which are in red brick, were damaged by bombs during the war or suffer from neglect. UNESCO and an organization in Milan are supposed to be doing reconstruction, but I didn't see anybody working! The Japanese exhibition center was interesting, and some Cham people played music and performed dances in a tourist center. I was glad I went, but the temples I saw in Thailand are more impressive, and, of course, Anghor Wat is supposed to be "something else".

What I particularly enjoyed about this excursion was conversing with my guide. He told me he went to a teacher training college and taught English for 5 years before becoming a tour guide. He told me a lot about Vietnamese culture and the present and past situations in the country. I was surprised to learn that education and health care under the communist government are paying and that poor people do not receive subsidies to send their children to school or receive universal health care. He said that the booming economic situation in Vietnam has helped people's standard of living, but I believe (as in the former eastern bloc countries) there are people in their society who are left behind. We spoke about religion and the prevalence of ancestor worship among the Vietnamese. He said very few people actually belong to the Communist party, but if you want to work in any sort of administration (including administrative posts in schools and universities), you have to join the party. As for Americans, he said most people here have forgiven and forgotten, even though party officials still speak out publicly against the U.S. He also likes the new prime minister and is glad he's changed a lot of ministers. What was interesting (and a bit disconcerting) about talking to this educated man was learning about his opiniated analysis of ethnic groups and body types. According to him, the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam are, on the whole, intellectually inferior with undeveloped brains! And hairy men are hot-tempered but do not bear grudges, whereas hairless men are effeminate, devious and bear grudges all their lives!!!

Well, that's all for now. I'm off for my bus...

Please let me hear your comments.

Cheers, Hilary


At October 12, 2006 2:14 PM, Anonymous Janice said...

Hi Hilary, wonderful to hear all your news. All is well in your flat!
Janice & Simon

At October 13, 2006 12:43 AM, Anonymous B.Vincent said...

Blois, where I'm going tomorrow until Saturday night, is certainly much less picturesque than the places and sites you visit every day, but it's a nice city all the same, with a lovely chateau and some good de la Loire wine.
Such, compared to yours, are my modest peregrinations.
Vive l'exotisme!


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