Random Irrelevance

There have been a few thoughts going through my head that do not deserve a full fledged post but I still wanted to write about. Some about Vietnam, and some about my experiences abroad in general. So I thought I’d combine them all in one post and get them out.

The first deals with my experiences abroad in general. As I watch America become polarized with people blindly following the left or right, it disturbs me. It disturbs me because I was once like that and America was once a perfect country in my mind until I discovered new sources of information abroad. This post is not bashing America in any way and I still think that America is light years ahead of most places in the world. We still have freedom of speech and the right to express our ideas without fear of retribution (usually). America is free and we can better ourselves more easily than in most places. This is what I love about America.

However, as I found out when I went abroad, there were certain aspects about America that were not taught to me in Americans schools. Whole periods of history were skipped over if it might paint America in a bad light. Many countries condemn Japan for referring to the invasion of China as simply an “advance,” and skip right over the massacres. This has been done in America as well. Again, this is not a post to bash America and the reason I write about it, is that I was completely shocked when I found out.

The first time it really hit me was when a friend from Panama bluntly stated, “Your country invaded my country.” I couldn’t believe it. It was not really in the news and I hadn’t been taught about any invasions. He told me the story of how one day he woke up to find American snipers on roof tops and how America suddenly changed his government. Speaking with other Latinos, I found that America has done similar things in many other Latin American countries. Yet, ironically, a passport to America is one of the most prized possessions they can receive and is akin to winning the lottery.
America’s government has done some pretty awful things, but still the citizens of other countries would still like to go there and see it as a place where they can fulfill their dreams.

But I really wish I would have been taught about all the bad things the government has done such as the “fire storming” of Tokyo where 100,000 defenseless citizens were killed, the Invasions of Panama and Greneda, Vietnam from a Vietnamese point of view and so on.
Upon reading this post, most people (especially now) will condemn me if they are from the right since they most likely follow America blindly, or completely agree from the left and say just how bad America has become.

But what I have learned from being abroad, is that one should not be too much on the right or the left. One should drop all the nationalism, propaganda and simply read History as it is which can be very difficult to do since most sources are inherently biased. In America, the schools will teach mostly the good things America has done, while America’s enemies will teach only the bad things America has done. Yet the truth lies in the middle. America has done some horrible things, but also many great things as well.
On the overall I think America still has a better track record than most governments in the world and has achieved more for it’s citizens than most.

——–Now on to Saigon———-

I have learned much from being here. One has to do with being stingy. If you are a foreigner in this country, there are many many people who will be asking you for money since they are so poor. There are many times when people will try to rip you off and look at you as a cash cow. Yet, instead of beginning to hate them, we have to see life from their point of view. They are poor and simply trying to make a living the best way they know how. Most foreigners, after living here for a while, become stingy due to the constant requests for money and usually pay the exact amount of some price. One should keep in mind that a little tip of even as little as 30 cents will be greatly appreciated. But foreigners do become stingy and refuse to pay even a little tip since they have been harassed for money for so long.

Again, it is best to remain generous but not too much. If you give too much then you will invite more harassment and they will become dependent on it. The same goes for people on welfare in the USA. They should be taught skills so they can survive on their own without constant handouts. If you give them too much they will probably blow it and continually ask for more. The bible says it best when Jesus said you should teach the people to fish, instead of simply giving it to them.

Another thing I have learned from being here is a foreigner should not stop to help those that are in trouble on the street. If one wants to help the Vietnamese they should do so through established institutions and be charitable through them. Perhaps I could best explain through an example.

A friend of mine witnessed a careless person driving a motorbike and he hit an old lady on a bicycle. The old woman the ground pretty hard and the motorbike sped away. My friend seeing that nobody was stopping to help went out in the street and tried to care for the old woman. Soon a crowd gathered and as he could understand Vietnamese, the people around started accusing him of causing the accident. They then told him if they paid them off they would stop accusing him. The point of the story is that as a foreigner here you are a mark. If you give some people the opportunity to take advantage they will (It’s better in Saigon than in Hanoi though).

I too, saw a very emancipated man fall in the street next to the curb during heavy traffic. He might have been on drugs because he just lay there shaking. I did not stop to help. My conscious and upbringing tells me I should but reason tells me I should not since there is nothing I can really do. I cannot even call the police since I can’t speak Vietnamese. Even if I could, the police would come and might try to take me in or accuse me of hitting the man with my bike. If I had stopped, it would have made me vulnerable and I probably would have gotten into some trouble even though I hadn’t done anything. I came back that same way two hours later and the guy was still there. Nobody had stopped to help.

Perhaps they thought too that he is on drugs and probably had been helped before only to return to this state. It’s a terrible situation but the point of the story is I felt guilty, but was powerless to offer any help at all. What could I do? And if I did something, I probably would have gotten into trouble with the police most likely detained, and then have to bribe my way out of it.

Another story is of my friend who had a bad accident on his motorbike. He was pretty much incapacitated and his girlfriend being a foreigner couldn’t speak Vietnamese. So she handed the phone to a passer by, pointed and asked for help. She was hoping the guy would call an ambulance or something but instead he took the phone and ran away. The motorbike ended up missing too somehow.

The point of these stories is that Vietnam is a great place and people should remain generous but do it from a point of strength. If you become vulnerable here then you will most likely be taken advantage of.

I know most people who read this blog are making impressions of Vietnam and I have to say that these are bad stories and do not reflect Vietnam as a whole. The Vietnamese people are some of the kindest and good hearted people I have ever met (especially in Saigon). But they are poor and some bad people live here as well and will take advantage if given the opportunity. Most are not bad people however, and foreigners must remain generous and willing to help out, but not be foolish about it.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! (^.^)/

1 comment

  1. Mateo – you weren’t taught about the firestorming? Honestly, I can’t say that I was either, however, I did enough reading on the war that I’ve known about it for years.
    Also, just a point of view issue – any ‘liberation’ of a country is an invasion according to the people living there if they don’t want the gov’t to be over-thrown. If one looks at our War of Independence, it was treason, mutiny, and the like if you’re a Brit. In the long term, it ended up being a very good thing, however.
    But, back to some of the atrocities that we’ve committed as a country – unlike any other country I know, we actually freely admit to most of them. Hell, we debate whether or not reparations should be made – and have made reparations of a sort – to the folks that have been the victims. There was the Trail of Tears, the internment of the Japanese, slavery, wanton racism, etc. These I’ve actually been taught during school. I guess the key difference would be in the school you were in and the teachers you had.

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