Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vietnam: Independence! Freedom!?! Happiness!


Even though my learned instinct is to see Vietnam through the lens of war, it is in reality a economically emerging country filled with natural beauty and tranquil village life.

Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is the easternmost nation on the Indochina Peninsula. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, and Cambodia to the southwest. On the country's east coast lies the South China Sea.

Vietnam is densly populated, with a population of over 85 million people. Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world.

Độc lập - Tự do - Hạnh phúc
"Independence - Freedom - Happiness"

Capital: Hanoi
Largest city: Ho Chi Minh City

Climate: tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season (May to September) and warm, dry season (October to March).

Terrain: low, flat delta in south and north; central highlands; hilly, mountainous in far north and northwest

Language: Vietnamese, an Austro-Asiatic language formerly known under the French colonization as Annamese. Much of the vocabulary is dervived from Chinese.

At present there are 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Vietnam, in which Kinh (Viet) people make up nearly 90% of the whole population, and 53 other ethnic groups represent over 10%.

Government: Socialist republic

(Head of Vietnamese Communist Party with Castro in June 2007)

Currency: Dong. The most common bills available are the 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 notes. There are no coins. One US dollar equals13,500 dong.

Exports: Vietnam has a rapidly growing economy and their current major exports are: crude oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, garments, and shoes. The United States is the world's largest importer of Vietamese goods.

Brief History of power:

Legend has it that Vietnam's origin lay in the harmonious union of lac Long Quan, King of the Sea, and Au Co, Princess of the Mountains. Real life was not so paradisical, as Vietnam's early history--like its recent history--is characterized by a nearly continuous struggle for autonomy. First came an entire millenium of Chinese domination, which was finally thrown off in the 9th century. External control was imposed once again in the 19th century, when Vietnam was occupied by the French.

French rule lasted until WWII, when the country was invaded by Japan. At the war's end the predominantly Communist Viet Minh, which had led the resistance movement against the Japanese, declared the country's independence. The French Indochina War ensued, until France admitted defeat in 1954, and the Geneva Accords left Vietnam divided into a Communist north and an anti-Communist south.
By this time the U.S. had replaced the French as the primary sponsor of the anti-Communist government. Tension between north and south mounted over the next few years, until in 1964 full scale war erupted.

The conflict lasted for the next eight years, and involved hundreds of thousands of troops from the U.S. and other countries. In 1973 a cease-fire agreement allowed the U.S. the opportunity to withdraw its troops, and in 1975 the southern capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. An extended period of political repression followed, prompting massive emigration from the country. In 1991, with the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War, many western powers re-established diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam. The last country to do so, in 1995, was the U.S.

Religion and Customs:

The major religious traditions in Vietnam are Buddhism (which fuses forms of Taoism and Confusianism), Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, Caodaism and the Hoa Hao sect.

Worship of Ancestor Custom

A very popular belief among Vietnamese is the custom of the ancestor cult. In every household, an ancestor altar is installed in the most solemn location.

Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even if dead for many generations, still rests along with their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons still have spiritual communion; in everyday life, people must not forget that what they enjoy and how they feel is the same for their dead relatives.

Custom of Chewing Betel and Areca Nuts:
The custom of chewing betel nut is unique to Vietnam. Old health books claim that "chewing betel and areca nut makes the mouth fragrant, decreases bad tempers, and makes digesting food easy". A quid of betel makes people become closer and more openhearted. At any wedding ceremony, there must be a dish of betel and areca nut, which people can share as they enjoy the special occasion.

Playing funeral music is one of the oldest professions in Vietnam. The music is meant to accompany the soul of the deceased person, as it travels to the Land of Buddha. In Vietnam, qualified funeral musicians can earn more money in one month than the average person earns in a year.

Celebration: The most important festival of the year is Tet, a week-long event in late January or early February that heralds the new lunar year and the advent of spring. Celebration consists of both raucous festivity (fireworks, drums, gongs) and quiet meditation. In addition to Tet, there are about twenty other traditional and religious festivals each year.
Although rice is the foundation of the Vietnamese diet, the country's cuisine is anything but bland. Deeply influenced by the national cuisines of France, China, and Thailand, Vietnamese cooking is highly innovative and makes extensive use of fresh herbs, including lemon grass, basil, coriander, parsley, laksa leaf, lime, and chili. Soup is served at almost every meal, and snacks include spring rolls and rice pancakes.

The national condiment is nuoc mam, a piquant fermented fish sauce served with every meal.

Indigenous tropical fruits include bananas, pineapples, coconuts, lychees, melons, mandarin oranges, grapes, and exotic varieties like the three-seeded cherry and the green dragon fruit.

Vietnam and the Internet: Vietnam named as one of 13 "enemies of the internet" by Reporters Without Borders in 2006. The Communist Party has a strong grip on the media, including what content is posted and accessed on the internet. Internet providers face fines or closure for breaking the rules and "cyber dissidents" have been imprisoned; Internet cafes must register the personal details of customers

The Ministry of Culture and Information controls the press and broadcasting. The government has shut down several publications for violating the narrow limits on permissible reporting. Under a 2006 decree journalists face large fines for transgressions which include denying revolutionary achievements and spreading "harmful" information or "reactionary ideology".

Since Andy is going to Vietnam this fall and he has toads, here is a Vietnamese Mossy Toad
Enjoy Vietnam, Andy!
In Minneapolis:
Delicious Vietnamese restaurants...try to move beyond the sesame chicken!


Randy said...

Thanks for the comment. 30 miles is relatively standard as I'm trying to hit 2000 miles biked by the end of the year. Trade links on blogs?

Andy said...

Wow, thanks for all the information. now I'm far more well informed than I had any intention of being when I go.

I'm going to try to smuggle back a mossy toad, but I kinda doubt there are many toads in Ho Chi Minh City.

Andy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Mmmmmm, spicy Vietnamese food, mmmmmmm.

sarah george said...

i like the way they believe that the soul of the dead relative rests among the living family.

B said...

wow. i think i learned more from this post than an entire year of 7th grade social studies. thanks! i love the colorful clothing they wear. i went to school with a girl who designed an entire clothing line around their traditional clothing.