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Jazz, Tourism in Vietnam?

By Becka


            On the last night of September, I was taken by surprise by the smoky and dimly-lit interior of a Jazz Club.  The lights of the stage, where an entirely Vietnamese band stood playing made it difficult to see the crowd, proving that the emphasis was, as expected, the most important part.  They played American Jazz songs, sung in English and heavily-accented.  The small club was packed; the only free seats were upstairs on the balcony, overlooking the stage.  As I made my way up the stairs, I noticed that it wasn’t packed with Vietnamese, but rather it was filled, mainly, with Westerners.

            Across from where we sat, was the only Vietnamese couple in the club.  At first I found myself surprised by theVietnam audience, but then I realized that I shouldn’t be.  After-all, this place stood out awkwardly among the street-venders, brightly colored and lit up on the outside in contrast to the brown on either side of it.  The couple seemed oblivious to being the only Vietnamese, aside from the band, inside a club in their own country.  The man drank his beer, while the girl sipped milk from a coconut.  They seemed to truly enjoy the music that was played, or at least each other’s company as they constantly smiled.

            The band continued their covers, while adding a taste of traditional Vietnamese instrumentation in with the saxophones, drums and trumpets.  Looking around, everyone seemed to enjoy their time there, yet, just like the couple, they too seemed oblivious to the fact that at a club in Vietnam, they were the majority.  In "Lessons from the Field," anthropologist George Gmelch writes about the benefit of fully emerging students in the lives of the cultures they’re visiting, a big adjustment he says, but it forces students to seek companionship and recreation with the people in the villages where they stay.  I wonder what would happen if these people, many who were Semester at Sea students, were thrown into a culture where there were no western things like Jazz clubs or cinemas or shopping malls, would they be more observant of what was around them?  If we were fully immersed within a culture, would I still be the only person in the room to feel awkward listening to jazz and drinking with people who are physically and culturally like myself?

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