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Crossing the Globe:

A Comparison of Transnational and Vernacular
in Turkey and Vietnam

By Jason Hart


As we have traveled around the world on the MV Explorer, aspects of both the powerful transnational culture and the vernacular local identities have been apparent in every port. The responses to the transnational and the level of vernacular pride have varied greatly among nations. These variances, however, are nearly impossible to predict before one actually immerses his/herself in the cultures, by entering the nation itself. At least, such was the case for me. My prejudices definitely inspired my predictions as to the nature of the transnational and the vernacular in nearly every port before entering.

            For example, I had assumed that since Turkey is a Moslem country and has been an Islamic stronghold for hundreds of year, aspects of the transnational would be less prevalent than in other European nations. I stereotyped the Turkish viewpoint on transnational commerce based entirely on the American media’s presentation of the Islamic world on the major television network’s news broadcasts. I expected to see an uneasy coexistence between the two cultures. My beliefs could not have been further from the truth.

            In Saigon, Vietnam, I expected to find a third world police state, based largely on prejudices about the Viet Cong handed down to me through my family and popular American culture. What I found was not a hint of police presence, and bustling economy. Communist Vietnam, lives largely on free trade of goods manufactured within its borders. Furthermore, I found at least a level of religious tolerance when I entered an international Jewish institution. It seemed to me that the oppression of the Vietnamese government was in no way overt, if present at all.

Istanbul: Open for Business

God and Cash in Vietnam   


            Turkey’s embrace of transnational culture has manifested itself along parallel lines with that of Europe. Although Turkey is partially located on the European continent, the European community, specifically the European Union, has largely been successful in blocking Turkish influence in the West. While Europe consistently attempts to keep its distance from its Moslem neighbor, the Turks, oppositely, seem to try to move in the European direction, in terms of economics, social issues, and politics, as was discussed in my paper “Istanbul: Open for Business.”

            One specific political parallel between that of The West and Turkey is environmentalism. This particular phenomenon, driven by lobby groups who push for legislature protecting green spaces, is most often associated with the European political framework; however, from what I witnessed, Istanbul seems to have instituted the most obvious, public displays of environmentalism than any other transnational city I set foot in.

            In “The Housing Market from Informal to Global”, Caglar Keyder discusses the prevalence of illegal or illegitimate housing in Istanbul. Much of this illegal housing is constructed upon green areas or open spaces preserved through environmental legislation. To this day the massive city of Istanbul is still full of public parks and forests that are set within the city limits, some of which happen to pop up in the midst of bustling downtown regions. Environmentalism here seems to be driven by the citizens of the city’s desire to maintain these green spaces, specifically the trees that grow here.

            When one uses an ATM, the button that must be pressed to obtain a receipt also has an icon of a man chopping down a tree. Furthermore, I witnessed protesters standing on the side of the street in Taxum with signs depicting before and after pictures of a green area prevalent with trees, and then pictures of the trees lying on the ground with construction equipment all around. Even in the video we watched in Global Cities contained a large section devoted to environmentalist concerns regarding the protection of Istanbul’s forests.

            Unlike the overarching embrace of transnational culture demonstrated in Istanbul, Vietnam has manifested a very different form of transnational culture, driven by specific economic goals. In Christina Schwenkel’s article “Recombinant History”, she discusses the Vietnamese approach to the transnational within the tourism industry. Due to the nation’s historical relationship with America, one of the most powerful driving forces within the transnational culture, Vietnamese culture views transnationalization through war ravaged lenses. Such a viewpoint is to be expected due to the incredibly high Vietnamese casualty rate during the conflict: {South Vietnamese Army- 243,748 casulties, Vietnamese People’s Army and NLF- 666,000, North Vietnamese civilians- 65,000, South Vietnamese Civilians- 300,000} (“The Vietnam War Almanac”, Harry G. Summers).  This specific viewpoint, however, is in no way a rejection of the transnational. Instead, the culture has identified its niche within the transnational community through its history. In doing so, Vietnam has created a tourism market embedded in the memory of what it refers to as The American War.

            The presence of Vietnamese war tourism is prevalent all over the city of Saigon and the outlying regions. As I discussed in my paper “God and Cash in Vietnam”, I purchased a Zippo lighter reproduced as a replica of those used by American GIs in the Vietnamese War. Furthermore, the most prominent tourist bar in Saigon is called Apocalypse Now, named after the famous postwar film. One can also visit two sets of Cu Chi tunnels, as well as several battlefields. Vietnam’s tourism industry is very much drawn from its war experience, due to the fact that this particular experience was also the nation’s introduction into transnational culture.



Aspects of the transnational have permeated nearly every nation on the planet, however, the presence of this global culture manifests itself differently in every country. These differences are nearly impossible for someone whose mentality is bogged down by prejudices and stereotypes as mine was before traveling. What I found was that each and every country takes some aspect of the transnational and translates it into their own particular vernacular culture. Just as the vernacular is often maintained in relation to the transnational, the transnational is manifested through a vernacular lens.

Turkey has, in many ways, fully embraced transnational culture, while still holding onto its strong religious heritage. Designer boutiques line the streets, while those dressed in Diesel jeans kneel on prayer mats and praise Allah in the direction of Mecca. While Turkey has been influenced greatly by its European experience, including its politics, as I discussed in one particular form, environmentalism (lobbying and legislation), the West has consistently avoided Turkish involvement in its own culture.

Like nearly every nation on the planet, Vietnam has embraced some aspects of transnational culture, but has intermingled aspects such as tourism and commodity production into its own vernacular experience. While Vietnam manufactures many transnational goods, the people of the nation have also learned to duplicate such goods so that they can be sold at prices more consistent to the Vietnamese domestic economy. Furthermore, the nation’s transnational culture is also influenced by its first transnational experience, the bloody Vietnam War, therefore, transnational exposure within its borders often reflects this particular memory.

            Globalization is surely changing the landscape, political, social and economic of every nation that it touches. At the same time it is incapable of muting out national and ethnic pride within the countries whose borders it permeates. Only time will tell what forms of transnational and vernacular will take held in developing economies and an ever changing global landscape. I was only fortunate to witness a single moment in the ever changing global planet.

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