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"Goood Morning Vietnam"

By Evan Kleiman

    The ship was inches above the surface of the ocean floor, the ocean was painted milky brown, you could taste what you were smelling as we passed grasslands with huts, boats of all sizes and pulled into the Ho Chi Minh port that looks like it was built in ancient times and hasn’t been remodeled since. It was embarrassing getting off a ship that in many ways resembles characteristics of the transnational world. The ship's arrival brings in such a massive cash flow that it made the front of the newspaper. Every Vietnamese would slow down on their motorcycles that flood the streets and look at us smiling, greeting us and knowing exactly where we have come from. Throughout the city there wasn’t a soul that didn’t know we were from Semester at Sea, thus getting away from the streets of Ho Chi Minh was crucial to truly feel like a traveler and not a tourist. Vietnam’s geography is breathtaking, the scenery is picturesque and the beach towns and cities along the coast up to the northern most tip are a must. This trip was a pivotal moment that taught me the importance of being destination-less, which has over and over again proven to be one of the most rewarding parts of travel.

    Within Vietnam, there were major war sites that now have been turned into tourist attractions, taking the visitor on a journey back in time through the devastation of the Vietnam war (called the American war here). It was really tragic to see how something as horrific as war could be turned into a profitable means for the Vietnamese even though they're making the most of what they have. It’s a testament to the degree to which people go in making money. After feeling really affected by the war remnants, I zipped by a graffitied wall holding for dear life onto the back of a Vietnamese motorcycle. In the corner of my eye I glimpsed the graffiti that said, “Vietnam is not a War, It is a Country.” Seeing that gave me hope and inspiration that people will still maintain some dignity and sense of pride in their land, culture, individuality and will not let the power of money and business and strongly influential transnational impacts start to pave over the history of the land and the vernacular culture.  

    Beyond the uncomfortable association of Vietnam with the war, which I personally felt in the beginning, although no Vietnamese were anything but kind, there is a land of endlessly rich discovery.  Exploring through the land of Vietnam evoked sheer awe, excitement, and was visually beautiful. Beyond all of that fruitful beauty of the land the true question facing all travelers lies in the authenticity of sales in Vietnam. Everywhere I turn I am being sold one thing or the other, it never stops, and they are “professionals” at selling me all sorts of junk. Shopkeepers attempt to sell me “real” Rolex watches, “real” DVDs of movies that are not even out in the stores, and clothing brands such as Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss ties. You name it, Vietnam has it, only for one-fiftieth of the real cost. It’s thrilling but also can be a little bit overwhelming.

    In “The Limits of Authenticity in Vietnamese Consumer Markets,” Elizabeth Vann discusses the concept of “authenticity” in contexts of international law and anthropological inquiry. There are four types of goods that are discussed: model goods, mimic goods, real goods, and fake goods. Throughout my travel exploration in Vietnam, I was battling between the lines of what is right and what is wrong and what is real and what is fake. The experience allowed me to live for real all that I read in the article.

    As unethical as it is, this market A) allows the poor to make some money, and B) allows the less privileged to buy designer brands that otherwise can only be purchased by the elite. And most importantly it helps clothe, nourish, and shelter many of the people who work in the "mimic goods" industry. When it's all said and done, for those of you world travelers out there who have had the wonderful opportunity to visit Vietnam, “it’s the same-same but different.”

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