Integration Across Different Worlds

So much has happened since I moved to Hanoi last summer, so much that I find it hard to believe it was only 5 months ago. The last months have given me experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life, as I have had the opportunity to travel both to the northern and southern parts of Vietnam. I seldom see such beautiful nature, which seem to be found in every corner of this green and mountainous country with an extraordinary coast-line. Also, it has definitely been the longest summer of my life, with warm temperatures until the end of November. At the end I actually ended up longing for warm sweaters and something else than shorts, but as a Norwegian, such complaints don't feel quite right. I am living something I will describe as a cultural journey where I started out in complete confusion, moved slowly from frustration towards comprehension, and ended up with acceptance and respect.

If I had to describe Vietnamese values in a nutshell, I'd have to point out three things; family, hard work and pride. The Vietnamese culture values family more than anything else, and they have a very traditional understanding of the family. Almost every young girl dreams of getting married and they do say their vows at a quite young age. The Vietnamese are also extremely hard working. Most of the street-food restaurants I eat at are run by families in their own downstairs living room, where the whole family helps out with cooking, cleaning and serving guests. They put their pride in their cooking of course, but also in their culture and history. The Vietnamese people have shown so many times in history that they wont surrender when facing adversity. Understanding these values have helped me relate to the Vietnamese people and made me see past the differences. I meet with these more or less significant differences every day. For example during lunch at my favorite place, where they screen the same soap-opera every day. I have now gotten quite used to trying to pretend what's going on during one dramatic scene after another. However, even though I can't relate to their favorite entertainment show or communicate with the owners due to language barriers, eating in their living room still gives me a feeling of inclusion.

When you live in a country where all your cultural references are gone with the wind, it naturally takes some time to start feeling like you have anything there to do at all. I have been walking down the same streets, passed the same people on my way to work, tried to observe and analyze their daily lives. However, feeling like a part of this city has proven challenging at times. I am a part of it in my own way, but physical and cultural differences are to severe for me to blend in. However, one day some weeks back, an old woman's gesture made me come as close to feeling integrated as I am likely to do. This woman sits at the porch in my street and has probably been sitting there for quite some years, maybe decades. She probably lived in Hanoi during the Christmas bombings of the city 40 years ago during the Vietnam war. She probably knows the neighborhood like her own pocket. As she sat there one afternoon, watching over what is more than anythingherstreet, she nodded at me when I passed by. Nodded! Believe me, she never nodded before.

Temple of Literature, Hanoi

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