A hidden culture-the Indigenous Community

24 Nov

The longer I reside in Vietnam, the more I realize the less I know about Vietnam.  I think that speaks for many people who believe they know something, but upon discovery realize they know nothing at all.  I would assume this statement has become some famous quote by a famous artist/writer/leader/et al…

One of the things that I did not know about Vietnam is within this vibrant, beautiful, colorful country, lies a culture that isn’t really spoken about, and that culture comes from the Indigenous community here.  It turns out there is approximately 54 Indigenous groups here in Vietnam.  I’ve been able to observer about 5 of these indigenous groups here in Kon Tum as they often are seen in the city, carrying their unique basket-weaved back packs and wearing their costumes.

Bahna woman transporting her things

A Bahna woman walking a dirt path while carrying her hand-made basket with a collection of sorts.



A friend of mine is part J’rai and Bahna, so often I hear him speak in his native tongue, and he goes in between those two languages with Vietnamese and English.  It is quite impressive!  The indigenous language reminds me a lot like Khmer and their dress attire is similar to Laos.  Historically they are connected to Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, Polynesians, Laotians, and Hmong.  Their culture is diverse and amazing.  What a great addition to Vietnam!

J'rai community performance

J'rai ceremonial performance




From being here in Vietnam, one of my most exciting experiences is to simply witness the ceremonies and traditions held by the indigenous community of Kon Tum.  It is unique, different and captivating!


Shocking Views and unique culture

15 Aug

People in the country side of Vietnam sure wake up early.  Around 4-5 am people are up working out, setting up shop, having their coffee, or simply “yelling” at each other.  Okay, maybe not yelling at each other per se, but they sure speak in really high voices.  I’ve had such a hard time resting in my rented room with the couple I am renting from since I hear them wake up and speak to one another every morning.  Definitely doesn’t fit well considering I am a night owl.  Besides the lack of rest, things in Kon Tum have picked up quickly.

My first week in Kon Tum was amazing.  The weather has been refreshing, breezy, extremely rainy (Monsoon season), yet bright and sunny when its a clear day.  Upon my arrival here, I was greeted by a breath taking view of clouds covering the mountains and a view of the Dakbla River.  How exciting, as I admit, I love nature.  My co-worker Chi Ngoc helped me get situated here and one of my big purchases was the necessary transportation, a bike.  Within our first week, her and I went ahead and rode around Kon Tum together with our bike, pressing forward up hills and down hills with either one of us in the back.  It was sure a lot of fun and we had many laughs as well as great views.  We rode along other motorbikes, cars, cattle and dogs, as we attempted to prevent ourselves from being mauled by either of these and dodge any lurking blood-sucking mosquitoes.  I have an average of 2-3 bites per day, this has certainly affected my quality of life (QOLS) her in Vietnam.

A beautiful bike ride near the Dakbla River

I finally settled in near the Center for Social Disease Prevention in Kon Tum and approximately a 4 minute walking distance, I arrive there easily, without any Vietnamese spectators as well as time for the rain to soak me completely.  My schedule has been relatively hectic.  Our pilot program ChildSight to provide vision care services such as visual acuity test, refractive error and supply of prescription glasses to students in Kon Tum didn’t have an established monitoring and evaluation form, as a result I am to create all of it.  This took my program planning group a couple of months to create and I am expected to create this in a couple of weeks.  I recently was able to get a draft out and it has burned me out completely.  Thinking sure takes up a lot of energy.

Chi Ngoc riding the bike through Dakbla.

Now I wait for edits and will be going into the schools to do observations and monitoring of students, teachers and parents.  This is going to be a busy summer for me.  Will write more soon.

Two friends having a good time.


An ethereal view

23 Jul

First Emperor Palace stone engraving

Vietnam is such a photogenic country.  Even after its history of colonization, wars, visits from foreigners, exploitation by others, and a government that is trying to fulfill its “doi moi/renovation” vision; it continues to stand firm, beautiful and resilient through all its trials.  Its scenic views are captivating, and the mixture of people residing here, from business men/women to the indigenous residing in the central highlands, one can’t help but  attempt to swallow the colorful abundance coming from each view.

Entrance into the King's Palace, passing creepy-demon looking guard carvings

Within the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to go sight seeing and view the landscapes Vietnam has to offer.  One of my co-workers took me to the first emperor’s palace in her “hue”/hometown known as Phu Tho, and also to celebrate the Vietnamese tradition of families coming together because of a relatives death, in this case her grandma’s death (1 year anniversary), known as “dam gio.”


Sacred pagoda/temple for worship at each part of the Emperor's palace (@ each level: lower, middle, upper)

I met my co-worker’s family and relatives and to my surprise, they were not only eating the usual meats (beef, pork, and chicken) but they were also enjoying dog.  I couldn’t stomach any of the food mainly because I couldn’t imagine bits of dog meat on my food.  Furthermore, I had to deal with the regular questions:  How old are you? Are you married?  Where are you from?  America? Korea?  How come you’re so dark?, while being stared at and observed by the villagers.

After the trip, I discovered 10 bites from some sort of insect (I got it from the emperor’s palace) and an inflammatory response ensued; causing puffiness, swelling, itchiness and pain.  I was overwhelmed!

This is why I cannot be a mosquito hunter like Steph and Tad, I would totally lose.

Can you tell which hand is inflammed? Image 1 OR

Can you tell which hand is inflammed? Image 2.

Then the following weekend I took a day trip to check out UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay; known as one of the world’s must-see/visit places when visiting Vietnam.

History of Ha Long Bay (source Wikipedia):

Ha Long Bay: Descending Dragon Bay

According to local legend, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam.

View from Ha Long 30 Junk/Boat

Once this happened, all dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing (hmmm, interesting) of the earth, and then decided to live here. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Hạ Long, the place where the dragon’s children attended upon their mother was called Bái Tử Long island (Bái: attend upon, Tử: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon’s children wriggled their tails violently was called Bạch Long Vỹ island (Bạch: white- colour of the foam made when Dragon’s children wriggled, Long: dragon, Vỹ: tail).

I found this to be an entertaining story/folktale.

A travelling fruit seller

Sho and I off on our kayaking adventure through Ha Long Bay

Famous boat community in Ha Long Bay









Having the opportunity to ride on the Ha Long 30, I met some friends and also coerced one of them, Sho to kayak with me through the bay. It was her first time and she was really scared.  Unfortunately, after 30 minutes of kayaking, it started to rain cats and dogs, so we had to head back to our “junk/boat”.

Hang Dong/Cave in Ha Long Bay

Following the boat ride, we were then herded into a famous cave in Ha Long Bay where the government displayed so many colors of light, removing the natural feel to the cave.

When asked why it was necessary, each tour guide stated “It is to improve the visitors experience and help bring out the beauty of the caves more.”  All along the tour guides continued to show shadow figures of turtles, snakes, serpents, kissing couples, children created by the limestone rocks that made up the cave.

View of Dakbla River in Kon Tum, Kon Tum Province-Central Highlands, Vietnam

Now, I am here in Kon Tum, Province where I am stationed to work.  I will update in my next blog about Kon Tum.  Till next time!!

Like a lotus blossom, a country arises with much beauty and splendor from the muddy state it was in.

13 Jul

A vast swamp full of lotus blossoms and a photo shoot with a newly wed couple taking advantage of its scenic beauty.

I was reminded of how beautiful a country Vietnam was from celebrating Helen Keller International (HKI) day with my colleagues this past Saturday.  We decided to celebrate HKI day at a place called Kinder Park (a mini theme park for children).  Since all my colleagues have children, we thought it was a suitable place with nice AC and fun set ups for children to play in, allowing adults to talk in an environment of organized chaos, while cooling off from the hot humid weather.  I have included a video of the Kinder park for your enjoyment.

The highlight of Kinderpark was getting to know my colleagues better in addition to getting a glimpse of the symbolic flower Vietnam has identified itself to resemble-the lotus blossom.  Just outside of Kinderpark lies a muddy swamp full of lotus blossoms.

A farmers collection of 10 lotus blossoms per request of HKI-Vietnam colleagues as a welcome present to me

The lotus blossom is the national flower of Vietnam and India.  It represents Vietnam due to its history of struggle with colonialism and wars, in its midst of adversity, Vietnam has been able to grow above it, resilient in its developing economy known as “doi moi” -renovation.  Like the lotus blossom, it grows from the muddy depths of a swamp, and is unstained, untarnished and blooms with vibrant colors.  In many Asian religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, the lotus flower represents purity in the body, speech and mind, as it floats above the muddy waters of attachment and desire.

My two HKI-colleagues and my new bouquet of fresh lotus blossoms

As I had the opportunity to share with my co-workers about myself, I also was blessed with the chance to talk about my mother and the significance the lotus blossoms were to me.   I was reminded by my mother that this was her favorite flower, in addition my mother’s name is Lotus flower.  In Vietnamese it is  “Hong sen” and I recollect her telling me stories of the beauty and deity power of the flower.  According to legend, when the Buddha was born, where ever he walked, lotus flowers appeared and bloomed at each step.  This reminiscent memory brought feelings of sentiment and youth as my recollections of such a folktale helped me understand the lovely representation of how symbolic this national flower has attributed to Vietnam as a whole.

While I was distracted playing with my colleagues children, both my co-workers went off to surprise me with a bouquet of hong-sen.  I ran out to pay for it, and rather than allowing me, they insisted in gifting it to me.  I was thoroughly touched by their kindness and hospitality.

A shy kiss is representative of Vietnam's conservative culture where PDA is not looked highly upon, even though you're newlyweds, that is still not allowed.




Vietnam, is a country of much lush and beauty, and all that has been produced from it is symbolic of growth within a place that has undergone so much adversity.

Destination: Vietnam

8 Jul

(I apologize for the delayed posts.  I have been using my Flip camera but for some reason, its formatted file is not recognizable in my Windows movie maker.  I have been trying to trouble shoot it but so far, it has been relatively disappointing as the online help has been no help at all, surprisingly.  Once I figure it out, I will soon have videos posted.)

This first week in Vietnam has been a week of discovery and adjusting to Vietnam.  Let me begin with my arrival to Vietnam. I was picked up by a taxi driver hired by my organization and although I can barely understand much of his heavy accented north Vietnamese, I discovered that he looked very similar to my last last boyfriend.  His smile, his expressions and even his height.  I was weirded out completely.  We had a great conversation as we asked each other a lot of questions and I learned a few tidbits about Vietnam.  As I flew on Korean Air to Vietnam, the entire plane was filled with Koreans and as a result, I of course was curious to learn why were there so many Koreans heading to Vietnam?  According to my taxi driver, a lot of Koreans come to Vietnam to invest in the development of hotels.  Many of them even reside here in Vietnam and enjoy the culture greatly.  To all my Korean friends, hey, I know you guys love Pho, but didn’t know you guys loved Vietnam so much.  In return, the Vietnamese love Koreans and their culture.  Immediately from observation of the people here, the hairstyles were very Koreanish, and there is an abundance of Korean channels here, they dominate the TV!  Too bad my Korean is worse than my Vietnamese speaking skills because I could definitely improve on both.

My first meal, for all you foodies out there, with much anticipation I present Bun Bo (Beef vermicelli soup).  Just around the corner of my hotel, and it was about 20,000, which was approximately 1.00.  Score!

Onward, I walked around for a bit, and man is it HOT here.  My skin is darker than my younger sister’s now, and let me tell you, she is dark!  I decided to look for WIFI and discovered an internet cafe called Snowball cafe (Korean influenced) where upon my walk-in I was greeted by a Korean “Annyong!”  I sat down to use their internet cafe and ordered a Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed milk, Cafe Nau.  Cost 25,000 VN, which equates to 1.20.  More expensive than Bun Bo!  Makes no sense!

Cafe Nau at Snowball. Pretty tasty and strong.

I then went to meet my colleague, Ngoc and she showed me around even more, just to help me familiarize with the place.  Eventually, she asked if I needed more rest, and I told her I was fine, until 1 hour later, I got a dizzy spell, and decided to head back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

I woke up the next day feeling much better, but rather than going out, I decided to stay in and sleep more, for a little.  Then I had to get up, and head to work.  I wasn’t hungry really, so I went to work, crossed this crazy street of mopeds, Xe hoi (Vietnamese motorcylces) and automobiles to get to my work.

Here is an example of Vietnam’s busy traffic:

Starts at 5:30am and ends at around 12am.  I had to cross a street similar to this and it is A LOT wider.  Everytime I cross it, I think, please do not make me another statistic for world traffic accidents.

I finally arrived to the Helen Keller International Office and had an opportunity to talk to the two Ngoc’s and another Ha (Dr. Ha) who is a dude.  So there are two Ha’s and two Ngoc’s.  I find that to be pretty hilarious.

After our introductions,  I was immediately shown my desk and given a packet to read about HKI’s ChildSight program.  This is what I will be involved in.  I will create a seperate post regarding my work here in Vietnam.

Getting off work at 5:30pm caused me to go home to my hotel first (cross the hectic traffic) and realizing my blanket had a nasty, unfamiliar stain.  I of course told the front desk about it, but nothing was corrected so I went on a hunt for a new sheet, but before that I stopped by another eatery for dinner.  This place was very Americanized and appeared “high class.”  The food was definitely much more expensive, and I ended up getting My Bo (Beef noodles).  To my surprise, out came literally Beef on top of RAMEN noodles!  How disappointing!  They added mushrooms and some veggies, but man, that was such a disappointment!  Total came out to 29,000.  Approximately 1.40.  More expensive than US.  Ramen in the US is like 10 cents!

Fancy Vietnamese Restaurant for Dinner

Expensive bowl of Beef Ramen noodle

Expensive Bowl of Beef Ramen Noodle

Soo…my organization gave me only 5 dollars a day to spend on food.  This is dining on a budget.  5 dollars is about 100,000 VN dong.  So far, for the past few days, I’ve been able to stay within the budget HKI has set for me.  So far…so good.  Will update later more on the foods I’ve eaten.  Time to get up and get ready for work now.  Have a good day!

The Terminal…the Korean way!

4 Jul
One of the world's best international airports
Like Tom Hanks role in “The Terminal,” I am also stuck here for some time before heading off to the motherland.

Korea is such a beautiful country!  The first time I came to Korea was on a study abroad sponsored trip from my undergrad university.  Staying there for 1 month and a half provided me with the opportunity to explore, step beyond my comfort zone, and attempt to become a local among the natives there.  I remember its rich beautiful and colorful culture, full of traditions, great pride, excellent service and “cutesy” things.  The country’s landscape is breath-taking when one steps out of the main city, Seoul. 

Arriving in Korea at 3:45 am was a dissapointment however.  My flight leaves at 10:05 am and I am stuck here, with nothing to do really, but mooch off a internet cafe’s free internet.  Fortunately the worker here hasn’t minded at all.  Moreover, Incheon International Airport was voted as one of the best airports in the world, so this definitely is a blessing!  As you can see from the image, the airport is clean, beautiful and uniquely designed.  I also bought myself some neat ear phones with cute smiley faces from some Duty Free shop, where I got a 1 dollar discount.  YES!

Cute ear phones for my musical pleasure!

These headphones were necessary since my old Apple ones kept falling off my ears during the flight as I tried to be lullabyed by Alicia Keys.  It is intoxicating stepping my feet back onto this turf as it was only 6 years ago when I last landed into this familiar land.  It is too bad their restaurants are closed, because I still remember the 14 lbs I took back to the states when I was finished with my program.  A highlight of the day was Korean Airs bibimbap!  It definitely hit my palate, in a very very good way, and the amazing service!  Why aren’t American services like this?  Either way, I patiently await for their restaurants to open so I can once again, pig out.

In the meantime, I do plan on posting videos, photos, and updating my blog so all can experience the same experience I am going through.  I dearly miss everyone and thank you for being a part of this journey!

Annyong chien goo!

Leaving on a Jet Plane, don’t know when I am coming back again…

3 Jul

After an adventurous transition from California to New York City, it is now onward to Vietnam! I am extremely delighted to share this next page turner in my life with all of you.  There is so much to share and talk about, but I have to keep this short since I am in need of finishing up the rest of my papework and leaving in less than 6 hours.  I’m so excited that I have not yet slept today, and pulled an all-nighter.  God help me rest!  Will share pictures very very soon!