Perception of Vietnam by Bekeowei Okoro

As someone who studies international relations, one becomes self-aware of how little one actually knows. No one knows everything, and the more you learn, the more you actually realise there is still so much to learn about the world and the people who inhabit it.

I will be going to Vietnam in a few weeks.

I know nothing about Vietnam, beyond the discourse of War: napalm bombings, the ingenuity and resilience of the Vietcong, the failure of the US war machine, all through the lenses of popular culture, from the the pages of comic books and novels to the visualisations of video games and movies. I also know little of the many who dared to oppose the war at the time. So essentially, I still know nothing. Even decades on, unfortunately, some of these images and thoughts still persist. Although that narrative has changed of over many years to one of development and emerging markets, I still know very little if anything about Vietnam.

I know nothing of its storied history, I know nothing of its cultural heritage, I know nothing of present political climate, I know nothing of its potential futures.

I do know that I have been presented with the opportunity to see, hear, taste, breathe and experience what Vietnam has to offer in our ever changing world. I also know that as a US citizen, Vietnam is not just any other country, but one of the few to survive the full force of US imperialism and Western Intervention after the Cold War, and before 9/11, yet still preserves and is thriving and itching to take its place on the world stage.

I hope to engage with the people, and listen to their stories and see for myself in as many ways as I can, what Vietnam is all about. What do the people enjoy doing in their leisure? What are their favourite foods?  What’s the nightlife like? What political ideologies do they ascribe to? What are their thoughts on the rest of the world? What are their dreams and aspirations? Where do they see their country going? What about the complex geopolitics of the region? I have many questions!

I still know nothing about Vietnam, but I hope I will know a bit more by listening to the people there, and take this knowledge back with me to educate others about the hopes and struggles of the Vietnamese, and provide insight to Vietnam.

Image: Stian Rekdal

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