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    Saturday, February 25, 2006

    Sex, Love, and Rock & Roll in Vietnam

    While responding to Virtual Doug's post on teaching ESL in Vietnam, I started ruminating my recent encounter with marriage in Saigon and the "MTV culture."

    First, westernization has taken Vietnam haphazardly.  Because the communist government regulates everything from song lyrics to automobiles, yet is somehow trying to open its economic doors, some things are let in and others are not.  Picture it as a two-headed monster looking forwards and backwards, but having no neck to swing sideways.  Anything not directly in the line of sight makes it through easily.

    So it is with Americanization.  I use that word because America is the strongest western nation today, politically, economically, and culturally.  It is our culture that is exported to Asia.

    Because Americanization comes to Vietnam in the form of MTV, pirated movies, and WWE Smackdown, Vietnamese youth get a lot of explosions, shooting, sex, money, and lies.  They get very little hard work, family values, religious mores, or intellectual debate.  Hey, that's what Hollywood produces--the fault lies with LA.

    Even so, I was mildly surprised on Monday.  I was introduced by a nun to some ladies working at an orphanage and the nun mentioned that I had a wife.  After the nun left, I talked with one of the therapists.  She said, "So, you have a wife.  Are you married yet?"

    At first I was taken aback.  My response was, "Yes, I'm married," to which she asked, "Do you have any children yet?"

    "Not yet," I replied.

    The conversation moved away from the topic at that point, but it stuck with me because it was the third time in three days by three different people where I was asked the same question.

    "Oh, you have a wife.  Are you married yet?"

    Now, it comes with the territory, that anyone who grew up in America, speaks fluent Vietnamese and English, and is between 20-35, will get constant complements of "dep trai" (handsome) and flirtations, especially teaching ESL, where most students are college age girls.  I fall into this very ego-inflating category. 

    So I came home and talked to my wife.  I rationalized that all the flirtations, and now this line of questioning, stemmed from the loosening of morals in Ho Chi Minh City.  After all, the abortion clinic at Yeu Tre or Pasteur St. does how many abortions a day?  300, I think I heard from my wife.  Anyway, sexual liberation has hit "the city" quite hard.

    "Hey, why not?" I thought.  "People must assume that when I say vo (wife) they mean a girlfriend I live with, because that's how it's done in Vietnam nowadays."

    It made perfect sense to me until my wife talked about it with some of her coworkers (who are moderately sexually liberal for Saigoners today).  My wife came home with a new conclusion:

    "All anyone sees on MTV and American movies is sexual promiscuity, money, etc.  Therefore, they assume that if you grew up in the USA, you are part of a culture that is OK with sexual promiscuity, even after marriage.  Those who are OK with it here, are the vocal ones, and are attracted to you because you represent fun, spontaneous physical pleasure, money, and possibly a ticket to America, where the streets are made of gold."

    So Vietnam is liberalizing, but not as much as I thought, and they think America's more liberal than it is.  It makes sense to me...what do you think??

    1 comment:

    everythinginmoderation said...

    Well said. The image that people in Third and Second World countries have of the "Western World" is driven by the popular media. I have travelled the world and would say this has been true since I started trvelling about 20 years ok. As a white woman, I was always seen as a sexual object, no matter how much I adjusted my clothes to stick to local customs. In numerous conversations fighting off perfectly nice guys, it became clear that they feel, all Western women are promiscuis and always looking for sex and one night stands. Add to this the promise of a better life (in case something more than a one night stand develops), voila, why shouldn't they try. I have found that most men were perfectly open about this. And please note, none of these men were weirdos, rapists etc. They were usually well eduacated and often belonged to the small middle or even upper class.