VOLUME THREE AVAILABLE NOW

VIETNAM: My Teenage Life

Writing by Selena Vo

In the root of Vietnamese culture, there is a complex combination of different cultural sensibilities, from the significant years of wet farming rice and Confucian morality to French art and modern socialism. As a teenager living in my home country, I am getting used to the view of how everything became a part of my life. I have read about the Chinese and French influence and I acknowledge that since the French dominated Vietnam in the 19th century it has been incorporated it into a French Indo-china. It spread around through many aspects of art, lifestyle but most important was language. In Vietnam today, particularly Saigon, there still exists many leftover French colonial architectures. For example, Notre Dame Cathedral Church, Ben Thanh Market and the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts.

Photograph by Dung Tran
Photograph by Dung Tran

As well as the French influence, Vietnam follows a lot of Chinese tradition – which was an essential factor in the making of today’s Vietnamese culture. Some of the most influential aspects of Chinese culture into Vietnam was the introduction of Confucian morality (a philosophy based on “justice” and “righteous”, meaning, it involves a moral disposition to do good), cuisine, and language, – since China had been ruling over the country from the third century B.C (the Han Dynasty’s conquest) until 938.

Like most Asian cultures, I have been taught to focus on the importance of family, most importantly respecting the elders in the family. Vietnamese people are very attached to rituals, we have our wedding and funeral rituals which are similar to those found in China – an outcome of Confucianism. Formality is the point; however, the young generations are being more westernized over time, tending to break through all the traditions and live a more liberal life. For instance, I already struggle to deal with my parents because they sent me to an international school when I was in fifth grade so my views are somewhat different to them. My mom and I often argue about different thoughts and perspectives, one of them being vegetarianism. In Vietnam, people think vegetarianism is only about religion so can cause controversy, they do not consider that I am just sympathizing with the animals. As a teenager here, I seesaw between two cultures at different times – when I talk to my parents at home I use my Vietnamese perspective toward life which is very different to when I am in school and communicate with my friends or my teachers.

Photograph by Selena Vo
Photograph by Selena Vo

Food can tell stories and Vietnamese food is very distinctive. Not like other neighboring countries, my country has its strong reliance on fish sauce and sour flavors, also its relatively sparse use of oil. Pho, the most popular Vietnamese dish outside Vietnam, is Northern Vietnamese noodle soup, generally made with tender slices of meat. I am incredibly proud of what Vietnamese cuisine has brought to both outside and inside the country, we have diverse street foods, like banh mi, com suon, bot chien, banh xeo, banh cuon, mixed rice paper (this is my most favorite), etc. If you ever had a chance to travel to Vietnam, keep in mind that each place has different cuisines, for example, Ha Long Bay, Son Doong Cave, Con Dao Islands, Mui Ne, Sapa, Mekong Delta, Ha Noi. These mind-blowing landscapes in Vietnam have different cultures from each other and thus different street foods. Sadly, I do not enjoy them as much as everyone does since I am a vegetarian and those dishes are traditionally non-vegetarian. Luckily, some Vietnamese people here are religious and there are some eating places where they have a vegetarian version of any dishes above.

Aside from art and food culture I also want to touch on music. The traditional music of Vietnam draws from both the Chinese and Champa traditions. The most famous musical unit is a trio – one musician playing a simple bowed string instrument (Dan Bau), the other playing a percussion instrument (a copper drum or can be called Trong Dong), and the last one playing a Vietnamese flute. Today, the concept is pretty much the same, however, it is separated into two types – solo artists and bands. You can tell what the difference is by looking at the names. My music taste is mostly dominated by Western culture due to its pop music–most teenagers in Vietnam are fans of pop–nevertheless they will at the same time focus on some Vietnamese artists like Phuong Ly, Den, DaLab, Justatee, Kimmese …. They are very famous and influential singers and rappers. I listen to their songs sometimes during leisure because honestly, they are good. On top of all that is Vietnam’s love for Kpop. It is a big hit because of the extremely catchy tunes. Though, since I am the kind of person who loves the beauty of instruments, I feel like sad that as time goes, people tend to rely on electronic music, thus resulting in the lack of real instruments in the music industry.

My teenage life in Vietnam is full of excitement and adventures! I love to go out with my friends, spend time with my family and I highly recommend you explore Vietnam in your own way. I promise you will love it!

Photograph by Jane Youn
Photograph by Jane Youn
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Selena Vo

You can find Selena Vo here.

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