An Anthropology class

Background story: I went to International Travel Expo (FB) on Sep 12, 2015.

The Expo provides free bus from D1 to Saigon Exhibition and Convention Center – SECC. I met My Chi – a student who went to the Expo for an assignment from her teacher. She studies about Anthropology at University of Social Sciences and Humanities. I also met Ngoc and Thu – her team mates. They need to do survey, research based on interview and observation, same with their other class mates. I teamed up with them, sometimes just help them to approach people and translate when they interview foreign visitors.

The free bus from The Youth Culture House:

The team was interviewing the Malaysia store.

Picture: It’s more fun in the Philippines.


Anthropology – from the time I’ve heard about it. It just awake my curiosity, and I just ask them (the group of student) a lot about it. I did read about it when I’m back home. Clearly it studies about human, and human relationship with other things in life.

Clearly, that’s something I want to learn.

You see, any business, anything we’re doing in life, is just to serve final user, final beneficiaries is human. Even you work in a research lab, an animal care centre, even if you protect forest, against human enter and destroy forest, finally it’s still because of human, another human.

That would be interesting & helpful to understand more about human. What happened to human, where are they come from? What do they think inside? Why do they react, respond that way?

How many times in my life, I wish to understand the heart of the person opposite to me, beside me, next to me or even someone far away. Someone who close to me or even not close to me. I want to know what do they really think or feel.

Even myself, why did I do like that. Why do I feel that way. Why do I think it.

That would be useful to learn more about human physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

So I asked My Chi if I can attend her class as an audit/observer, not official student, to see what’s going on.

So I went to her school on Sep 14. That’s my first time go to school again after years. There would be lots of differences after long period of time, the North and the South, social major and technological major. And it’s exciting to go to school without pressure of homework, exam, call the roll and … don’t need to pay 🙂 (But I would like to pay for the lecturers for their time & effort, but think about it later).

My experience with the school:

Upon entered the school, I parked my motorbike (fee: 3000 VND). I saw a group of foreigners look like waiting for something. I approached them and asked, they said that they are waiting for their classroom to open. They are studying Vietnamese language here.

Basically the school has 4 buildings named A, B, C, D. Near the parking site is an open library/study place. Students sit here to self-learn before, after and while waiting for their class.

At the ground floor of building D, there are books for sale. Few students bring their lunch boxes or food from outside to eat in the school campus.

Students queued up to wait for the elevator, few students walked the stairs to go to class room.
Building D is the only building in the school which has an elevator.

Each floor of Building D has a large space which some students sitting down and do their own activities.
One group of students who are fans of a Korean music band draw a banner.
A girl greatly spread her legs look like a professional yoga practitioner.

A group of students make a birthday gift for one of their special friend.

Besides the canteen inside the school, there are few eateries in front of the school.

Students in this university are various in age, social status, nationalities, religions and purpose.
There are lots of foreign students come here to learn Vietnamese or Vietnam Study.
There are monks. There are students who are 40 years old +.

Students spend time in library to borrow books, do homework and even … sleep.

Foreign students study in a separate area and class room. In my obserivation, many of them are Korean.

My impression with the class:

Sep 14: “Anthropology with Tourism” class, 1st session. (Room D303)

At a glance, the classroom has microphone and projector. Students get in & out any time, bring food & drink into classroom, even sleep in the class. The teacher was quite easy-going.

Lecturer was Ms. TTT Hang.

There was printed paper given away to all students provide general informations of the class & subject: (1) Name, quantity of time, full name and contact info of lecturer (2) description, goal, output, material, assessment & standard, requirements; (3) details of content: teaching plan & timing (Sep 14 – Nov 9) (9 sessions x 4 hours), etc This is a basic professional compulsory subject.

Ms. Hang first introduce about the subject and said that she would like to assess the students based on their field work, which they need to go out to observe and interview people.

(The content below is not clear, I just write for myself to remind, so you may find it sometimes hard to understand)

She got an example about Thoi Son island. It was original a rural village island with lots of longan tree, people store honey at home for their using. And there is a Master of Don ca tai tu (Amateur singing), sometime he just sings with some friends for entertainment, express feelings. Then when it became touristic, what happened. What’re all changes internally and externally. What do they need to do to adapt with new environment. How do they impact to the tourists and how do the tourists impact to them. They are no longer local people, but became host. Together with economical benefit, what do they need to exchange. The honey previously using for their own, now being sold. Sometimes they need to change the original lifestyle: put more or less honey in the tea to be suitable with the taste of the guests. The Master of Don ca tai tu, previously he just sing for fun, just sing when he wants to sing, now he need to sing when the guests visit, to serve the guests, not come out from his real emotion. A question of authenticity. Does he need to invest effort to make the song better, since the guests who listen to him may not understand what he sings about to have any judgement. The culture & habit is being redefined and modified. The difference of the tourists may make them compare with themselves. There would be time people there wonder who they are. The identity is being changed.

She then introduced & explained about Tourist, Traveler & Excursionist. International & Domestic travel, inbound & outbound travel. MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions).

The abundant culture is an attractiveness, an experience and a product. Being a farmer is very ordinary in an agricultural country like Vietnam, but it became a tour “Farmer in one day” at Phu Yen province. Or “monkey bridge” in Mekong Delta is being replaced by concrete bridge for conveniences of local people, but it also became one part of tourism.

She also mentioned about the way local people treat tourists: some places price is increased very high. It also depends on culture of each area. Restaurants in the South of Vietnam normally offer free tea, but not in the North.

She then introduced about history of tourism in the world and how did anthropology get involved in research tourism.

Tourism of Vietnam in the ward:
+ the North: mostly to accommodate foreign politician visitors, to treat deceased & war invalid soldiers.
+ the South: French colony accommodate their visitors.

Tourism of Vietnam started to develop on 1993.

Sep 15, (room no. A312): Anthropology with globalization. Lecturer: Ms. Phan Thi Hong Xuan

She divided the students into 9 groups and asked them to discuss of: “boat culture” (willing to be mixed with other culture) or “umbrella culture” (want to keep their own culture, don’t want to be mixed.

These topics were being discussed: language, employment, custom, immigrant, economic competitiveness, health care, human right, gender equality,Transnational marriage …

Gender equality: in the US, someone suggested to have women picture printed on the money.
Switzerland: urinated standing up is forbidden, only urinating sitting down is allowed – no divide gender in toilet. Another reason: urinating sitting down is better for health.

Health care: + Ho Chi Minh city suggested to have prostitution as an official job, so it’s easier to do health care and health check. Not yet approved.
+ “fighting” between Eastern Health and Western Health. There is local decease, not popular and need local medicine.

Environment: genetically modified food.

Europeanness within Euro community, Aseaness within Asean community, ethnicness. A German will be proud to say: “I’m German”, but a citizen from a country with “lower status” might say: “I’m European”.

cigarette: beside toxic, there is pharmacy benefit.

The term “globalization” appeared since 1980’s, when government lose control about finance into few international corporations. Globalization is an indispensable trend.

Currently price of imported chicken is lower than local chicken. Comparing culinary culture, Vietnamese prefer thigh, wing while American prefer chest of the chicken (since it’s less cholesterol). Comparing production, raising chicken in Thailand is lower investment and faster than in Vietnam.

Talking about the book of Thomas Friedman: The Lexus and The Olive Tree, The World is Flat.

At a workshop she attended in the Philippines, they want to write back their real own history. Their history was written by Western people.

Got to see an interesting picture: “Everything covered but her eyes … Nothing covered but her eyes … what a cruel male-dominated culture”.

A culture is learned, shared, changed. Cultural symbiosis: release and receive. Vietnamese Ao Dai combine with Western lace make a very nice dress.

I really liked the lecturer. She’s pretty, well-dressed, smiling all the time, gently, easy-going, very open and provided great informations and knowledge.

Sep 16, 2015: Anthropology of festival and tradition. Lecture: T V Mon. Room D306.

Listed around 34 books for reference, both Vietnamese and foreign.

Purpose of festival: announce information, disseminate rule, maintain social order, enhance unity.

Structure theory, the base is dyad concept. Conflict theory: classify festivals: secular & religious, rural & urban, organized by people & organized by government, people organize for government & government organize for people.

Rites in festivals: (Lộc – blessed food)

According to Alessandro Falassi: Nghi thức hoán vị (Rites of reversal), nghi thức phô trương rực rỡ (rite of conspicuous display), nghi thức tiêu thụ phung phí (rites of conspicuous consumption), kịch, nghi lễ (ritual drama) – tái tạo một sự kiện.

According to Beverly J Stoeltje: nghi thức trao đổi (rite exchange) – tái cân bằng của cải, thu nhận và trả lại; nghi thức tranh tài (rites of competition), nghi thức tan hội (rite of devalorization).

social structure of attendance, class of attendance, which class take advantage in the festival.

Functions of festival: psychological stabilization, religion, entertainment, education – passing traditional culture, enhance unity, develop economy – culture – tourism.

Thu – the student was next to me complimented a lot about the teacher, that he’s rich, but modest.

Economic Anthropology. Sep 18, 2015. Room D306.

Group of students presented about the topic they were assigned to prepare at home.

+ Relationship between agriculture and hunting-gathering.

+ doing field in the mountain and exploit commercial wood.

(to be updated)

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