Self-Reflection on Vietnamese Culture
Self-awareness is an initial step to understand the variations of cultures. It could help an individual to realize the essentials of his or her own culture that are usually neglected in daily life. In this essay, I would like to explore the Vietnamese culture under my own reflection and express my opinions about cultural variation discussion in international environments. At first, there is a variety of important factors that influenced Vietnamese culture but family is the most important point. In fact, a typical Viet family includes grandparents, parents and children living together under a same roof.
The number of children in family is often high due to the old concept that more child more laborer. It could be easy to understand because Vietnam is an agricultural civilization based on the cultivation of wet rice. Although this situation is changing in urban areas, it still exists in rural regions where farming takes the primary role in people’s income. Vietnamese people also have a close relationship with their relatives. They are frequently living in a same village or commune in order to support each other.
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Moreover, they try to have a good relationship with their neighbors because of an old saying “Sell far relatives and buy close neighbors”. In a typical Viet family, children are taught to be well-behaved and respectful towards their parents, grandparents and relatives. In terms of the relationship with other siblings, they have to be in accord and love each other. Because of that, loving people is one of specific characteristics of Viet. When natural disasters such as hurricanes that hit Vietnam annually happen, not only Vietnamese people living in their homeland but also overseas Vietnamese donate and help their fellows.
Another significant role that helps to form the Vietnamese culture is religion. In fact, most Vietnamese do not follow any particular religions. Their belief and moral standards are based on Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism principles and mixed with their tradition that is worshiping their ancestors, national heroes and heroines. However, the effects of Confucianism and Taoism cause some prejudices in Vietnamese society, especially about the role of women, such as bad reputation for being a single-mom or marriage arrangements by parents.
Christianity, on the other hand, does not have a noteworthy influence on Vietnamese culture because it appeared in Vietnam just a few centuries ago. Despite the fact that the number of Christian in Vietnam is not large, the whole country is still celebrating Christmas as an unofficial holiday; whereas, the same situation does not happen with other Christian holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Easter Sunday. Vietnamese people are comprised by over 54 ethnic groups in which Kinh people takes the largest proportion. The second place is Hoa (Cantonese people) and the third is Khmer.
Because of those largest groups, it could be explained easily the reason why Vietnamese culture is influenced by Chinese and Indian. One significant point about Vietnamese culture is that its variation could be divided into two parts that correspond to the north and south. Over 1000 years, China invaded and ruled the north of Vietnam and during that period, the rulers wanted to eliminate Vietnamese traditions and replaced with their own culture. For many centuries, the ancient Vietnam’s capital of economics, culture, and education was placed in the north and it could be easy to find many evidences of Chinese influence on Viet lifestyle.
Vietnamese used Chinese characters as their writing for a long time. The first university of Vietnam taught Confucianism and Vietnamese’s philosophy was based on yin yang, as well as the harmony of five elements. Feng shui also took an important role when constructing a building. Those historical reasons could also explain why there are some conservation and ceremoniousness in thoughts of people coming from the north. Conversely, the south became part of Vietnam just a few hundred years ago. Before that, they were lands of Champa, Funan and Chenla kingdoms where their culture influenced by Indian culture.
Their citizens were mostly Khmer, especially in Mekong delta. Although there was immigration from the north to the south because of civil war, southerners are still more open-minded and dynamic. The influences of other cultural factors also have an impact on Vietnamese cuisine. On the whole, Vietnamese eat rice as their staple diet and use chopsticks when eating, just like other East Asian countries. There is no religious restriction on what could and could not be eaten. They use pork, beef, chicken, fish and other seafood as main ingredients.
Nuoc mam, a kind of fish source takes an important role in food seasoning across the country. The main philosophy of Vietnamese cuisine is the harmony of five tastes (sweet, bitter, sour, tasty, and salty) but it varies from regions to regions. In the north of Vietnam where Chinese culture is dominated, dishes are used more oil and less tasty than other regions. Pho, the most famous Vietnamese noodle soup with beef, herb, etc, has it origin in Nam Dinh, a province in northern Vietnam. In the central part of Vietnam where there is a long coast, fishes and other seafood are more preferred and the food is saltier.
Yet there is an exception in Hue, the capital of the last dynasty in Vietnam, the Nguyen’s dynasty. Hue’s cuisine is often considered as the royal cuisine where meals are demanded to present the aesthetic perfection of food elements, tastes and decorations to create a gastronomic work of art. The southern Vietnam’s cuisine, on the other hands, is mainly affected by Indian cuisine that the final results are sweeter, more flavorful and vibrant. During the war with French and American, cuisine in the south has a minor impact from western cooking style which is easy to see by the usage of milk, cream, bread and the habit of drinking coffee.
Banh mi, the world well-known Vietnamese fast-food with baguette, pork and some vegetables, has its origin in Saigon, the center city of southern Vietnam. Talking about Vietnamese culture without mentioning about their attitudes is insufficient. The view of Vietnamese people about the future of their country varies from period to period. In 2000s when the Vietnam economy had a rapid development, everyone was holding a positive view about a brilliant future. Yet when the global economic crisis begins, this situation no longer exists. Vietnamese people have doubtful opinions about the government’s abilities, especially the young.
Despite the fact that global economic crisis has minor impacts and Vietnam’s economy is steadily growing, the young still have struggled in finding and working in their own country. There are some cultural differences between working for government and for international corporations that could not be solved easily. Young Vietnamese people are energetic, eager to try and learn new things but the dull and bureaucratic environment, as well as bribery and corruption in government make the young feel uncomfortable. Therefore, they choose to work in international corporations when they have opportunities.
It is hard to define which areas that cultural variations in belief and values frequently occurs. It might happen in everywhere because the world is living at globalization state and the communications among cultures have never been so easy like at this time. Many universities are providing international programs to attract students from all countries in the world. Thus there are cultural variations in a class and they are reflected by students’ opinions in their assignments. Nowadays it is easy to find a team in an international corporation consisting of members that have different religions, ways of life and customs.
Therefore, there are the variations in working methods, norms and the outcome values. Discussion about cultural variations in academic atmosphere is vital in order to minimize possible cultural conflicts. In an international environment where people come from various countries with different cultures, the contrast amongst cultural values is unavoidable. Understanding other’s values could help broaden one’s vision and improve the corporation amongst members in a team. It does not mean one has to give up or hidden his or her own culture.
In fact, he or she has to realize which values are the same, which may cause arguments and seek for a solution to be balanced. For instance, Westerners are often punctual while their Asian fellows consider that being a little late is normal. In this case, Asian people must adapt the punctuality culture to live and work happily with their Western partners. Another example is that people coming from Islamic countries do not eat pork while it is very normal to have pork in daily meals in Western countries. Under this circumstance, forcing them to eat pork could result an overwhelming resistance and deepen the contrast.
This situation could be avoided easily if there is an understanding about Islamic culture. While discussion about cultural variations, there are some topics that are sensitive and one must be very careful when talking about them. They are religion, ethnicity and the values of ethics and wealth. Religion is a belief that influenced people’s life. It has the major role in many cultures, thus underestimating a religion is underestimating a whole culture. History has proved that numerous wars were started because of religious conflicts. When discussing about religion, one must pay much attention to keep the conversation not go too far.
Similarly, ethnicity is also a topic that could cause misunderstanding. Everyone has a pride of his or her own ethnic group and country, thus discussion about sensitive topics, for example, politics system or the government is carefully taken into consideration. In some cultures, talks about the wealth are accepted but it is perceived as rude topics in some others. Regarding ethics values, when conflicting opinions happen, one must aware that because every culture has its own moral standards which mostly based on religious precepts, something might be right in this culture but wrong in other cultures.
In order to have a proper self-reflection, there are some factors that need to be taken into consideration. They are family, personal independence, freedom, meaningful work and spirituality. Personally, I think family has an irreplaceable position in one’s soul. It takes the main role in forming a person’s characteristics, as well as a sweet place to return and seek for help when something goes wrong. People might not be able to see the values of family when they were young, but soon they would realize its important role in their life. In terms of personal independence, I consider it as the right that people possess to control their own life.
They have to be responsible for their actions and behaviors. It is different from freedom. Freedom does not mean people could do everything they want. Instead, they are free to do what is considered as legal. If everyone ignores the law, the whole society will run into chaos. Meaningful work obviously is an ultimate goal of most people. They desire to have a job that deserves for them to spend their utmost effort and could help them create recognizable values, as well as improve their personal skills. Spirituality, on the other hand, has another role but not so important. In fact, it is considered neither bad nor good.
In some cases, that’s could help people to overcome their troubles by providing moral support. In contrast, if people have been deeply sunk in ambiguous values, they would not have been able to aware the real world. To be honest, I have never had conversations with my classmates about those views, thus I could not say whether they result some impacts on our relationship or not. However, if I have to talk about those topics, I would not persist my own views that, as I mentioned, could cause some misunderstanding and conflicts. Instead, I would like to listen and try to understand my classmates’ views and share my opinions in a peaceful ways.