I’m feeling quite ambivalent. I had to say goodbye to Nguyet Anh, one-time student turned good friend (one of only two Vietnamese I can really call friends). She left for London today to go study English and then business at the London School of Commerce today. Anh’s the same age as I am and, although I was her teacher, treated me as a friend rather then her teacher (the norm being to put your teacher on a pedestal no matter what age he or she is). I admired that and since then she’s taught me a lot about Vietnamese culture, showing me around and helping us buy things that are not easily accessible to foreigners (or who usually get ripped off) and even taught me some of the few Vietnamese words I know. Her English isn’t fluent but has improved a lot since when she was a student (about 5 months ago).
Although only 23, she owned two art galleries in Saigon (she had to sell one to finance the move to England), and was studying full-time as well, yet she always had time to help us if we had a problem that needed a local hand or local knowledge.
She came to say goodbye this afternoon and bring Christoff and I some gifts. She bought me a beautiful tie, some munchies from her hometown in the countryside and three paintings from her galleries to hang in our style-deficient house. And meanwhile we were the ones who should have given her a gift to thank her for all she’s done. I feel really bad about that.
The ambivalence sprouts not from her leaving so much or my lack of a farewell present, but out of worry for her in London. It’s not just the English that will be a barrier but, even though I know London is probably the multicultural capital of the world, the culture will be a big problem. No matter how big Ho Chi Minh City is, the modern Westernised culture is not as widespread as many people think. Basically, most Vietnamese who have not lived abroad are ignorant and innocent to the evil wiles of the Western world (similarly, foreigners are ignorant – yet perhaps not as innocent as exploitative - to the Vietnamese culture). The Buddhist principles of generosity and kindness are saturated in the culture here. Anh’s no different. She’s just a genuinely friendly, innocent girl exposing herself to a barrage of different culture and ways – yin and yang – and I hope she can take the positive out of the experience. I’ve survived Nam until now (touch wood), but I didn’t have to face a foreign culture and language on my own…but ce la vie, such is life, bon voyage and may the sun shine on your travels…