When my aunt asked me what I thought of Vietnam after the first day, I replied, "It's nice!"
When I said that, she looked at me and said, "There are many ways to describe Vietnam, and I have never used 'nice.'"
What a surface level response from a writer. Reality check: Not all things can be nice, Lily.
After many nights of reliving the day's activities, I came to the conclusion that Vietnam is chaotically simple. It is overwhelming for outsiders, but pure and simplistic to those that spend their days and nights on the streets.
It's not a perfect, lavish life, but it's what they know and have learned to appreciate.
After six days in Vietnam, I have only a mere understanding of what life is like there. From the cuisine, I learned that nothing, and I mean nothing, is to be wasted (Those with weak stomachs, skip down a few lines).
I dined on fish heart and stomach, cow breast, ox tail, duck embryo, cuttlefish... and the list goes on.
These are on the table because some Vietnamese can't afford to let it go in the bin. If it's filling and available, dive in.
I rode through the littered streets, passing millions of motorbikes — some with 3 or 4 people squished onto the small seat. I saw all different kinds of architectural styles and learned about Vietnam's past colonizers.
Vietnam has very little land with loads of people who have been under rotations of control.
I visited the Củ Chi tunnels, the underground fighting tunnels used by the Vietcong and other Vietnamese throughout the Vietnam war, and learned of the limited resources and groundbreaking innovation used by the Vietnamese for defense.
Using common household items, like folding chairs, bamboo and tables, the north Vietnamese were able to create deadly weapons that outsmarted thoroughly trained and armed Americans.
The same day, I attended the War Remnants Museum. It showcased the horrific war crimes performed by some American soldiers and the effects of herbicidal warfare enacted by the United States Army on the people of Vietnam.
Outside stood a prison, with detailed descriptions of torture methods as well as the fighter jets and tanks that were left by American troops after the war.
I cannot lie and say it was easy to be an American walking into those places. Seeing the graphic photos of children parentless and wounded from falling bombs labeled "Made in the USA" ripped my heart out.
Reading about the torture that ensued and the game-like methods of harm pushed me past wanting to run out.
My head was spinning by the time I eventually left. I was uncomfortable, and the sights were unnerving. Nonetheless, it was something I am thankful I saw.
What one has to remember, though, is every person or country has their side of a story. Why had I never seen all of those horrific pictures and read the personalized stories of death and destruction? Well, I went to a school in the United States, which taught me American misfortunes.
I am almost positive that our side is not being taught in their classrooms, which is alright. It's all about perspective and experience.
I visited these places with my aunt's brother, Hai Hoang, who lived through the Vietnam War. He currently lives in the United States. Although the memories are gut-wrenching and lives on both sides were lost, time passes and wounds heal.
Vietnam is built by head-strong, independent, resilient citizens who just want to live their lives. I've been told that Vietnamese people are difficult to work with, but would you trust easily if your history resembles a ping-pong ball being tossed to and fro?
Although the culture can be overwhelming and vastly different from what most of us are used to, it is something at which to marvel. It may not look like 100 bucks to us, but I can honestly tell you that 95 percent of the people I encountered were genuinely content.
Hai's wife, Ni, said something that stuck with me.
"They don't have a lot, but who cares? They don't," Ni said. "If you like staying in five-star hotels, then do it. If you like staying in backpacker hotels, then do it. Live your life and be happy. That's what these people are doing."