I was trying to recall the past experiences that I have gone through during my four years of living and working full-time in Vietnam and use them to draw a picture of Vietnamese culture, which I expect will be a great work of art with my wonderful memories of this country.
When I first arrived in Vietnam, I was very curious about how Vietnam had resisted numerous invasions to safeguard its sovereignty and become an independent country as we know it today. Throughout Vietnam’s rich and long history, what features prominently is the entire country’s effort to preserve national identity, a firm foundation for Vietnam to move forward. It is not difficult to see the marks of Vietnamese people’s respect for cultural customs passed down by their ancestors.
A symbol of ancient Vietnamese culture can be found on the Dong Son bronze drums which date back more than 2,000 years ago. Reproductions of motifs on the Dong Son drum surface are often visible in offices or reception rooms of government agencies and miniature bronze drums make highly sought-after souvenirs. The worship of ancestors, particularly the Hung Kings, Vietnam’s legendary founders, is prevalent across the country and is a major theme of many traditional festivals and in the arts. In addition to safeguarding and fostering traditional values, Vietnam also embraces foreign cultures in a selective manner to influence its own unique culture.
Coming from a country that has experienced numerous defensive wars throughout its long history, the Vietnamese people naturally bear in mind their national pride and gratitude to those who did a service to their country. In Vietnam, Tran Hung Dao is one of the most venerated heroes. The Tran Dynasty general is admired much in the same way as Koreans respect their own hero, General Lee Sun Sin. And the heroines most venerated by Vietnamese people are perhaps the two Trung Sisters who rose up against the then dominating Chinese in 40 AD. In modern times, the Vietnamese people pay respect to President Ho Chi Minh, an exceptional leader and hero in the national struggle for independence, he is regarded somewhat as a saint and his thoughts and philosophy on leadership continue to be applied in Vietnam today.
In Vietnam, streets are frequently named after heroes who made significant contributions to the country’s construction and defence, which I think is a very fine tradition. In Korean history, we also have many heroes hailing from defensive wars against foreign aggressors but there is still a lack of ways to commemorate them. In the capital Seoul, there are also streets named after national heroes such as Sejongro, Euljiro, Dasanro, Wonhyoro and Chungmuro but such streets are few and far between while most streets are named after their geographical features. This is why I find the Vietnamese tradition of reverence for national heroes especially beautiful. And although Vietnamese people warmly embrace foreign religions, the indigenous ancestor worship remains a central part in the spiritual life of Vietnamese people.