Archive | February, 2011

My late night worbling about the thing called “challenge”

26 Feb

OK, I’m not going to call it a “culture shock” because it always sounds like a cliche to me. Plus, I get such a feeling everywhere, even in my own home country. But this posting is about the challenge that I’ve faced so far. I mean, I’ve been in Hanoi in total of about a month after all, and I can’t believe that it’s already end of the month. 25th of February. Since it is a shorter month, there’s something sad about this month, that maybe I’m losing out my precious 2 days, which is equivalent of 48 hours, and who knows how many minutes… But my challenge isn’t actually the lack of time, but the feeling that things are slipping off of my hands like I try to grab water or fog.

The real challenge -the bigger one, perhaps- is that I’m realizing how challenging it can be to become a part of a new environment.  Not even becoming a part of it, but just the part that you get used to all the new things.  I always thought that I was good at becoming a part of something. Such an overconfidence of mine came from how I’ve always told myself that this is one thing that I’m good at this- becoming one of “the others.” It sounds and seems all glorious, doesn’t it? But it’s actually a pretty darn stressful process here in Hanoi.  Add the stress of the language on top of that. I’m gonna say it. It’s been really really difficult to get used to the new life, and I’m still adjusting a big deal, while I’m supposedly one third way done with my internship.  I’m still struggling with finding the right bus stop, the weather/climate (as if I haven’t complained enough), the noise, the crowd, the atmosphere… everything can be so stifling and makes me want to burst out crying in the middle of the street, clearly knowing that no one is going to give a jack about it.

The worst part of it would be the loneliness in the city, though.

I guess it’s been too long but I had forgotten about how difficult it can be, and what a challenge moving can be.  I moved to the US 10 years ago, and that was a big deal, but after 8 years, I thought I was bulletproof, part of it because I passed the worst long time ago, and by the time I graduated from college, I felt that it was OK, and I didn’t suffer that much.  Funny how people’s memories are built to erase things that might be too burdensome.  Then there came Singapore, which stressed me out a huge deal the first semester, but eventually, about a year and half later, I felt fine, and I finally felt home with it (or I finally made peace with it and then moved on).

Then now, Vietnam.  Knowing that I will be leaving in several months, maybe this is not even worth of that much emotional energy to waste.  But when every bit of my life is a struggle, from waiting for the bus that doesn’t seem to have any schedule or order or safety consciousness, to staring at the taxi meter frantically just because I heard too many horror stories with taxis and am worried that I’ll be ripped off (but probably by petty amount like 2-3 dollars, which still carries quite a bit of worth here), to finding the right place to eat where I still don’t quite know where to go besides this one particular place around the corner of my office, to having to spend too much money while in fact I had only spent about 5 dollars that day, to my lack of energy in everyday life here (perhaps because of all the “struggles”), it is easy to realize that maybe what I (and many people) have fantasized about living in a completely different place may not be such a great thing.

But the bigger fear is this. I always thought that I was made for these things, and I’ve been sure over the past several years that I want the kind of life that doesn’t necessarily provide me with stability but with mobility and different types of people.  Now I can’t help but asking, have I been completely wrong about myself? The kind of life that I was sure that would fuel me with energy and health seems to be eating me alive, at least now. I’m utterly confused by the situation and by the realization that terrifies me. Really, am I just an emotional wreck who might not be strong enough to deal with these new challenges? Where is the person in my head who enjoys the challenges of different environments and adventures?  I ask myself the same question everyday, but the answer is hard to be found.

I hope that the courage and patience will be built based on my everyday experience for the rest of my time here, and by the end of it, I hope that I can tell myself again: “See, that wasn’t so hard.”  I hope that I’ll have been leveled up in a whole different way. And for another day, I pass by motorbikes that seem to pop up from everywhere and anywhere around me, but I hope that tomorrow, I will be able to have a good laugh about how silly they are and how much I will miss the noise that they make once I’m away.

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My Vietnam Updates, Research Progress, etc.

23 Feb

The truth is that whenever I’m walking on the street, waiting for the bus that makes me wait half an hour every time, or sitting in my cubicle, I have so many stories to tell and I structure them all in my head on how I’m going to deliver them on my glorious blog. But the other truth is that by the time I get back home, which takes about an hour everyday, I’m usually pretty exhausted (probably from the commute, weather, polluted air, busy-ness of the city) and all I want to do is watch numerous TV shows and go to bed, not even reading or writing in my personal journal. Yes, I’m embodying the pure laziness that anybody can possibly embody and express, but the saturated fatigue that I’m going through recently can perhaps only be cured by… I don’t know, whatever the opposit thing of what I’m doing right now.

The internship is interesting, but I won’t comment on it too much. It’s been mostly office-based research work, and the real exciting part that involves fieldwork and more active research will come in 2 weeks or so (early March, yipes!), so I can probably give you more views into my work then. My particular section (out of 5 sections at UNICEF Vietnam) is called Provincial Child-Friendly Program, and I’m given the responsibilities to migration studies in the South (around Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces) and other work that involves minority children’s welfare in Vietnam. What I can tell you is that now I feel like I know my way around at work and see several familiar faces here and there. The thing is that I find Vietnamese people initially quite shy, and being a closet introvert (wait, WHO is this introverted person am I talking about…?!?), I find it a bit difficult to reach out first. But all in all, I find my section people quite lovely, and I only wish that I spoke some Vietnamese so that I can connect with them better. My anthropologist self is telling me that I should reach out and “go native” in a way, but the thing is that I somehow find it very difficult to do so, which was never the case in any other countries besides my native Korea. So strange, but I guess there are a lot of similarities that I find between the two countries, at least culturally. I don’t want to be invasive either, so I mostly tend to mind my own business, fixed into my computer. I just let what may come to come in right time. But I sincerely hope that by the time  I finish my internship, I’ll have developed a great deal of trust and rapport with my section people as well.

To those of you who are curious, yes, I’m working on my PAE (thesis) research as well. The topic would be on sex-ratio at birth imbalance in Vietnam, and it was suggested my supervisor, as he knew that I was really into gender issues.  It doesn’t have much to do with my section’s work per se, but I find it quite interesting. A week ago, by (very lucky) accident, I got in touch with a gender specialist within UNICEF, and she invited me to tag along to Gender Program Coordination Group Annual Meeting. Gender PCG is a collaboration of different policy/political/legal stakeholders in Vietnam, from NGO advocates to UN officers to the Communist Party members to Ministry specialists. It was a half-day meeting and people from various groups presented the evaluation of last years work and the coming year’s agenda. What was repetitively emphasized was the SRB imbalance issue which, apparently, hasn’t been touched upon very much. To give you a brief view, the SRB of Vietnam is around 110-112 boys for every 100 girls, while some provinces have over 120 boys. China, for example, has 120 national average, while some provinces rating 130+ boys. Similar phenomenon in India and South Korea, although the latter is in the process of normalizing with 106-7 boys (it used to have the worst imbalance during the 80s and the 90s). Anyhow, it’s a fascinating topic, and UNFPA Vietnam has done quite an extensive research work, so look into it if you’re interested.

As far as my life in general… hmmm, I should say it’s rather mundane. As I said earlier, I get exhausted so easily by the end of the day, so doing anything during the week seems impossible for me at this point. Maybe the city is too overwhelming to take it in within such a short period. I’m trying to take a deep breath and enjoy it, even the weather that I complain about all the time. After all, I do enjoy challenges :). Will keep you updated.

I’m fascinated by all the articles on what is happening in the Middle East. Hope that things will lead to the better result for the people (democracy!). Will try to give you my thoughts on that as well sometime soon. Ciao!

My Amateur Egypt Collection

2 Feb

If you’re a political/international affairs enthusiast or someone who is simply interested in the “Arab world,” Islam, democracy, or someone like me who is interested in little bits and pieces of everything, you probably heard the word Egypt and its current revolution that is perceived as a spillover effect of the recent Tunisia case. After reading some articles and discussing with my friends, I thought it might be a good idea to put some of the articles and such together, just in case you haven’t read these.

My primary sources are of course, my beloved New York Times and Al Jazeera, but I’ve read some blog posts as well with insightful commentaries. Hope to add some more on the list as I go along.

* An NYT article for the Overview

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/world/middleeast/26egypt.html?_r=1&hp

* Video Clip from Tahrir Square

* What is the significance of Tahrir Square anyways?

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/201121103522508343.html

* There are also plenty of Egyptian Bloggers who are part of the movement

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41285248/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/

* Women struggled bravely, too, on the street, online, wherever. These are the photos that are accessible on Facebook (meaning, you need FB account, but I believe most of you do).

http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=268523&id=586357675&fbid=493689677675

* “How Not To Say Stupid Stuff about Egypt”- The author is so articulate, especially the part that was saying that some people’s democracy is considered inferior to others’, just because of their religion and culture. So true. I mean, could anybody say that the American or French Revolution was a mere demagoguery (I mean, the previous one wasn’t even that revolutionary anyways- was about the damn taxes!)?

http://sarthanapalos.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/a-guide-how-not-to-say-stupid-stuff-about-egypt/

* Not directly related to Egypt, but this reflects on how the rest of the world sees the “Arab World” with prejudice due to the religious factors severely mixed with political violence. This perhaps goes with the sarthanapalos blog article above.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112611591745716.html

* Commentary on the Jakarta Post- The author is making a parallel comparison to Indonesia’s 1998 Reformasi against the dictatorship of Soeharto. Pretty interesting to see, coming from a “fellow” Muslim country.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/02/02/commentary-cairo-riots-jolt-our-memories-soeharto%E2%80%99s-fall-1998.html

* Seems like the dictator is not coming back any more after all.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/201121191413252982.html

Please please let me know if you have any comments and other great sources!!!