Reflecting on ICEP Vietnam / ICEPベトナムを振り返って-五嶋みどり

Reflecting on ICEP Vietnam

by Midori


After a fortnight of being back in the US, enjoying my self-prepared chicken paprikash and quinoa, I have a chance finally to reflect a bit on the past two weeks in Vietnam. Our stay in Hanoi started with much peace and quiet time to concentrate on our work. The musicians were getting to know each other and learning to collaborate with each other.


I was once before in Hanoi over a decade ago for the first ICEP tour, and I still cannot get over how the city has changed, while at the same time, I remember certain characteristics as if my last visit had been just yesterday. Immediately upon hitting the road from the airport to center city, we were amidst a swirl of motorbikes and cars, but these days the bikers all were wearing helmets. The traffic seemed congested but was always moving. The roads were in excellent condition, and I quickly reacquainted myself with the art of crossing the busy streets without traffic lights. (There are now some streets with traffic lights, but the lights are only somewhat heeded, at most.) The street up to the Conservatory, now called the Viet Nam National Academy of Music, felt comfortably familiar, and as I quickly felt relaxed walking in close proximity with the cars and the motorbikes zipping by, I would hum whatever we had been rehearsing that day. The streets showed a large South Korean influence, from shops and banks, to other businesses, and I must confess that I enjoyed sitting and feeling chic after a long day in a stylish café, now found almost anywhere in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.


On our first evening in Vietnam, the Vietnamese national team won the ASEAN Football Federation Championship (AFF Suzuki Cup), and Hanoi went wild. With honking, chanting, and shouting, the euphoric mood of the nation over the win was a one-of-a-kind experience of pandemonium one would find in any sports-enthusiastic country in a similar victory.


Our trips to Thai Binh and Tuyen Quang Provinces gave us a glimpse of life outside of the urban bustle. I particularly enjoyed conversations during those visits, whether with women and young girls through the work of IFAD, or with sanatorium residents with a terminal illness or a mental disability. Again, I was impressed by the technological advances and the much-improved road conditions. Staying in a guest house out in the country, in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by the beauty of nature and rustic conditions, sharing meals with the locals as we toasted for the health and the prosperity of everyone present, then coming back to my mattress for the night and catching a few minutes of the daily international news on the internet as I dozed off, offered a dissonance of the expected and the unexpected.


We then went on to Ho Chi Minh, meeting more young people, and during our little free time, trekked amidst skyscrapers and fashionable shops, trying to find in vain bargain (non-American-priced) Vietnamese coffee and pho, without too much success. Perhaps Ho Chi Minh was the wrong city for that…what we did find were out-of-this-world in taste but not as friendly to the wallet as one might have expected. We marveled at the beautiful French-influenced architecture, while accustoming ourselves to sudden outpourings of storm that would bring severe darkness to the skies, trendy bars and restaurants. We particularly noted how Beethoven was turned into a marketing ploy for an instant coffee of a café conglomerate where the non-instant latte was truly fabulous. (No offense to Beethoven, but I was not interested in trying his endorsement!)


My overall impression was that many more people now have opportunities to think about quality of life in general.  In our visits to schools and youth centers, we met with people who seemed to be very open, motivated in life, and confident. English speaking amongst the young population felt much more comfortable and at-ease. Most children were much more eager with English than their caretakers or teachers. Yet, we also met those who, through no fault of their own were irrevocably disabled in one manner or another, and therefore marginalized. And it is from them, I was again reminded, that we learn true meaning of courage, to live a life from what is given, and to aspire to reach a higher place.