Wednesday, June 20, 2012

evolution of my experience [entry #2]: opening my eyes

Well, this is going to be a super dorky post. But anyways, here it goes. As I am sure is true with most travelers, I have a minor obsession with reading books about different countries, especially while I am in that country. And I have just finished a book (recommended by my friend An) that I am absolutely insisting all of my readers to read.

The name of the book is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, her American Doctors, and the Clash of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman.

Now, the family in the book is not Vietnamese, but actually are from Laos. However, the family is not Laotian either, they are Hmong. Hmong is an ethnic minority group that lives in the highlands throughout SE Asia. Most originated in Laos, but there are still patches of Hmong people in northern Vietnam (most famously in Sapa--if you recall from one of my blog posts).

In brief, the Hmong family is resettled in America after the war and have a very sick child. There is chronic communication issues and cultural barriers when the child is taken to the hospital and basically all hell breaks loose. Its a quick read (less than 300 pages), so take some time to learn something new.

I felt the need to include in regards to my reflection on the evolution of my experience here because I remember coming home at Christmas time and complaining to everybody how I could not possibly comprehend how Vietnamese people could use rhino horn in order to treat every disease or ailment on the planet. I was outraged. How could they think it was okay to kill every last living rhino (they are extinct in Vietnam now) in the country just to use a treatment that was scientifically proven to be as effective as chewing on your own fingernails? It tied a knot in my stomach. I asked one of my Vietnamese friends this, and he replied to me, "I know its proven to be useless. But when my mother was dying of cancer, if we could have afforded a rhino horn, we would have used it. You would do anything to save your mother." Well, yes this is true I thought to myself, but I think the cross-cultural difference is that if my mother was dying of cancer, it would never cross my mind in a million years to use a rhino horn as treatment.

Now six months have passed (and especially after reading this book), I actually feel somewhat sympathetic to something that used to seem so outrageous or disgusting. Americans (including myself especially) often have this know-it-all attitude and our way is always best. Well maybe, but it also may be worth some effort to try to see where another person is coming from. Being condescending about it is not going to accomplish anything, especially here in Asia where respect is so heavily built into language, culture, and society. Just a thought.

1 comment:

  1. wow I'm so happy to see that you liked this book. I wanted so badly to be on the side of the American doctors because I'm all about practicality and accepting only things that can be proven (scientifically), but damn the family got me so sad at the end...I really hope I won't run into something like this in my career though, I couldn't handle it like the doctor couple did.