Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women's Day in Vietnam

What is observed on March 8 every year as Women's Day in Vietnam started as the Socialist political event called International Working Women's Day celebrating the accomplishments of women in politics, finance and community service. Hey, as a long term Working Woman (and I don't think I know any women who don't work, at home or at an office or in a restaurant or in a store... Oh, I see them out there, tottering about in sky high heels on the arm of a man twenty years older, I just don't know any of them as friends) I am wondering why we have not adopted that sense of this holiday in the "west" in our modern age of liberated women who "get" to go to work.

From the snippets I have seen here on the fringe of the Vietnamese culture, Woman's Day seems to have lost its political slant and men merely buy their wives a few flowers and take their mothers and families out to dinner. My brother's Vietnamese girlfriend did mention Women's Day coming up and jokingly told him that he would need to put on an apron and make dinner, though the fact that they are staying in a hotel in the middle of HCMC made that nearly impossible. In the guest house I just left here in Vung Tau, a returning Australian vet was also being chided by his Vietnamese girlfriend that she was expecting, wink wink, flowers and a shopping trip to the market for Women's Day.

As I walked around the center of Vung Tau last night and ate in an upper middle class local restaurant, there were a lot of people out and about for a Thursday night and any number of long tables of twenty or more filled with extended families having dinner together. After dinner as I walked on through the next district, I heard a woman singing traditional Vietnamese folk songs. I walked past on the sidewalk and peeked through an open door into what seemed like the district meeting room or community center where people were sitting at rows of large wooden school desks listening to her concert. Thinking about it later, I realized this might have been more of a communist party meeting with a Woman's Day program.

The communist party is still in control here, of course. Army uniforms are quite common, though sometimes I have a hard time deciding who is a security guard watching over parked motor scooters in front of a restaurant and who might be the party member watching over the local people. From my short time observing life here, I think the party members have often times just melded into the day to day activities of the community--making sure the kids and old ladies can wend their way through the chaotic scooter/car/bicycle traffic, giving tickets for scooter violations, watching over tourist areas to prevent thieves discouraging all that western money from pouring in to "develop" the country... I see the Vietnamese communist flag here and there, a small one flapping from the antenna on top of a taxi or catching the afternoon light at the center of the rainbow arch that runs over the street in front of the Palace Hotel, but haven't really seen the red flag with the yellow star being flown prominently from buildings in HCMC or Vung Tau, at least so far in my ramblings.

Meanwhile, back at Woman's Day... Something that struck me when I visited the Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City a few days after I arrived, was how ever-present women were in the art there and how active and strong they are in every depiction. They aren't lounging naked on a chaise strategically draped with a small piece of sheer cloth or dancing prettily or sitting, staring thoughtfully at the painter a rich husband hired to record his wife's decorative, intelligent, sexy presence for posterity or even sitting with baby jesus on one knee, they are actively doing something, in many cases something central to the life of the community. Here are some examples of the art in the museum.

This last is one of my favorites, a carved lacquer.

The sculpture below was titled something like "The Gift of the Soil". For me it transmitted such a strong message. "Remember the land!" the old woman seems to be telling him. "Remember the fruits of your loins and your village!" the little girl reaches up with her own gift of a mango for her father.

That would be my message to the women, young and old, of Vietnam as their life is inevitably changed by the further incursion of western money and mores--Remember the land, your traditions, your love of family.

Hugs from the Palace Hotel on the edge of the South China Sea in Vung Tau.


Anonymous said...

I'm grateful for this thoughtful, complicated, personal account of the Day, which this year seemed particularly important to me as women's health issues remain on the chopping block in the U.S. Nothing complicated about the beauty you brought us from the museum! Thank you, N2.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for this interesting and insightful post -- and I'll compliment you, as well, on your beautiful art at the top of your blog -- it's such a pleasure to see it unfold on the screen, particularly that heart.

Happy travels!

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