This entry was intended to be a light-hearted look at my recent experiences at the Hanoi Pride Event, comparing and contrasting with my attendance at several Las Vegas Prides. I promise I will cover that, but my heavy heart won’t allow me to write that piece in light of events that took place in my home city of Las Vegas last night. The worst mass shooting in history, with 59 people dead and nearly 500 injured. All gathered to bond over their shared love of country music, a pure and heartfelt pursuit.
In my three months in Hanoi, I have observed and attempted to process the many cultural and institutional differences that come with living in a foreign country, given my limited international travel experience and lifelong residence in the USA. It is a joyful, confusing, extremely educational, mind opening experience! I am learning a lot about myself and my own cultural biases.
I was a child during the Vietnam War, and still vividly remember images that my child’s mind could not make sense of on the evening news. The scars of that war are still evident here, but the people have moved on. They are not bitter. My colleagues at PATH speak with equanimity about the difficult times they and their families endured after the war, when there was not enough food to go around. I am always reminding myself that this country only really opened up 30 years ago. I observe a mix of traditional, Confucian and Taoist principles combined with technological changes occurring at break neck speed. Quite an interesting dichotomy.
Vietnam is enjoying an unprecedented period of economic growth and development, moving from a low range developed country solidly into the middle range. There are cranes and construction everywhere on the skyline as new buildings go up and local and outside investors pour money into the country. There is a Ferrari parked on my street, owned by a local family. Bare knuckle capitalism is in full swing here, no doubt about it. Money and business opportunities abound for those with the right connections and plenty of patience. The upshot of this economic boom is a growing middle class and level of financial security that allows most families to live a comfortable life. All good news! Of course there are growing pains. The culture is struggling to keep up with the rapid change. The Hanoi Pride Event was a joyful, inspiring experience, but on a much smaller scale than Pride events in Western cities. The very first VietPride was held only 5 years ago. It all felt very novel and quite sweet. Not once, in the 4 hours that I was there, did I feel insecure or unsafe in any way. An act of violence or an attack at this event, that is clearly pushing the boundaries of social norms in Vietnam, is simply unthinkable. There is no tolerance for that kind of behavior here and it would not even occur to anyone to attempt to perpetrate any harm against a crowd of people, gathered for any reason. Even is someone had bad intent, they would not have the means to carry out a violent act. My point is this: while there are parts of this culture that can feel limiting to a Westerner, I have never felt safer in public spaces and crowds in my life. Let me repeat that, I feel safer in Vietnam amid the crazy traffic and chaos than I do in my own country. Still, I would not trade all the privileges that my US citizenship affords me for the security that I feel in Asia, but there must be a middle ground. Surely, the founders did not envision automatic weapons that could take out hundreds of innocents in minutes when they wrote the 2nd Amendment. It is time for us to act, for our lawmakers to act and come up with some common sense legislation that will end this senseless violence. It feels surreal to be so far away from home, yet hear and see the stories from friends of unimaginable terror, grief and loss. I am very proud to work for a healthcare company that does so much good in the world. It is my hope that corporate citizens and private citizens can finally band together to create the political capital to make meaningful change for the better. In the meantime, I am sending positive thoughts and comforting words to my traumatized friends and neighbors from afar. It does not feel like enough, there has to be more. It is time to take action.