Field School facilitation in Viet Nam

The first two weeks of January were spent in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in Hanoi and Da Nang, facilitating the Museum Studies field course, which is an option for UQ postgraduate students. 10 students from the course in Brisbane combined with 10 museum professionals from museums and heritage places in Viet Nam. For the UQ students it was a memorable ethnographic experience and many new friendships were made. The course gave us behind the scenes access to Buddhist stupas, privately owned and state museums. The message in many museums is clear, in the past the people of Viet Nam have endured many years of occupation and foreigner domination but this current era of benificent socialist state control is not a time for recriminations but instead for forgiveness and moving on, in a positive frame of mind about opportunities in the future. Today the tension between those who suffered and were victorious in the north and those who were in American territory centred on Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) in the southern part of Viet Nam, many of whom left Viet Nam by boat as the northern army moved southwards at the end of the conflict. The term "Việt Kiều" is used by people in Viet Nam to refer to ethnic Vietnamese living outside the country. As generations change, the offspring of those who left are beginning to return, to rediscover their roots and places that their parents decided to leave behind. Since the state moved in to a market-socialism mode called Doi Moi, thirty years ago now, the development and investment by private businesses and individuals has led to a new fault line, the gap opening up between haves and have-nots. Appreciating where this country has come from to get here is a part of understanding how the narratives are shaped in the museum setting. Interestingly names of museums have started to change; the Revolution Museum has recently been re-dubbed as part of the History Museum - joining the archaeological collections and other items from a distant past, consigned to history. Change, evolution, progress and growth is all going on in Viet Nam and it will be interesting to see how the narrative in museums changes as the country itself undergoes massive change.

One step at a time for me, one step for my country.

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