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27 February 2012 @ 05:00 pm
A few observations on VN, in no particular order (part 3)  

(last part. Apologies, this is the one where I complain a lot)

6. Guidebooks: I will not repeat the numerous curses I aimed at guidebooks over the course of the stay. We had two, the Lonely Planet and the Guide du Routard, and we mostly used them as bare indications of what to see (Grandma, in the fashion of long-time dwellers of cities, mostly directed us towards shops and restaurants rather than museums; plus Vietnamese can have very different ideas of tourism than Westerners). For all the rest, they sucked. I have never yet opened up a guidebook while knowing something about the country they described, and having now done it, I think I will never ever trust those %%%%ers again. The Lonely Planet thought it was smart to transcribe everything in the English UTF-8 alphabet (ie, no tonal marks, no accents, no additional letters such as “đ”). OK, here’s a hint: with that system, “dao” can mean anything from peach (đào) to religion (đạo) to knife (dao). And when you’re in a taxi trying to convince the guy that you want to go to the Museum of Vietnamese History (a destination, alas, not often used by tourists, which meant the taxi didn’t recognise it), that you don’t know how to say museum or history from memory and you’re pointing to a name and an address, neither of them properly written down, and the driver looks blank… %%%% is all I’m going to say. Also: next time, I will write down the name of the place in proper Vietnamese.
Le Guide du Routard, meanwhile, was a monument of colonialist fail. And I don’t use the word lightly. It repeatedly insisted on using the “old” names of bridges and streets over their new names (all the bridges and streets were named after French luminaries, a naming system which, as you can imagine, didn’t last long past independence) [1]. It warned people away from places like the Museum of War Remnants on the pretext that the coverage was spurious and fake, and that it would “make you hate the war”. Well, duh. The war isn’t fun, isn’t nice, isn’t something you can be thrilled around and buy souvenir T-shirts of, for God’s sake. People died. People starved. People did horrible things on both sides. And yes, the coverage of the Museum is a bit one-sided, focusing on the war crimes of the US and the French rather than on the other side. But if you think it’s not an important thing to see in the context of the war [2], then there is something seriously wrong with you.
(and I won’t even get into all the odd stuff they both said about Vietnamese culture–I’m not an expert, but even I could see that some things were completely off, and other things were hopeless generalisations of something specific to a particular region)

7. Dubious standards of beauty: the H and I remain deeply horrified by the ads we saw, which all featured varieties of Western models, or Vietnamese models touched up to have clearer skin. It was like some kind of freak show: it’s obvious that no one there is ever going to have that complexion, but it’s still the norm of beauty. I don’t know to what extent it’s White domination playing out, and to what extent it’s something that was already there and accentuated by the West (Mom and Grandma have always told me that clearer skin has been valued in Vietnam since ancient times, because having white skin showed that you weren’t a sun-tanned peasant), but the way it plays out today is… scary. Equally scary is leafing through beauty magazines, which advertise whitening cream with the same fervour we advertise anti-wrinkle cream in France. It reminds me of a picture on Requires_hate‘s blog. You’re shown a mall in Thailand, but it’s so generic it could be anywhere in the West: the brands and the models are all European and/or White (and/or blonde or brunette), and everything is labelled in English. And, in the midst of this, a crowd of Thai shoppers. They’re petite and swarthy, and nothing like those pallid, vapid stretched-out stick insects, and they will never ever be beautiful on those terms. Yup. Scary scary.
That’s all I had. Next: pictures, and I’ll stop complaining, promise.


[1] I’ll grant them one charitable intent, which is that they might be aiming this at French people who were in Indochina while it was still a colony. However, you have to realise that Vietnam became nominally independent from France in 1954, and that I don’t know when the renaming of stuff took place (offhand, juding from my bare-bones knowledge of history, I’d say post-1954 in the North, post-1975 in the South). Either way, we’re talking about names that have been unused for more than 30 years, if not more–and it’s the least of courtesies to call things by the name the country has given them.
[2] I am personally deeply uninterested in visiting places like these, but that’s another problem. </p>

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Jenny Rae Rappaporteiriene on February 27th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
The whitening cream is HUGE in Japan, too. To the point that many women regularly walk around with parasols, which you'd think were just quaint affectations, but which actually do help keep the sun off you in the middle of a Tokyo summer.
Aliette de Bodard: dragonaliettedb on February 27th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
He. Many Vietnamese wear conical hats for the same purpose, I think (they're not big on parasols). And our sunscreen was a big hit (we left a couple tubes for my aunt).

The whole whitening thing bothered me very much in Vietnam because... um, Vietnamese are emphatically not light-skinned? On TV, it was very clear that they'd used makeup or light or a combination of both to make everyone appear *way* more light-skinned than they should be. Like, basically the same skin colour as Japanese, which is just wrong...
Jenny Rae Rappaporteiriene on February 28th, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
But that's also a misnomer because there's a considerable skin tone variation among the Japanese--it's just not as apparent in the stuff that makes it into Western media.
Aliette de Bodardaliettedb on February 28th, 2012 06:30 am (UTC)
Fair point. I lack experience of Japan. (though at a guess, I'd say the average skin tone is lighter than Vietnam, especially Southern Vietnam).
Jenny Rae Rappaporteiriene on February 28th, 2012 07:42 am (UTC)
I agree about the South Vietnam comment.

I think some of the skin tone variation comes in with people from Okinawa, who are technically a different ethnic group, and also people whose family originally came from Hokkaido, since there's more Ainu blood up there then modern Japanese like to admit.

Swan Towerswan_tower on February 27th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
Also little sleeves to protect their arms -- which makes a lot less sense in the middle of summer. I saw them all over Kyoto, and couldn't imagine enduring the added heat.
Jenny Rae Rappaporteiriene on February 28th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
Ooh, the little sleeves are new to me.

One of my friends there was a woman who had immigrated with her husband from Korea, and she was huge with the parasol thing. Never a day without it; she apparently had done the same thing at home (Korea), too.
Aliette de Bodardaliettedb on February 28th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC)
He. The Vietnamese we saw in Hoi An had anoraks. The outside temp was around 25°C, and I couldn't imagine how they managed either...
Swan Towerswan_tower on February 28th, 2012 07:55 am (UTC)
25? Feh. It was in the mid-thirties in Kyoto. Granted, an anorak is more than a sleeve, but still . . . .
Aliette de Bodard: dragonaliettedb on February 28th, 2012 10:21 am (UTC)
:=) February is cool season, at least in the Centre and in the South. It was only 28°C or so in Saigon: it gets worse as you move towards April (and the humidity gets worse, too).
threeoutsidethreeoutside on February 27th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
"pallid, vapid stretched-out stick insects"

*Prefect* description!

Thank you for your reports on today's Viet Nam. Being a Boomer, I am interested in their country and how they're doing.
Aliette de Bodardaliettedb on February 27th, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
:D That was me being really annoyed.

>Being a Boomer, I am interested in their country and how they're doing.
I'm flattered, but also pretty reasonably sure I'm *so* not the right person to report on this--it's basically a report of "fun bits in my holidays", but I don't really live there, and I mostly feel like a tourist on a jaunt whenever I'm there... That said, they have made such an impressive recovery, at least if you compare my grandma's memories with what I see today.

:D :D
Kari Sperringla_marquise_de_ on February 27th, 2012 05:18 pm (UTC)
The creeping spread of that skinny white ideal of beauty depresses me hugely.
Aliette de Bodard: dragonaliettedb on February 27th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, me too... Globalisation at work (though, as Marina points out below, it's not an entirely new thing and can be partially tracked back to earlier influences).
marina_bonomimarina_bonomi on February 27th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Well, for China at least, the light skin=beautiful equation is definitely nothing new, not due to Western influence either.
Over here we had the same in the 19th century: "peasants are tanned, people who work inside or don't need to work are pale", the tan came into fashion very late (and demathologists are trying their outmost to throw it out again, but that's a whole different kettle of fish).
That said, I'm very disturbed by the ubiquity of the "pallid, vapid stretched-out stick insects" (which by the way are usually photoshopped within an inch of their lives and are a totally impossible and actually harmful model for Western women too).
Aliette de Bodardaliettedb on February 27th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
I'm suspect the original "white skin"="beautiful" came over from China with the first wave of colonisation in Vietnam. But the way it's played out in the Vietnamese media at the moment includes blonde models, and people with freckles--and a lot of models that have a less prominent epicanthic fold and almost "Western" eyes. So the blame, sadly, can't be ascribed to China entirely...

>I'm very disturbed by the ubiquity of the "pallid, vapid stretched-out stick insects" (which by the way are usually photoshopped within an inch of their lives and are a totally impossible and actually harmful model for Western women too).
Yup, fair point. I've seen the pictures before and after, and it's so heavily photoshopped there's nothing real anymore. And a friend was telling me about what models underwent to be moderately skinny, and it was insane (basically starving themselves). I've always been less than convinced (I don't buy into beauty models, and even if I did, I know I'll never be anywhere near the ideal Western shape), but that pretty much put the nail in the coffin.
marina_bonomimarina_bonomi on February 27th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
>the way it's played out in the Vietnamese media at the moment includes blonde models, and people with freckles--and a lot of models that have a less prominent epicanthic fold and almost "Western" eyes

Argh! that *is* definitely crazy

>a friend was telling me about what models underwent to be moderately skinny, and it was insane (basically starving themselves)

Yes, years ago we had an event here mixing opera and haute couture, the models changed in the female chorists' dressing rooms. I had a few friends in the opera choir, they all said 'seeing the models in the flesh cured me of any ambition to look like them, they are so skinny that's scary'
My husband usually comments that it could be better to show the clothes on hangers, since the designers seem determined to turn the models into hangers themselves (and actually I heard at least one designer say that a model who looked feminine would 'distract' the public from the clothes).
Patrick Samphirepsamphire on February 28th, 2012 10:07 am (UTC)
It's ironic (well, maybe not ironic, I'm not quite sure...) that while whitening is so heavily promoted to non-white people, white people are desperately tanning to go for very dark skin. I don't know about other countries, but here, so many young people (male and female) have incredibly, unnaturally darkened skins. As a result, skin cancer and premature aging are going to be enormous problems for that generation.

I think it basically comes down to the beauty industry insisting that no matter what you look like, it's never right and you can never be happy with it.
Aliette de Bodardaliettedb on February 28th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
>I think it basically comes down to the beauty industry insisting that no matter what you look like, it's never right and you can never be happy with it.
Yes, pretty much. Kind of saddening (or infuriating...)
Toomas Nipernaadinipernaadiagain on February 28th, 2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
Every time my daughter returns from visiting relatives in Vietnam, someon has gifted her with some whitening cream.

Of course, mostly growing up here, she herself envies her brother, who has darker skin.
Aliette de Bodardaliettedb on February 28th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
He. No one has tried this on me yet. (but my sis also has darker skin, and I envy her, mostly when I go all red and burn up in the sun)