Jan 31, 2019
Living in Florida the last 4 years has made me love nature and hate garbage, rubbish, plastic, trash: all things that end up in nature that don’t belong in nature.
Traveling around and experiencing different cultures has made me accept other ways of life and to understand my own privilege. A few pieces of plastic on the beach where I lived in Florida are incomparable to the endless piles and amounts of trash piled high and scattered everywhere in Vietnam. Even in the United States, people have the mindset of “not my problem” regarding trash and litter; however, the consciousness is starting to grow, and I genuinely do think that people are beginning to care a bit more about trash and the environment in the States. Living close to nature and seeing the impact of rubbish certainly makes a difference and brings one closer to the environment. But there is still a lot that needs to be done… all over the world. I feel as though everything I have experienced over the last few years has pushed me in a certain direction, and it might be making me question what I want to do with my life. The number of things I want to do makes my head spin.
Yesterday, as I was on the back of a motorbike riding through the most rural parts of Vietnam and looking at the trash, plastic, etc., I thought to myself “something needs to be done to change the way this country works to make trash pickup more available and fewer materials to be used. Something needs to be done. But I don’t know what it is, what’s in place, or anything else.” In other words, I’m uneducated. I mean, I’m not sure how many people are ya know, up to date on their country-to-country waste management policies, but I understand that this country and many others in this world have been through a lot and just don’t have certain things in place beyond big cities. The people in the rural areas don’t have that consciousness and the trash pick up is either limited or non-existent. The city-goers and tourists assume that someone will pick up after them.
And then tonight. I get onto my 9-person, private transportation heading back from Moc Chau to Hanoi, and I notice a white guy in the back seat. I literally have not seen a single white person since I left Hanoi, so yeah, he stuck out.
At the rest stop, I asked where he was from. France.
Let me interject and tell you about this rest stop really quick: this was not one of those beautiful rest stops in Italy with a pizza place and air conditioning with nice private toilets and clean water. This was an outdoor overhang with some guy selling fruits and cutting sugar cane and another guy grilling sausages and selling packaged goods with an outhouse in the back where you squat and pee. No toilet paper.
As I’m sitting there and talking to this guy, he starts talking about how dirty Vietnam is; his Vietnamese girlfriend said she “warned him” about it. He goes on to complain that he can’t even drink the water and about how that just makes more trash because the water isn’t clean and that the Vietnamese people need to buy water instead. And that there not being drinking water should not be an “excuse” for them to use water bottles and everything else.
And I tell him, “you know, you do realize this country is digging itself out..of…being a third world country, right?” Especially and specifically in the northern parts of Vietnam. I should have told him that us being tourists is part of the problem as well, but I wasn’t quick enough on my feet and to be fair, he wasn’t even worth arguing with. So, he continues to rant. I basically just bleep him out. I understand privilege. I understand a lack of experience and lack of experiencing culture. But to be that ignorant and to be so judgmental over a people who do not even have clean drinking water?
As a way to educate myself, I started looking up the trash problems in Vietnam and why they are particularly worse in the more rural areas and in the North in general. I never really saw trash pickup anywhere in rural areas, and if I did, the garbage trucks were pretty small. I found this article that talks about how there just isn’t consciousness in Vietnam yet regarding the trash problems; it is in part laziness, but in the rural areas, it is a lack of awareness and lack of opportunity.
We, too, as tourists and visitors, are part of the problem. We visit these places and don’t bring our trash with us as we leave; this is something that hits home because of how angry I would get at tourists for not taking care of the beautiful beaches they were visiting in Florida. Even with receptacles, there are still litterbugs. A lot of older people I’ve tried to talk to about recycling don’t care because they’ll “be dead soon anyway” (their words, not mine). Regardless, what I’m realizing is that this is not just a Vietnam problem; this is a global problem. Before we know it, we will all be drowning in plastic because that’s what the ocean will be filled with.
Until next time,
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Traveling is about leaving your comfort zone.. and experiencing what you might not experience otherwise. Moc Chau is insanely beautiful; planted tea, caves, gorgeous views, treacherous hills… and none of this I planned myself. I came here not really knowing anything about anything. It’s difficult letting someone else take control sometimes, but sometimes, that’s how you experience even more. As a solo traveler, it’s not easy to let go. I think you always find out more about yourself when you step beyond what you’re accustomed to.