I have to start of by saying that I am one of the lucky souls who is able to go from Almere, Netherlands to Berkeley, California to Ninh Binh, Vietnam in a matter of weeks. I have an urge to travel and see the world and this dream is come true due to circumstances in my life. Lets just say I am making tasty lemonade everyday.
Being a Turban adorning Sikh, I wear my Turban everyday I work, travel or go out. I am so used to wearing my Turban that I don’t even think any of it. In the past few months, I have had a chance to live in Denmark and Netherlands and also visit Paris, a few cities in Vietnam and Singapore.
It is interesting how I am treated in different situations. The interactions I have with people in Denmark is certainly
different than the interactions I have with someone at a train station in Vietnam. Some of this depends upon me the person
and some of it depends upon my appearance.
I have to say that the damage that the media has done to Sikhs, probably unintentionally, is far greater than any one person. On my recent visit to Vietnam, almost everyone made a comment that I looked like Bin Laden. Sadly, some of my local friends could not do anything about this as well. My lack of the Vietnamese language
created a communication gap for me. My friends could not pick an argument with every other local, so they suffered as I did.
I started to wonder why people were making these comments. It is clear that on this trip to Vietnam, I did go to smaller
towns and cities. Most of these people have not seen a Turban wearing Sikh before. Their only image of a person wearing a Turban
is Bin Laden. So, should I blame Bin Laden for wearing a headwear? Should I blame the media for showing his image on TV?
I think blaming someone or some entity will not solve the problem.
I passed by these small towns and I did talk to some locals in English and some of them now know that I am Indian and I am Sikh but the majority do not know that. I know I cannot solve this in one go but hopefully I educated a few people along the way.
It is fair to state that I did not get anyone to look twice in Saigon or Hanoi, so people living in big cities are used to seeing Sikhs.
I was wondering if there was a Sikh community in Saigon, as there is one in every big city in this world. I was looking out my 4th floor hostel window and thinking the very fact and suddenly I noticed that there was a GurSikh drying his clothes in the balcony of his 4th floor apartment building across from mine. Just as I was about to yell out to him, he had made his way back into his apartment. I was filled with joy, as if I had found a hidden treasure. I made my way down to the ground floor and traced his building entrance only to find that the ground floor was a massage parlor, ok! don’t assume anything. I asked the ladies if I could talk to Mr. Singh on 4th floor but they probably thought I needed a 4hr massage.
I think his apartment had a different entrance and I could not get hold of this GurSikh.
I did muster up some strength and finally wore my White Turban in Hanoi. Yes, some comments came flying but most people in Hanoi did not care or comment. My friend who was also in Hanoi visiting from Europe, did not feel any awkwardness and we proceeded to have a good visit in Hanoi.
Vietnam is a great country to visit. At no point did I feel threatened or unsafe. Vietnamese people are kind and humble. Most will help you if you ask them for help. My visit was a roller coaster of a visit, one day I had 3 young ladies follow me around in a temple because they knew I was Indian (thanks to Hindi Films)
and one of them said “I love you” as she clearly had a mini crush (one that many have had when they see a foreigner) on me. I got a chance to teach them how to say “I love you” in Hindi and
Punjabi. The next day, I had a mother and daughter make fun of me in the train cabin that we shared with an older gentleman. They were annoying to say the least but I held my ground and did not
say anything mean to them. The only saving grace at that time was my Ipod and the fact that a young lady told me “I love you” yesterday. Everything bad that happened to me pales in comparison to the
many good things that I went through on this trip.
I got a chance to spend 4 days with my friend Nam and her family in Danang, that had to be the highlight of my visit to Vietnam. A chance to eat local food with locals is a dream come
true for any visitor.
I hope to go back to Vietnam in the near future and visit the Hanoi and Sapa area. I know the next visit will be better. I will be equipped with some translated text that I can share with
locals about Sikhi.
Hen Gap Lai