The GoGlobal Blog

Word Intentionality

Word Intentionality

Three years ago my family and I visited Vietnam during Christmas break. In preparation for the trip, my father purchased a series of books on Vietnamese history and culture. Among these was Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried, a semi-autobiographical novel on his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War, or the American War as it is called in Vietnam. It is a novel that will change you whether or not you think the conflict took place in Vietnam, and much of inland Southeast Asia, was warranted. It is piece of art that effortlessly explains the complex realities of war, love and humanity.

I began the book on the way to Thailand after finding that my Spotify had conveniently decided not work. Towards the middle of our stay in Chiang Mai, I came across a chapter in which O’Brien recounts the story his fellow platoon members greeting the corpse of man who had died in an air strike. Fairly new to the war, O’Brian refuses to follow the lead of his platoon members when they each shake the man’s hand:

“…I didn’t go near the body. I didn’t even look at it except for by accident. For the rest of the day there was still that sickness inside me, but it wasn’t the man’s corpse so much, it was the awesome act of greeting the dead…They proposed toasts. They lifted their canteens and drank to the old man’s family and ancestors, his many grandchildren, his newfound life after death. It was more than mockery. There was a formality to it, like a funeral without the sadness.”

Awesome? Describing such a morbid moment as awesome seemed out of the scope of what the adjective awesome can and should describe. In a brief moment of wanting to prove the word choice of a phenomenally brilliant writer wrong I looked the word awesome up:

Awesome /

Adj. extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear: the awesome power of the atomic bomb.

<SPECIAL USAGE> INFORMAL extremely good; excellent: the band it truly awesome!

Here I was 21 years into life thinking that the meaning awesome was limited to its informal usage. Some of you may already know what awesome means (in fact, I am almost sure most of you do) – but for me this discovery has changed the way I experienced the rest of Thailand and how I hope to experience Ho Chi Minh City where Emily, myself and seventeen other students arrived Wednesday. For me, awesome is no longer taking a really nice hot shower or a sarcastic response to a question.

On our second full day in Chiang Mai Emily and I visited a sanctuary for elephants about two hours north of the city. We got there in the back of a covered pick-up truck and proceeded to spend the next five hours loving, feeding and bathing elephants (baby elephants, too!). There was absolutely no riding, as all riding even if it is bareback is bad for their backs, and we were even taught about the realities of life as working elephant and rehabilitation. It was honestly one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Holding a banana in your hand, screaming ‘BON BON!’ and feeling the earth rumble as elephants stampede towards you – that is awesome.

Soon we left Chiang Mai and found ourselves and a tiny little AirBnb in rural Bangkok. The guesthouse was situated right on a series of canals and Pao, the guesthouse owner, set us up with a boat tour on our first night. The next morning after breakfast he came running upstairs and said, “Big boat. Special surprise. You are lucky!” We grabbed our cameras and ran downstairs to hop on a larger boat then the evening before. Some amount of time later we were in a different village at a bridge blessing ceremony (although this was only discovered after finding someone who could explain what was happening in English). Seeing a crocodile in some rural Bangkok canal on a rickety wooden boat – that is awesome.

Now we are in Ho Chi Minh City where we will be for the next three and a half months. The food is delicious, the temperature is hot and the rain is torrential. We’ve spent the past two days getting to know each other, learning how to count ridiculous quantities of dong (Vietnamese currency) and napping. This morning at orientation we were reminded that our time here will in fact include school. This is the first time that all of my fellow study abroad companions have been to Vietnam and I am amazed at their willingness to put themselves out of their comfort zones. Leaving home for a new country and city they’ve never been to before – that is awesome.

I in no way want to make it seem like these experiences even slightly compare to the awesomeness that O’Brien and his fellow soldiers experienced in Vietnam. But with that said I believe that words are powerful and that using words in a purposeful and deliberate way is important. The vocabulary we choose and how we choose to use it says a lot about how we perceive and interact with our daily lives. For me the word awesome has forever been changed by Tim O’Brien, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, random boat rides in Bangkok and my fellow Vietnam Center students.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary - Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Pho - Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Pho – Bangkok, Thailand
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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