Children explore the Vietnamese round boat, an icon of this culture.
Many visitors especially enjoyed seeing the round boat, which sparked conversation about their lives in Vietnam: As one visitor stated, “The round boat reminds me of the area where I used to live in Vietnam. This kind of boat is popular in the middle of the country. In the mornings, I used to walk to the beach to see the fish, shrimps, or crabs unloaded from these boats. The bamboo, the pulley, and the rice sieve on the wall all remind me of the good times in Vietnam.”
Other visitors, however, were concerned that too many Asian elements were incorporated into the exhibition along with the Vietnamese ones. One visitor said that “the Circles exhibits should make it clear whether the theme is countries in Asia, like China, India, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, or just the Vietnamese culture, when you have Chinese characters on the hats and Chinese lanterns and umbrellas.”
Martin observed that the use of Chinese cloth hats turned out to be particularly problematic for Vietnamese visitors. “We started out with traditional Vietnamese straw hats, but they did not hold up, which made them a potential safety hazard,” explains Martin. “Making the decision to change to the cloth Chinese hats had ramifications that we did not expect.”
To address some of these criticisms, the museum is already working to improve the exhibition. They have purchased a traditional cyclo (or pedicab) to add as another example of a circle. They also are considering adding a Vietnamese drum.
It is interesting to note that much of the negative response to the exhibition, especially the inclusion of non-Vietnamese elements, came from first-generation Vietnamese. Generation 1.5 and second-generation Vietnamese were much less particular about those issues and were very enthusiastic about the exhibition. One community leader felt that despite these problematic details, the exhibition captured the essence of what she considered to be