Tuan got to the stage which in this case is the front line of a co-working space cafe in West Lake. “I don’t know how to do a presentation”, he said. “But I know how to put words in some funny pictures”. Then the guy continued with a parallel of Zizek and the handsome character in Games of Thrones before explaining
“The known knowns is what we know we know. Like this piece of paper“, he grabbed a random piece of paper on the table, quite spontaneously. “We know it’s white, right?”.
The guy then continued with simple and clear explanations before we interrupted with questions and drag his supposed to be 20-minute-talk into a vibrant hour of Q&A and role play. Majored in philosophy in US, Tuan is taking a break in Vietnam before coming to South America and back to his study further this year. Vietnamese studying overseas often create the impression of being arrogant and distant, yet Tuan neatly breaks that stereotype by funny, easy to approach speech delivery.
A new emerging philosophy community
It seems ironic to join a philosophy group being aware that people are gonna talk about Freud and Carl Jung. “Are they supposed to be…psychologists?”, I was curios when Hung, the leader of another philosophy group told me about the event just 2 hours before it is supposed to happen. Without nothing particular in mind to do, I decided to push my bicycle like a soldier under the sun to get to where they meet. “I hope it’s worth it, otherwise it’s exercise anyway”, I told myself. Having been to several philosophy communities in both main cities in Vietnam, I cannot wait to see how a new one unfolds.
Coming late, I sneaked in and let the recording mode ready. Surrounded by around 16 people around a long table, we shift the attention to a western guy with a warm, intellectual voice. My body starts to be stiff. “wow, very academic”. The guy articulately presents concepts on Carl Jung and Freud similarities and differences with neatly organized powerpoint slides, shown in a big enough screen.
Quickly move from one point to the other with a poised posture, he overwhelmed the current space with an intellectual aura. I scanned all over the room – most have their notebooks on, phone off. A young Vietnamese university student even print out the book we use to discuss.
With each event, people are informed at least one week before with access to materials. To my surprise and quick generalization, this is not a cavern of expats. Out of 15 people sitting around the table today, more than half are Vietnamese. After the initial silence, the Viets start to raise questions and engage in Q&As, which to me, as a Vietnamese person, a delightful thing to observe. Blending with expats who are willing to share is an emerging local group who are proactive enough to explore the essential thing that is not taught that widely in schools.
“What do you think about the talk? Critical thoughts, I mean”, Jon asks.
“I think everyone prepares very well”
“I think in a way it sets a bar, an expectation for the following presenters. People know (subconsciously ? ^^) that they need to put a certain amount of preparation to make it work”
“I don’t want to be the center of attention”
As the leader of any group, one should expect people look up to him/ her. However, that’s not what Jon really wants. “What’s your motivation in setting up this group?”, I attacked him with probably a FAQ. “Do you study philosophy?”
It’s interesting to know that most people joining are not majored in philosophy yet willing to invest time and effort in participating with serious attention. So is Jon. Out of a bunch of people, we have Tuan (Ted) and another girl who used to teach philosophy in South Africa. Other than that, the knowledge spectrum varies. As facilitators, the ones organizing the events have to balance between motivating people to engage without shifting people’s attention to their presence.
“I actually don’t even want to stay in the spotlight. I prefer being in the back, you know”
“It’s a fine line to balance”. I commented.
The 2 hour discussion soon came to an end. In a corner Jon and Tyler are preparing for their meditation session while we Vietnamese stand in a corner and discuss about why we are interested in philosophy recently.
“Do you study philosophy?”
“No“, most shake their head.
And yet we are here, motivated by the collective conscious- or unconscious, depending on how you wanna name it.