We went to visit a high school today; one that aims to prepare elite Vietnamese students for the post-WTO world by ditching the passive rote style favored by many Asian educational institutions for a more interactive, American style of teaching.

I do not venture to say whether or not this will be successful, though the students were extraordinarily bright and engaging and nice; one shudders to think what would have happened had a gaggle of Asian journalists who spoke no English invaded a posh suburban high school in America. But one, completely unrelated thing stuck out:

The girls have three uniforms.

They have ordinary uniforms that look much like American school unifroms of an earlier era: blue skirt and white middy shirt with blue ties.

They have dress uniforms, consisting of a white skirt and white middy shirt with red trim and a red tie, and a fairly snazzy red beret to rest on top.

Then they have traditional white ao dais. What are those for, I asked.

Those are for Mondays, I was told. Mondays, apparently, are when the school salutes the flag and sings the national anthem.

And do the boys have a special uniform for Mondays?

Giggles. Nooooooooooooo. The boys always wear the same short-sleeved shirt, blue pants, and tie.

This is a really common pattern in almost every non-western country; the girls wear traditional clothes, while the men wear western suits and ties. It is not universal, but it is nearly universal enough to make me ask what integral part of the human psyche this stands in for, the men wearing the garb of the economically successful, while the women remain mannequins for the past.

I think the ao dais are much more attractive than western school uniforms (and don't get me started on the dress policies of the Riverdale Country School. But surely the men would look equally fetching in whatever the Vietnamese elite males wore 200 years ago?

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