Somewhere in this city there is an American B-52 bomber sticking out of a small lake in the middle of a residential district. The plane was shot down in 1968 or 1972 (accounts differ) and just left there. On my Vietnamese map of Hanoi it is called the Monument to B-52 Victory. As this journey is in part to come to some sort of détente with the war and as I am leaving tomorrow, I decided to try to find it.
I wrote down the address on a card and marked the place on my map. John made me walk through my checklist before I left: map, phone, key, water, and camera. I started out, saw the sky, and came back for my umbrella.
I can honestly say that I have never felt threatened here. There has been no anti-American feeling that I have recognized and I have not felt anything but courtesy and curiosity. Nevertheless, today I was acutely aware, as I got in the cab and showed my card to the driver, that I was an American woman asking to be taken to an obscure site by a North Vietnamese (he had become North Vietnamese in my mind) man. He did not recognize the place, so I showed him the map where it was marked and labelled. He pointed to the place on the map and asked if that was right. Yes, I said, and I pointed, too, for good measure.
Soon the one North Vietnamese man had became several North Vietnamese men, because my driver had to consult others along the way. There was much discussion and looking to me for confirmation. I decided this was an adventure and I would just follow where it led me. I relaxed. Somehow this was going to be a story. I had in mind I would say something profound about the metaphor of the bomber in the lake, some way of wrapping up my journey here and providing some closure.
So we made our way to the general neighborhood and my driver asked directions again a few times and was directed back and then across and down another street. Finally he made a satisfied sound and turned into the gates of … the Botanical Gardens. He waved toward the gardens, which surrounded a lake and look at me for approval. “Are you sure?” I said, in English but clearly doubtful. He gestured again. This was where I wanted to be, or he wanted me to be, or someone somewhere along the line had decided I really meant to be. I paid him and got out.
I walked along brick paths under towering trees. I visited several monkeys and two peacocks in cages. I sat on a bench beside the lake. It began to rain so I opened my umbrella and continued to sit. I watched a fisherman with a line and any number of drenched brides having their pictures taken. The rain stopped and I walked some more, passing pairs of lovebirds snatching some privacy. I walked up to a little abandoned cafe that had been taken over by playful rats. The sun came out, the air got steamy, and I began to be bitten by mosquitoes. I walked back to the entrance, hailed a cab, and came back. I will return to the United States tomorrow, leaving the B-52 in the lake.