Vo Minh, the author we met last week in Binh Dinh Province, came to our hotel in Hanoi last night with his wife. He brought a present of Vietnamese coffee from Buon Ma Thuot and an hour of conversation that took place in such rapid Vietnamese that often Hai forgot to translate. Vo Minh wanted to tell me a little about the book he had given me, so that I would understand. He wrote the book to help in the process of reconciliation, he said, not between Vietnam and the United States – there is hardly anything in the book about the United States – but between the North and the South. Read more
This might not look like a metaphor, but I am going to turn it into one. This is the path through the Vinh Muoc Tunnel park, the path we took along with a guide who pointed out the bomb craters, which still remain and some of which are labeled, and the entrances to the tunnels that had provided shelter from the relentless bombardment from American ships off-shore.
These were no ordinary tunnels. Under ground, accessed through entrances hidden in little hills and protected by stone vaults, these tunnels were like a little town, with separate areas for living and cooking and storing supplies. There was a hospital, a maternity ward, and a nursery for the babies born there. There were multiple entrances and an elaborate ventilation system. The tunnels were brilliantly conceived and they existed all over Vietnam, including under American bases. It was all very Vietnamese and so not-American that it baffled and foiled our military. Read more
But Hai grimaced. “If the police come by and see that, they will be in trouble,” he said. “The map does not show the islands.”
In the States we hear vague rumblings about China taking over islands claimed by Vietnam. Our press speculates about China’s intentions but in Vietnam they know better than to ignore what is plain to see or waste time debating the obvious. So the roads approaching Qui Nhon are being widened to reach a new deep water port that can receive ships from around the world. Vietnam is small and vulnerable but it can make a show of an international presence that means China’s actions a few miles away cannot go unnoticed. Read more
An hour out of Can Tho by bus along the old Route One we stopped just somewhere along the highway, or so it appeared to me. A team of motor scooters appeared, summoned by a call from Hai’s iPhone. We settled ourselves on the backs of the scooters, and were told how to do xe om – the “hug ride” – and then we were sailing along a path into a village completely hidden from the highway. Another first thing for me in Vietnam, riding the scooter, and I loved it. Read more
From my window now, I try to look ahead
And know, remembering what’s been done and said
That we must always cherish, and reject, the dead.
The Limerick Train, Brendan Kennelly
This, to me, is the miracle of being human, this chance we have to live in two worlds at once, to see the opposites and hold them in some kind of tension that will leave us filled with wonder and not drive us mad. Read more
It’s the liminal time and space. I actually have a little vertigo, probably from excitement and fatigue, but certainly because I am moving now between two worlds. I’ve probably been in this space for a while, which is why, a few days ago, I threw myself on the sofa and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. I’ve set a goal and that goal has tickets and an itinerary and other people committed here and expecting us there. In a few hours we will set out. We will drive to Toronto and leave – on a jet plane (those 60s songs are coming back spontaneously now) – for a 16 hour flight to Taipei and a two hour flight to Saigon.
Our goals as individuals are varied and will change as we learn, or as we encounter things that will take a while to learn. I go because I love to watch the encounters between cultures. Like fusion cooking, something new happens using the ingredients of each. That interests me.
As a nation we did not take the time to learn, 50-some years ago. Now individuals and groups of individuals go to make some sense, not of the war – the war has ended – but of why Americans could not have done that better and could we not do it better now. I go because the answer there is, “of course we can. Come, sit with us and talk. Share stories. Laugh. Cry. Live.”