imageWe, of course, thought it was beautiful. “Did you notice the map of Vietnam in the garden,” someone said at breakfast. ” You can see it from above and there is a light to show where Hoi An is.”

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.

At the former American base called L.Z. English we stopped to see a lady we had talked to three years earlier. On the way we found the runway for the landing zone, which we had not seen before, virtually intact and being used by local farmers to dry their rice. They won’t be able to use it much longer,  though, because this base and others will be refurbished, giving Vietnam a military presence close to the coast.

For us, the runway was a ghost of another time. For the Vietnamese, this landing zone, built by Americans conducting a brutal war on their land, can serve a different role, this time helping them to defend their nation. At least three countries claim the disputed islands but someone always seems to cast a covetous eye on Vietnam, so they must, as Hai said, be “prepared to defend.” They cannot afford, even on a garden map, to accept a world in which the islands have been yielded.

Defending is Vietnam’s history. They are  good at it. Let them have L.Z. English.