Friday, February 3, 2012

A Strange Legacy

Vietnam in 2012 is as bustling and commerce-driven as any western country, despite the ubiquitous face of Ho Chi Minh in every modest home, on many billboards, and even on tee shirts.  Yet the legacy of the war remains in odd ways. I had read that the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War, for obvious reasons, but our tour guide at My Son called it the Vietnam War.

That was the place with the most apparent sense of the war. Bomb craters everywhere, with small farmers turning them into duck ponds, perfectly round. And the ancient temples at My Son were almost completely obliterated by bombing. "I want to ask you, why the Americans did this?" our guide asked. I could only imagine that Viet Cong were hiding in My Son. Our guide said that was wrong, that the VC hid in tunnels, although later he admitted that at least some of them had hidden at My Son. I found myself in the odd position of wanting to explain the bombing even as I found it horrifying.

Every tourist shop sells tee shirts with the Robin Williams phrase "Good morning, Vietnam!" And one bar had the "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" line from "Apocalypse Now" in a giant painting on the wall. If you fly into Danang airport you see old half-circle airplane hangars, empty, although I could have sworn I spotted some old bombs sitting in the corner of one, by the side of the runway. 

Many more people here speak English than in China, and a fair amount speak French. Bob wanted mustard for his sandwich but couldn't get the waitress to understand. I said, "moutard?" and he got his mustard. We bought a copy of the movie "The Quiet American" in Hoi An because we had been told a lot of the scenes that were supposed to be set in Saigon were filmed in Hoi An. Now we couldn't help but see the strange and sad legacy everywhere. So that's why it's kind of amazing to see the warmth and welcome from the people of Vietnam, a place where every time I stop to coo at a baby, the mother hands me the baby and I find myself nuzzling a tiny Vietnamese face.

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