Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Reflections on Vietnam

Hi Dad!
OK, So now that I'm out of Vietnam I can finally address your questions on the place - When I sent you that cryptic message we were in Hanoi - and the North is still fairly Orwellian in feel.
Being Americans and traveling to Vietnam, we didn't know what to expect - after all it really wasn't that long ago when the bombs were still dropping. As you know, we started our trip in the South - Saigon and Can Tho then worked our way north. EVERY southerner we met would ask us where we were from and when we told them we would be universally greeted with smiles - not sarcastic smiles (as we would get later in the North) but genuine smiles. This is not so difficult to understand - after all even though very misguided, it was on the behalf of the people of the South that the Americans were supposed to be fighting. Many of the people we met were former SVA - and boy did they ever get screwed by the PDRV when they came into power - Concentration camp like environments where they were forced to pick Rice at gunpoint for 18 hours a day with only a cup of rice to eat (Sounds like what the Khmer Rouge did to the entire country of Cambodia...
But that's a different story) and then when finally releasing them - They found out that their children were forever barred from attending school - This really hurts as it appears to have rolled down to their grandchildren as well.

The first guided trip we went on was led by a former SVA soldier and the subject of the trip was the Cu Chi Tunnels -Where if you remember your history several thousand VC lived and fought. Cu Chi is now a national park - and run by the Peoples Army - They accompany you throughout the tour - even though it was our guide giving the tour. While the Northerners were around, his explanations of things were so loaded with propaganda that it was barely stomach-able but as soon as the northerners were gone, he calmly explained that it was his job to clear the tunnels during the war - and about the horrible things that the VC did to not only the opposing soldiers but the local villagers as well - The Americans were not the only ones that massacred whole villages thought to be supporting the other side.

Anyways, as we got further North, the people got less and less friendly. Whenever we were checking our email people would look over our shoulders - hence why I did not want to say anything earlier. I'm not sure if what we saw in the North was hostility - or simply remnants of the totalitarian atmosphere of the communist era - a good case in point is one time SGK and I were in a restaurant and wished to sit at a particular table (it was empty) and were told not to - the reason given was "You do not make the rules here. The restaurant does. You will sit at this other table and eat your meal" (Obviously the primary rule of capitalism "The Customer is King" hasn't made it north of Saigon yet...) Anyways - The people of the South work real hard to try and get ahead - and they are smart about it. If when approached by a postcard (or noodle or t-shirt or...) salesperson south of Hue and I say no, they walk away looking for the next customer. North of Hue, they will grab you and say "You must by my X" When you ask why, they respond with "Because I sell them" In order to get rid of the salesman in the North you have to be VERY rude (this is not as hard as it sounds as they are being extremely rude to begin with - if you are inside a restaurant they will barge up and move your food out of the way to display their wares - even if you have told them no!) sometimes the only way to be rid of them is to physically pick them up and move them away. They just don't get it.

Anyways, That's Vietnam!


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