The people

Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
Trip End Feb 04, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Thursday, January 13, 2005

Hello again.

Traveling in Vietnam I haven't hooked up much with other travelers.  What that's done is given me a chance to meet the locals.  One of the things in the back of my mind was if there were any anti-American attitudes left over from the war.  I haven't seen any.  The attitude is one of moving forward.  When I sit in a restaurant or check into a hotel, I usually just want to be invisible.  But that seems to be the only time people are interested and able to talk.  So, after a while, I took a clue.

My first night in Hanoi, I was sitting at a small street side restaurant.  I was put at a small table with a young couple.  Eventually, the guy tries to start a conversation.  His name is Tang.  He's 20 years old and really struggles to communicate but tries.  His name translated in English means "victory."

On one tour, I met an Australian who was born in Vietnam.  So, eventually I just had to ask his story.  He was born in Saigon, in the south.  His dad was a wealthy businessman.  When the south collapsed in 1974, the currency changed three times.  Departure was restricted and eventually the borders were closed.  The North Vietnamese saw his dad's money in the bank, accused him of acquiring it illegally and demanded proof of how he acquired it.  His father had no way of providing it.  The north executed him in 1975, saying the money belonged to the 'people' not to individuals.  His mom smuggled the rest of his family to Sydney where he became a citizen.  He had visited the south a few times in the past but this was his first trip up north.  I asked how he felt about it.  He said Vietnam is still his homeland.  What's over is over.  You move on.

At one restaurant I got to talking to the waiter, Doan.  He's 25 and working FT while getting his degree.  He's extremely polite and speaks really well.  He comes from an area about 25 kilometers east of Hanoi.  His best chance of getting ahead is by learning English (and practicing it with foreigners) and getting a computer degree.  We went for coffee right before I left and traded email addresses.  One of the reasons he needs to succeed is that he is the oldest son.  He has two younger brothers at home and his parents are getting older.  A common story.  However, his older sister was affected psychologically by chemicals during the war.  Since she cannot function independently, the younger brothers need to stay home.  That leaves Doan as the only one who can move out to support the family for the time being.

Walking around the city, I see a disproportionate amount of people that have been blinded, burned, dismembered or born with extreme birth defects.  From the third day on, I'd end up walking back to my hotel room and crying.  None of the other tourists have mentioned it - so maybe it's just me.  Very few locals have talked about the war.  But it was always in the back of my mind:  how have the country and the people changed since?  I give the Vietnamese a lot of credit for moving on.  One of my strongest memories is of vendors making a living by selling candy, bottled water or cigarettes from a small table instead of waiting for handouts.

My experience is that some locals just want your money.  Others are kind, sincere and helpful.  It tends to go to extremes here.  I've made a couple friends in Hanoi who I hope to come back and visit.  Vietnam can be too intense for some people.  I can handle the traffic.  And the vendors.  The intensity for me is watching the people adversely affected by the war.  And how they move on.

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