Vietnam – 93 million people. Besieged and occupied for a 1000 years by China, France, Japan and the US. Often spurned and isolated by the rest of the world. Still practicing communism in a world immersed in capitalism. Although I’m not sure that these isms mean much anymore. What is Vietnam like today and how was it able to withstand these adversities?
I will head off Jan 14 for a seven week visit. I made that decision about a month ago following some weeks of research into the dwindling but still compelling trip ideas percolating away in my imagination. Even though there are vast resources in book, video and electronic media to aid me in my research 90% of those resources relate to what the Vietnamese call the American War and most of that is from the American point of view. But still, my researches were fun as always.
In my library there are some good books on the Vietnam War (our term). Graham Green’s “Quiet American” is great but perhaps the most interesting is “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh. I heard about this book and found an English version while in Hanoi in 1995. Bao Ninh fought for Ho Chi Minh for ten years without relief. He went to fight in a brigade of 500 and was one of ten who lived through the ordeal. His story, in similar ways to the WWII book “All Quiet on the Western Front”, strikes again at the nightmare that soldiers live through without really every understanding what they are doing or why. There is no politic in this kind of story, just the senselessness of it all. I understand that it is in the human genome to hate others to the extent that we need to kill them, but surely we should choose leaders who work to deflate these kind of conflicts? Is war ever an apt solution? We are told it has been and we are thankful to those who we have sacrificed in those wars, but I for one question war’s inevitability. Certainly the American/Vietnam War, which really began in the political aftermath of WWII, was senseless and should have been avoided.
Vietnam came to be a single nation wrested from Chinese control in about 1800 when Gia Long joined the Viet Thong in the south to the Annam in the north resulting in Vietnam. But the French soon began to make inroads initially with traders and priests followed by settlers, bureaucrats and the military. One colonizer was replaced by another. WWII and the expulsion of the Japanese was the opportunity for the world to let Vietnam be, but the WWII winners let the French back in spite of significant efforts by the Vietnamese to obtain independence. And then the American Communist paranoia took hold.
The Vietnamese had been occupied or at war or under world sanctions for the better part of a thousand years until about 1995.
I will not be going to Vietnam, as many visitors do, to visit war attractions. And there are many, from the underground Vietcong tunnels to the various battlefields and atrocity locations. I will cycle roughly from Hanoi to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). I hope to tour the two major deltas (The Red and Mekong Rivers) where much of the food is grown. Along the way I will visit some of the old cities to see the old colonial architecture and the remains of ancient dynasties. I will climb into the Central Highlands possibly encountering some of the 60 minority groups that make up 15% of the populace. I plan on side trips into the Karst formations at Ha Long bay and the rice paddies near the Red river Delta. I will take the train back from Saigon back to Hanoi (I do love train travel). If time allows, and I will try hard to make it so, I will head into the mountains north of Hanoi, likely leaving my bike behind. And I will eat lots of food and take the odd picture.
I do hope to make blog posts as time and media permits. So, I invite you to join me.