Vibrant Vietnam - 2007

INTRODUCTION Vietnam was the third country we visited during our 35-day trip through Asia starting with Bhutan, then Laos, then Vietnam, next Cambodia and finally Bali. Because of my unhappy and unfaded memories of the Vietnam War, I must admit to being a reluctant companion on this part of our trip. However, it did seem impossible to visit Laos & Cambodia and skip Vietnam, so I raised no objections to the itinerary. Actually, I know that the other three also harbored those same memories but were able to be more optimistic about what we would find there. Anyway, they were right and I was wrong. The trip was most interesting, rewarding, provocative of different thoughts about the area, and downright enjoyable. Vietnam’s countryside is lovely and its people were surprisingly friendly to Americans. It seems the younger generation prefers to stride confidently and hopefully towards a better future they can dream than to dwell in misery and resentment in a past they cannot change. Besides, as Lan our young guide said, “Vietnam has been invaded by so many countries so often and held as a colony for so long that the American time here is just a blip in our country’s history!” It is true we were only there for 20 years whereas the French were there over 100 years and the Chinese even longer. So despite their 4,000,000 dead, the devastation to the countryside, the cities, the historical structures, the infrastructure and the families, the young Vietnamese just want to forget about it all. That fact certainly made traveling within their country much more comfortable psychologically and emotionally than it could have been. Probably if we had had more opportunities to interact with people of our own generation, we would have seen less forgiving attitudes and more resentment. But it is younger people who have adopted the tourist industry wholeheartedly—they are the guides, the workers in the hotels and restaurants, the faces at the tourist destinations, the clerks in the shops and museums, the crews on the various boats we used to see the sights. And they were smiling and friendly, many even thanking us for visiting their country. So, externally caused discomfiture was simply not an issue for us. The Vietnamese seem to be as adept at reconciliation as they are in embracing capitalism. Today Vietnam is one of the most pro-American countries in the world! How about that for a surprise? V ITAL V IETNAM F ACTS Lest we have forgotten: Vietnam is slightly larger than New Mexico and stretches along the coast of the South China Sea for 1,025 miles north to south. It is only 31 miles wide at its narrow waist which is very near to the dividing line between the former People’s Republic of North Vietnam and the Republic of South Vietnam. The great Mekong River has its delta in the southern part of the country, below Saigon. The North has a monsoonal weather pattern and the South a tropical climate. The hills and mountains are located north of the divide and the south is flat and low. Despite the high casualties among civilians and military in the Vietnam War, the country is now the 13th most populous in the world with 85,262,000 people 4

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