Riding my bicycle across Vietnam
I apologize, it’s been a terribly long time since I’ve written anything meaningful, we’ve been on the move - hard to sit down and reflect.
Some updates: I left off while the class was helping farm in one of the northern Tay ethnic villages. From there we returned to Hanoi for a night, and then headed straight off to our second homestay, a Mount village (different village). There we helped the local preschool build a concrete and cinder block wall. It wasn’t as physical taxing as the farm work, but nevertheless interesting to learn how to mix and effectively use concrete.
However my favorite part of that homestay was interviewing one of the craftsman who guided us in our wall building efforts. One of the primary goals of our trip is to learn how the Vietnam War is remembered, how it’s story should be told, and how people have or have not healed from conflict. We conducted a fascinating interview with Mr. Hau. My most notable takeaway was Mr. Hau’s desire to move on completely from the war while being reminded of it every day with his father. Mr. Hau’s father served for the North, has shrapnel in his lung as well as traces of Agent Orange. To this day the government does not give him a significant military or healthcare pension. This is most likely because he is part of a persecuted minority ethnic group. The situation was sad, but Mr. Hau remained hopeful for the future, especially the relationship between America and Vietnam.
Coming back to things, from the second homestay we returned to Hanoi for the day to visit the war museum and Museum of the Heroic Mother, two powerful sites. We took an evening flight to Da Nang, and drove to Hoi An, a lovely riverfront town with many shopping opportunities of which I took great advantage. That brings us to yesterday, My Lai.
Visiting the place where American soldiers ruthlessly gunned down and brutalized 504 unarmed civilians is a hard thing. New meaning is given to the question of forgiveness and remembrance. Taking a silent stroll through the restored streets of a onetime hamlet, I glanced to the long ditch at my right side. The same ditch where American soldiers rounded up men, women, children, and the elderly before the execution. It was hard for me to contemplate.
Today we visited the ruins and reconstruction of an ancient Cham Hindu temple. Really remarkable, but rightfully lacking the same gravity of our visit to My Lai yesterday. After some last minute shopping, we boarded our last domestic flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which brings me to my last point. The last several days have been wrought with an insidious nagging of the rapidly approaching end. I’ve tried not to over indulge myself in contemplating the reality of the end, but it is coming, and it’s something I have to come to terms with. I get this feeling at the end of any big trip, biking or climbing or whatnot. But this is different. I will leave in Vietnam a sense of wonder, a piece of me unaccustomed to foreign life but ready to enjoy it, a virgin sensibility of seeing the world outside of the U.S. that I will never be able to reclaim. I will emerge anew, taking with me memories, yes, but more importantly awareness. Awareness of the world outside of my world, awareness of a different people and way of life, and awareness of myself. I will take with me appetite. Appetite to continue my travels, to see the world through lenses that are as infinite as they are attainable.
Back to the present. A sure fire remedy to these melancholic blues of the approaching end is to be in the present. I hadn’t thought about including this but events tonight in Saigon prompted me. When we got off the plane I heard some whispering about a national soccer match between Vietnam and Malaysia. It wasn’t until I stepped off the bus and onto the streets of Saigon that I understood the scale of the situation. Apparently we won. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The street outside of our hotel was absolutely packed with motorbikes in gridlock, people jumping up and down, rippling Vietnamese flags, and a palpable energy in the air. The noise was staggering. A deafening symphony inundated the very air around me. Noisemakers, celebratory shouts, revving motorcycles. The sum was greater than the parts, adding into this energy rippling through the air, the coarse feeling of life. It honestly took my breath away. As I sat there on the streets, admiring something that was so much larger and yet just as personal as me, the troubles of the end were a distant memory, displaced by the sheer energy of the night and the grin on my face.