VIETNAM: REMEMBERING THE PAST, EXPERIENCING THE PRESENT
I offer an engaging first-hand glimpse, in words and colorful slides, of the people and the life in Vietnam, where today, thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War), tourists flock to this small Southeast Asian nation.
On the trip I took in February 2005 with my husband and two friends, we were deeply moved by the warm welcome we received from the Vietnamese people. And we came to better understand this poor country with its rich history, a history that goes way back to Chinese rule up to the tenth century A.D.; and then to a string of Vietnamese dynasties that ruled the country—until the nineteenth century when the French took over. And then in the 1960s and ’70s, when Americans went in with troops and planes and guns, Vietnam was synonymous with killing and controversy. Now, Vietnam is embarked upon a new chapter in its history, as its Communist government rules over a capitalist economy and the country pulsates with the rhythm of contemporary life.
Some of the highlights of my talk include: four out of Vietnam’s five Unesco World Heritage sites, three of which commemorate periods in the country’s history: the monuments in the ancient royal capital of Hué; the charming old city of Hoi An; and the My Son sanctuary with its ruins of Champa temples. Another World Heritage site we visited exemplifies some of the country’s most spectacular scenery: the incomparably beautiful Ha Long Bay with its 3000 islands rising out of the mist.
Besides these sights, my slides portray the celebration of Tet, the Lunar New Year; the life of the street in all five cities we visited; Ho Chi Minh’s legacy in his mausoleum, park and palace complex in Hanoi; the unique water puppet theater, which originated in the rice paddies that cover so much of the country’s land; workers in those rice fields wearing traditional cone-shaped hats and using wooden plows and water buffalo in the shadows of industrialized cities; temples and pagodas where worshippers honor their ancestors; music and dance shows by colorfully costumed performers; kitschy sights in Dalat, a former French hill station in Vietnam’s Central Highlands and now a major wedding and honeymoon destination; exhibits in Hanoi’s remarkable Museum of Ethnology; a village populated by one of Vietnam’s 54 different ethnic groups; the early morning life in the parks of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon); the life on the waters of the Mekong Delta—and most of all, the people. Young women riding motorbikes in chaotic traffic; bright-eyed children selling postcards on the street; inquisitive toddlers in day care; old people working and playing and sitting on their haunches.