I turned the next corner and what I saw was not much different from the street I had just passed, crazy traffic, motorcycles buzzing everywhere, coming towards me in the opposite direction, even in the sidewalk, dirty streets, street vendors offering coconut, shoes, purses, gold and coffee, restaurant’s hosts inviting to get in, it was chaotic, smelling food, noodles, chicken and pork. I was in Hanoi, Vietnam.
In the middle of this stressful movement I perceive an order, no one hit anyone, motorcycles deflected from me when I crossed the street, they did not stop and the horns are part of the culture, it was not to get out of the way, it was just to warn that they were there. The street vendors smiled trying to communicate with the poor English they had, many wearing the famous Vietnamese hat, and every time I refused to buy something they just smiled back at me and did not insist.
- But what about the war?
The war has ended in 1975 and left many marks on these people and the world and this is the image that blows up the heads of hundreds of thousands people when we hear the name of Vietnam. What about the war?
The war lasted almost 20 years and massacred millions of people cruelly and cowardly, there the Vietnam War is known as American War, the north won from the south, and the main reason for the war was that the north wanted to reunite both Vietnam, north and south in only one communist country. North fought with Vietcong’s supported by Soviet Union, China and others communist countries, south was supported mainly by United States, Australia, South Korea, Thailand and other anti-communist countries. The war had ended in April 30th of 1975, with Saigon surrender, Ho Chi Minh was the main communist leader and he died in 1969, after victory from the north over the south, the communism over democracy, Saigon had its name changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and his statue it is there in the middle of the city.
Once you visit the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, you begin to understand the horror of the war. I went out from there totally wrecked. As soon I got in I saw some American’s airplanes and helicopters, after that I went to visit some jails and cages where the Vietcongs were arrested and tortured, inside the main building each floor brought me a different emotion, tears spilling on my face, in one of the floors of the building exist the Agent Orange – the Chemical War, totally inhuman, no chance to escape. I went out completely in silence and walking in its streets I began to appreciate even more every smile of those people, survivors of that horror in all places.
They try to push you everything, selling everything, they hit you in the street offering massage, strippers, drugs, food and more uncountable things but, they also help you when you need, I’ve forgotten my passport in the last city I had before arrived in HCMC, I only realized this when I got there, 5 hours after left Mui Né, I ran out of the bus desperate wondering how to go back to the city on the same night, I went in a tour office and asked to a girl a bus ticket to go back and she asked me why, I told her what happened and she just smiles calmly, asked me the hostel name with the phone number, made a call and arranged to have my passport to arrive the next evening, simple like that. I didn’t know how to be more grateful, she said just don’t worry, everything was going to be fine.
She called me in the next evening to say that my passport was there, I put me on her way but before I went into coffee shop buy some chocolate cookies for her, she gave me my passport and she didn’t charge me a penny, I gave her my simple gift and she smiles, at that point I had already created a very great appreciation for those people.
In the morning forward I took a local bus going to a little more south of the city, named as Cu Chi Tunnels, an area where more than 100km of tunnels were built by the Vietcongs to surprise the people from the south and was one of the main strategies used to win the war. On the way till Cu Chi, a beautiful little girl in the seat just in front of me, was smiling and hiding from my attempt to catch her photo, with no success, until she looked at me through between the seat and the window and I got her picture, one of the most striking from my trip in Indochina. The tunnels are really narrow, fitting to their bones structures, I crawled on some of them, impressed me how they were designed with dining room, emergency room, meeting room, all connected by more tunnels, a small rock along the way above us could be an air window or one of the small entrance to there.
This place lived one of the saddest stories I have ever seen, had not yet been in Cambodia and known the horror that the American and Civil Wars brought to that country, I also did not know Lao where I ran out of a museum crying trying to understand the whole tragedy they lived.
Vietnam hit me in many ways and was just crossing the chaotic streets, sleeping on the hill with a H’mong old woman, where I ate the most delicious tofu of my life, crossed the whole country from north to south, going to caves, beaches, rivers and rituals, and talked to so many people that I finally found happiness.
It was in the smile of that little girl in the photo that I realized that all the sadness disappears, the memories remain, but life is stronger than everything, stronger than all pain, stronger than horror, stronger than tragedies, stronger than any depression, stronger than tears, and then death, that little girl, granddaughter or great-granddaughter of the war, smiled with such simplicity, as one who says:
- I did not live the war, I know little about it, but life won and I’m here, happy.
I left Vietnam on the last day of my visa, after arriving where I did not know much about it, like thousands of other people, I finally understood that everyone has many reasons to be happy, no more, everyone has the right to be happy, yet more, everyone has an obligation to be happy.
Vietnam, one day I will come back, as I promise.
Xin cam on
Lost in 40s
A very special thank you to my Vietnamese friend Vu Dinh Doanh.