The night before my flight to Ho Chi Minh City, coincidentally the movie “Tigerland” was playing on the star network channel in Hong Kong. I had never seen this movie before and the majority of it was about US soldiers before they were shipped off to the Vietnam war. Boy did that make me think.
Not so long ago Vietnam was pure hell for all involved. There was so much death and destruction. So much sorrow … what would a war vet in the 1960’s and 70’s think of where I was going now?
As I descended through the clouds and looked at the lush green countryside covered in rice fields I thought about how many people did this same flight before in wildly different circumstances. I thought of the sound of chopper blades and the site of smoke that I had all too often seen in the movies. Yet here I am in 2012, upgraded for free in Cathay Pacific Business class with an almost empty glass of champagne in my hands and surrounded by incredibly rich Chinese and Vietnamese passengers adorned in jewels and luxury outfits. The sound of a British captain telling the cabin attendants that we are 15 minutes to landing and the clink of silverware being stowed at the front of the plane. The sun was setting and shimmering in the distance was an enormous glass tower. I saw the outline of a modern city just as we banked to the right on final approach. The world is so different now for the people and culture I am about to encounter.
On my drive from the airport I saw clean streets and sidewalks, kids clutching their parents on mopeds whizzing through traffic and everyone looking somewhat middleclass … if that can be termed as a “look”. I am sure there is poverty but yesterday I did not see it and today as I roamed around the city I saw very little of it. What I did see was not what I expected.
Luxury hotels and new cars. Smartly dressed young ladies with incredible figures. Lean men with well groomed appearances. Security everywhere in their green uniforms and sweepers on just about every avenue ensuring all the litter is removed. And in one corner a “coffee bean” outlet. Lush green trees draping over city streets that had a hint of colonialism in the architecture. And the occasional waft of “Pho” being prepared steaming hot in dozens of bowls at an outdoor restaurant. A great bowl of noodles cost me $1.50 and a one hour massage the night I arrived cost me US $10. The hotel I am staying in was built 2 years ago and has all the modern luxuries with a pool and fitness center. The one bedroom apartment is costing me $70 US per night.
The people I have encountered are beautiful. They have greeted me with huge smiles and the service at all the places I have eaten or visited … impeccable. I am sure some people see me as a “dollar sign” but that is normal for parts of south east asia. It is normal for most of the world to be honest.
Importantly people hear my North American accent (pretty American sounding really) and they have not grimaced. They have not frowned on the voice that not so long ago was quite frankly the enemy.
These people have been through wars and communism and oppression and so much horror. In the not so distant past their foreign visitors were invaders. Now they have let go of their past and welcomed their foreign visitors as guests. With smiles and a handshake no less! There is no bitterness and anger on their faces when they hear my accent. They are revelling in the fact that they have a new economy and can have a future and place in the new century. I am sure nothing is perfect, but after being in Nepal, Nairobi, and other developing places Vietnam is off to one hell of a start.
I wonder if in quiet places over the dinner table, away from our view, there is not a grudge or anger in the older generation. But today I saw so many young people with small children. A new generation. And yes all the kids have huge smiles.
Vietnamese babies are the cutest.
Here’s to their generation. Here’s to their future.