This will be a short one, primarily because I’ve already written about Saigon, and touched on the Vietnam war, and I don’t want to belabor a point (nor a destination). However, I’ve been back a few times since then, and I’m in Saigon now, and a few sights and scenes impel me to expound on them.
For example, there was my day in the delta. Although I rarely have the opportunity to leave cities, on my last trip I did manage to get to the Mekong delta for the day, in the company of a charming guide named Sunny (for her disposition as well as the Anglicization of her name).
After a rather long car ride Sonny and I took a variety of boats to a number of small islands where we basically just walked around. The delta is densely populated and it seemed that every island had its own little culture.
This is a different world from the hustle of Saigon. The pace is bicycle and oxcart and the principle occupations include making coconut candy under thatched shelters. The people too are far more laid back and inviting.
As proof, while walking along one dirt road we saw a house up a small path. Like most houses in the delta, it only had three walls; the front of the house was open to the elements (there were actually a couple of fully enclosed rooms in back of that). This house contained perhaps fifteen people eating and drinking and laughing and talking and slapping each other on the backs in a festive way. Sonny stopped in front and began explaining something to me about birds or lizards or fish or whatever and within a couple of minutes an older gentleman came down the path from the house and spoke to her in Vietnamese. Sonny informed me that we had been invited to join them, to which I readily agreed.
We were the stars of the show. They sat us down at table with them and immediately began plying us with shrimp and some kind of cloudy distilled alcohol that tasted like turpentine with a twist of lemon. It seemed impolite not to drink it (so far, it doesn’t seemed to have blinded me). I had to drink a toast with each of them, and respond to questions I didn’t understand. But then, they didn’t understand the answers either, and nobody seemed to care. When they learned I lived in France (I assume through Sunny) a very old man came and spoke to me in French. His accent was impossible to penetrate, but when I told him it was an honor to meet him he took both my hands in his and nodded tearfully. It was quite touching, really.
Sunny explained that they celebration was in honor of the homeowner’s aunt, who had died the previous year. “It is her deathday,” she explained. “They are celebrating her life and remembering her.”
“Why did they ask us to join?”
“Because we were there. I figured they would invite us in if we just stood nearby for a couple of minutes.”
“Can I do anything? Give them anything?”
“Oh no,” she remonstrated. “That would be insulting.”
Now here’s the thing that strikes me when I’m in Vietnam… and you’ll have to forgive both the radical change in narrative arc and the quasi-political polemicizing, but the Vietnamese war cost about 1.2 million Vietnamese deaths, and almost 60,000 American deaths and as I’ve mentioned in the past, I had assumed as a child it would swallow me up too. The purpose of the war was to save the Vietnamese from the evils of communism and to avoid the dreaded domino effect, whereby all of Southeast Asia, and eventually the world, I suppose, would go communist.
We lost, of course, and Vietnam did indeed go communist leading to… this. Sixty thousand American soldiers lost their lives and killed over a million Vietnamese in a vain attempt to keep Vietnam from becoming what it has become… a prosperous little country teeming with scooters, cell phones and Nikes, with a Louis Vuitton shop in the middle of Saigon and people who own pleasant little houses in the Mekong delta and invite Americans in for shrimp and turpentine out of the goodness of their hearts.
What a good thing we fought that war! How right were our leaders back then when they warned us of the evils of this pernicious system and the doom that would entail did we not shed all that blood!
As for the domino effect, the only domino effect in effect is that Domino’s pizza is not yet here. Perhaps if the war had been won they would have made it over faster. Of course, that didn’t stop Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut, both of which can be found with ease.
And despite all this, when a dimwitted man from Texas insists that a dictator in the Middle East has weapons that weapons inspectors on the ground say he doesn’t have, the population of the United States happily agrees to a war that costs somewhere between one hundred thousand and one million Iraqi lives and four thousand three hundred and forty five (as of this writing) American lives.
OK, sorry, this isn’t a political column. It’s just that a number of people back home derided us when my friends and I demonstrated against all this madness in the streets of Paris, and here in Vietnam it is impossible to miss the irony of unjust and unnecessary wars promulgated by Texans who have never traveled. I only hope that in the future, we’ll all be a little more skeptical about believing stupid theories to justify massive violence, as weapons of mass destruction melt into phantoms and dominoes turn into pizzas.