Blog Entry #44: Vietnam: Closing Thoughts
Monday, October 31, 2011
How to wrap up my thoughts on these six days in Vietnam and Cambodia? A rich, confusing, exhausting, inspiring, and overwhelming time.
In my Global Studies discussion group this morning, I asked the students to reflect on their time in Indochina with the following questions. They may be a helpful way for me to organize my thoughts as well:
1. What were you most anticipating about your time in Vietnam [and Cambodia]?
2. What surprised you the most? Why?
3. What did you experience, and what were your 2 or 3 most important experiences?
4. What feelings did you experience, both during and now after Vietnam and Cambodia?
5. What questions or new insights do you have?
|Bustling street scene in Ho Chi Minh City|
I’m not exactly sure what I most anticipated about visiting Vietnam; some of this I have reflected on in entry 40. I know I anticipated seeing evidence of the robust and growing economy, the “Vietnam miracle.” And we did – everywhere, it seems, Ho Chi Minh City is growing and bustling. Every imaginable consumer good is available in every color, size and shape, and the U.S. dollar remains strong here; our students (and a few faculty) flocked to the Ben Thanh Market for everything from tailored suits to T-shirts to pirated movies.
|New high-rises sprouting in Ho Chi Minh City|
|The Rex Hotel from old Saigon days|
|New Hotel high-rises in Ho Chi Minh City|
Many of the students had visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, the now legendary 200 km network of tunnels only 20 miles from Saigon that facilitated Viet Cong infiltration of the south during the war, and found them deeply moving. But for the most part Vietnam seems to have moved on: having at least achieved its independence from foreign and colonial control, and now reunified into one country, it’s face is firmly forward, negotiating trade agreements with countries like the U.S. and integrating itself fully into the global economy.
|With statue of "Uncle Ho" & child|
|With 350.org students at Nong Lam University, Ho Chi Minh City|
|With V___ in Phnom Penh|
Simply having time to walk and explore Ho Chi Minh City with Pat was a treat, as was sampling the amazing Vietnamese cuisine. My favorite restaurant during my Des Moines years was a small neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant; how amazing to now be able to sample so many different regional dishes in the heart of old Saigon.
Our travels around Ho Chi Minh City included an hour-long trip in a “cyclo”, a “tri-shaw,” that gave us constant exposure to HCMC’s chaotic traffic and never-ending stream of motorbikes. Crossing HCMC streets is an art form that challenges the faint of heart! Even here subtle reminders of the war were evident, as Pat’s elderly cyclo driver’s right hand had been maimed during the war.
|Reunification Palace, former Presidential Palace in Saigon|
|Banquet Room Presidential Palace|
|Helicopter rooftop pad, Presidential Palace|
|Large suspension bridge across the Saigon River, Ho Chi Minh City|
And there we suddenly there we were: at the end of the Saigon River as it empties into the South China Sea, past the final islands of the Vietnam coast (ironically with a tall stature of Jesus above a contemporary Catholic Church as one of our final images), and now on to Hong Kong and China. No closing insights, but many new and lingering questions and images, and a hope that I will one day return to this fascinating land.
|Mountains at the mouth of the Saigon River where it enters the South China Sea|