Beer is found in most, if not all, countries, brewed locally and/or imported. Beer--or rather beer containers--is the focus of this piece.
I recall drinking different types of beer during my first visit to Vietnam. Beer in cans, shipped over from the United States to slake the thirst and calm the nerves of GIs, filled warehouses and back lots of PXs. One could conduct market research of beer by seeing which brands languished in storage. I remember Fabacher, from Texas, being particularly unpopular, because countless palettes baked in the sun behind my base PX. One must consider that each beer cost 10 cents, so price was not a factor. The best beer was a local beer, drunk from paper cups on the street of a rural town. The drink was chilled with a chunk of ice, which probably could have given me some intestinal disease, but did not. We could have easily been shot or blown up by a hand-made grenade...which can be seen below.
The largest Vietnamese beer brand is 333 (Bah, Bah, Bah is your Vietnamese word of the day-- the first and last your will read on these pages). I recall GIs calling this beer Bah Mi Bah, which is now not surprising. Americans are usually untalented with languages...even their own.
The only beer I enjoyed came in bottles and were lesser brands. Beer is still available in cans, but secondary uses (ie. for grenades) have declined or become less flashy. The taste was as good as most beers...and certainly better than Budweiser...and Fabacher. I wonder if a company, which made such bad beer, still operates.
This is a grave story (pun intended)...or, rather, a story about graves.
During my first visit to Vietnam, the only mention of grave (which I can remember) was about a unique burial ground on Highway 19, the road from Qui Nhon, on the coast, to Pleiku, in the Central Highlands. After passing the village of An Khe, which had been the site of a huge US military base, but had become a field of weeds, the road (highway is a misnomer) climbed to its highest elevation to cross the Man Yang Pass. This was the site of a major battle between the Viet Minh and the French in the 1950’s. The French lost, but failed to learn a lesson from this debacle, which would have grave consequences at the a little place called Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This famous battle basically ended the French colonial period...and failed to provide lessons to the next occupiers: the US military. (The lessons were obvious, but Americans were too arrogant to believe that we could not succeed where a bunch of stupid Frenchmen had failed.)
Back to the Man Yang Pass...The story we Americans were told--or as lore would have it--is that the French buried their dead standing up and facing France (there were no body bags and flights home in those days). If you look closely at the photo above, dark spots are discernible. This rounded indentations give credence to the tale men being buried in an upright position. This is a sobering sight from a helicopter, after hearing such a sobering tale. I arrived in Vietnam at a time when the world (but not all Americans) knew that we would soon suffer the same fate as the, supposedly, stupid French. In such a location, one did not like to think about being planted in that country or traveling home in the cargo hold of an Air Force plane, wrapped in plastic.
On my latest visit to Vietnam, the subject of burial came up on an excursion to the Mekong River. On the highway (in this case it was) from Saigon to Can Tho, the guide pointed out concrete structures in the rice fields, which lined the highway for much of the way. He explained that people like to keep their ancestors nearby, after they died, in order to keep an eye them while they work the fields. This is a case of respect of older generations unknown in the west. Another explanation, never mentioned to anyone, is that graves should be as far away from the home as possible...to get the old buggers out of the way.
As is obvious from the following photos, traffic was never a problem in 1972, even on the main north-south route, Highway 1. Whether urban or rural, one could drive as fast as one dared. The thing is, few dared...and not because of road conditions.
Because of prohibitive costs, few cars clog streets and highways of Vietnam, but motor bikes, trucks, and buses take up much space. It is not unusual for two trucks or a bus and a truck to block traffic as one strives to pass the other at 1 mph greater speed. As you can imagine, honking of horns from frustrated followers does no good.
But, some aspects of life on the road in Vietnam have not changed. This old fella must have enjoyed life in former times, when he (or she) was not obliged to suck up exhaust fumes and endure constant cacophony of engines and horns.
Street markets are found all over the world. I experienced the first ones in Vietnam and then learned that this country was not unique when I visited Thailand. Because a war was raging (sort of) pickings were usually meager, especially in rural areas.
The war has long since ended, and the winners have loosened controls on people. Markets are filled to the brim with local and imported goods.
Besides foreign goods, other evils have invaded the country. Surprisingly, markets continue to be crowded, whereas not many cars crowd the rather small parking lot in front of this big box. Perhaps, it is too hygienic...
The French built the first railroad lines, probably to carry goods to ports or move military men and equipment. Of course, these became easy targets during wars.
The Vietcong blew up rail lines in the south, and Americans bombed rail lines in the north.
Today, the lines have been rebuilt and are used for both freight and passengers. One is able to ride the train, with an overnight sleeper, from Hanoi to Saigon. This was not possible during my last visit, as is obvious from the first photo.
Edition 2 showed how much has changed over the years in Vietnam. For most citizens, life remains much as it has been for centuries.
Change might smack them in the face, as they struggle to survive and endure, but little helps them.
What has not changed is that some bloody foreigner keeps taking photos...
Nha Trang was a beach resort for French residents of Vietnam during the colonial era, having been modeled after Mediterranean cities. Little had changed when I first visited in 1972. The tallest building might have been five stories. War had stifled beach business, but the promenade still held its former appeal.
Change was visible upon first sight of Nha Trang's new skyline. Building along the beachfront has added a new dimension. Hotels and apartment blocks are ready for the growing tourist trade. The beach was fairly empty, but the city is ready for the future crowds. Traffic has increased exponentially.
This is the first in a series of Vietnam: Then And Now. I will try to match up a photo or photos from the early 70s with one or more from my recent trip. Ideally, the will be from the same location, but might also be of a similar activity.
The first is about rice farming. Little, if anything seems to have changed. Lone women tend the fields at this stage or a group of women harvest the crop.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.