My strongest memory of Saigon and environs will be of traffic. Not traffic like in Bangkok, which does not move. In Vietnam, motor cycles/scooters predominate...when not being bullied by cars, trucks, or buses. The country has a population of 88 million: there are 40 million motor bikes. A significant of them fill the streets of Saigon at all hours. Later, I will provide a photo album of how these two-wheeled vehicles are used (or abused). I believe that the principle is, if it moves and does not fall over, then it is okay to drive. After spotting one Vespa with three adults and two children (one child on the handle bars and one on the back of the rear adult), I imagined a new Disney ride to thrill Americans.
Street vendors fill sidewalks, offering everything from food to shoe repair. This lowers overheads and increases profit, because there is not rent and, perhaps, a chance to avoid taxes. From the number of stands selling inner tubes, flat tires must be rampant.
The guide explained that diabetes is an increasing problem, because the Vietnamese people love sweets and do not exercise. One spots many recumbent bodies, on sidewalks or in hammocks. Tables at roadside restaurants feature tables with chairs and hammocks. One tour visited a lacquer workshop, where we learned the various works stages. The workmanship is exquisite and the end=product remarkable. But, at one work station all I spotted was the workers feet, because he was asleep on the floor under his table and oblivious to the foreign tour group. Foreigners probably label Vietnamese as lazy, but I see them as saving energy for something important. After all, it is very hot and humid.
I wanted to avoid references to the war and view daily life as it is at present. The tour guide explained that Vietnamese respect Americans; children want to learn English; and people want to work in the United Sates. The dollar is more welcome than local currency.
They are proud of driving the military from their land, but do not hold a grudge against the American people. There are displays about the war at the Reunification building, which was the presidential palace, but there was no polemic. I found the explanation of history to be rather balanced, where a more hateful approach would have been understandable. The only negative tone was the when the guide mentioned the millions of Vietnamese deaths vs. 55,000 American deaths, and the millions killed or deformed by Agent Orange. It is impossible not to sympathize with the guy and be embarrassed about suffering imposed by one’s government on innocent people.
Although some might not agree, I find Vietnam more interesting because of foreign domination. The Chinese controlled the country for 1000 years, which left an impact. The French ruled the land for roughly 100 years, which left architecture, Christianity, and the baguette. The Japanese were here for 5 years and are not remembered fondly, but their money is now welcomed. Americans messed around for 21 years, leaving a love of consumerism and the dollar. All tourists and investments are welcome. Importing most of the bad features of the United States, the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer. That said, it’s easier to be poor in Vietnam...
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.