Goodbye Vietnam !!!

May 09, 2010 Vietnam by Steve Martin Edit

It's our second last day and James and I are on the loose again. We've escaped the confines of the hotel to visit the Hanoi War Museum. The Museum is a 15 minute walk through terrible traffic and non existent sidewalks. It's also opposite Lenin Square and it's a public holiday celebrating the end of the Vietnam War.

The celebrations are what we would expect on a national holiday. The night before there had been fireworks, the streets are decorated, and the public is out in force. In Lenin Square there's a crowd of people watching children drive battery operated cars and scooters.

One man has a remote control car. James sees it and is off. I'm starting the think my son is part Greyhound. When sees something moving out of the corner of his eye, he can't help but chase. The man controlling the car sees him and decides to play the game. He brings the car close and then makes it scoot away. He does it over and over again. 

The squeals of delight and frustration from James are loud enough to attract everyones attention, and before we know it we have a crowd of about 50 people watching. They are watching my small blond boy running like a madman after a remote control car. In among a hundred black haired Vietnamese, we can't help but stand out. To add to the oddness of the situation we are doing all of this under the watchful eye of Vladimir Lenin.

The Military Museum is very good and just a bit of an eye opener. We are constantly reminded of the Vietnam war through film and TV and books, but only from the western point of view. The Museum shows the Vietnamese perspective of a people defending their soil from foreign invaders.

What I have never fully appreciated is the length of the fight Vietnam had for independence. They had to see off the Japanese, and then the French and then the Americans [and us]. It was a struggle that lasted for decades and cost thousand, if not millions of lives.

In the eyes of Vietnam, our Vietnam War is "The American War". It's the final chapter in a fight for an independent country. Once the foreign forces had been expelled the establishment of this country has had it's problems and issues. Figures vary, but it's believed that thousands died under the early communist regime. Some people lost everything, there was a program of "re-education" and many people fled in fear of their lives.

The Museum does seem to ignore it. There are no stories of people who died after the wars. There are however stories of glorious victories, of comrades who help the fight, and of martyrs who died in the struggle for Vietnam. The museum paints a positive image of their soldiers and their struggle in much the same way we celebrate our soldiers.

While this washes over James, I'm enthralled with the different interpretation. The language is straight out of a communist manifesto, the presentation obliterates any question whether it was right or wrong. It was simply the cost of establishing an independent country after years of occupation.

Together however we are fascinated by the displays of aircraft and vehicles. There are tanks and helicopters, jet fighters and troop carriers. We inspect the lot. We also inspect the old flag tower that stands on the site.

The tower was built from 1805 to 1812 and once at the top you have a fantastic view.There is a small problem as we discovered....the stair case! The flag tower is built for someone who is about 5 feet tall. I am 6 feet tall. Going up is not such a problem. Coming back down a narrow stone staircase, crowded with people and carrying a three year old boy IS a problem. Halfway down I could feel the stress on my thigh muscles. By the time we made it to the bottom I had full jelly legs. {they've only just recovered!}

The walk that day was a fitting end to our trip to Vietnam. We had a final adventure. We made a soldier with a machine gun wave and smile. It's been an experience I would never have imagined just months ago. Wandering the streets of another country with my three year old son, unable to speak more than a word of the language and barely on top of the currency.

For most of the trip all I wanted to do was get out and into the local culture. I walked for miles and miles. I got lost several times but always managed to find my way back. I made a few people laugh and had more than a few laugh at me. I got to share a good part of it with James, even though I don't think he'll remember much.

I write this from London where I understand the language, I can read the street signs, and nobody notices us as we walk on by. It's only been 4 days and I miss Vietnam already.

Who wouldn't miss a country with good beer for 50 cents a can?