I really see the appeal of this place. It’s manic and disorienting. It’s dirty and difficult. But it’s people are simply beautiful. When I’ve had the courage or stupidity to look up from where I’m going, I see such warmth and kindness.
Last night a young man on a date asks me where I’m from and takes an interest in my tattoos [side note: I have to find a way to explain them that transcends culture because it’s hard enough talking about Plato’s allegory of the cave to native English-speakers. Pro tip: stop being pretentious]. Today two schoolgirls see me, smile wave and say “hi”. These are little things, but they are truly sincere--there was no come-on, no attempt to sell me marijuana or massage, just friendliness. They mean the world to someone living 24/7 outside their comfort zone--and be honest, when was the last time you waved and said hello to a random stranger clearly deriving from “not around here”?
But what makes Saigon’s kindness so surprising is that, by my American sense, they have every right to hold a grudge. I don’t want to get political here, but It wasn’t that long ago we ravaged this country--many people here saw it firsthand. In fairness, I’m in the south--they had a very different experience than did Hanoi, and maybe there the bitterness is greater.
I asked my tour guide, as we left the palace where the tanks crashed through, about The American War and attitudes toward its named participant. He said “we only wanted to be unified.” And whether true or simply happy talk it shows a perspective, and again, a kindness, I’ve come to associate with this bunch of Commies.
Then came the War Remnants Museum. First, it’s important to remember that history is written by the victors. Second, war is hell and bad acts happen on all sides. Third, as a corollary to first and second, something can be the truth without being the whole truth.
With all that said, what I saw I cannot unsee. I will spare you those sights--except for one.
There were lots of companies that made lots of money from chemicals that wreaked havoc on fighters from both sides, as well as their future children and grandchildren. One of those companies became a company among my clients in corporate world. A company that now claims to heal people once was involved, along with others, in making chemicals that caused cancer and birth defects.
Remember, as one highly decorated WW1 Marine General demonstrated, War is a Racket. And those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
And there’s no clever or appropriate segue from that into something far sillier, so I’ll change the subject: the ass-kicking I experienced last night thanks to consuming something that didn’t agree with me. At all.
I’ll share no pictures there, either, except one: