Friday, March 22, 2013


This is my third full day in Vietnam and my prevailing mood is utterly joyful because I have almost a whole month still to suck up fresh rolls, pho and $0.30 draft beer. 

I think I'm really going to enjoy my time here. It's not as tourist-overloaded as Thailand, but things are still more convenient than Burma and thus far I'm not having to wash the black lines of dirt out from beneath my fingernails every few hours (also Burma). Last night I bought a pirated copy of The Quiet American, a Vietnam backpacker requisite. 

Today I went to the post office to mail some things home. The best place to observe any country's Communist holdovers is in its government offices. There were seven postal workers and only one other customer and it took about 20 minutes for me to mail a box. Two people inspected the contents, I had to fill out four documents - I'd hate to be there when there was a line. I probably would've been annoyed if I had a job or appointments or a tight schedule, but I don't so it was just amusing. 

Yesterday I went to to the Ho Chi Minh museum, which was somewhat boring, but I'm a sucker for Communist relics (the microphone he spoke into, the glass he drank out of...). Afterward, I hit up Unification Palace (used to be Independence Palace) which was the equivalent of the White House for South Vietnam's government. I love touring modern history. The Palace has basically been left as it was, so it's almost like you can smell how things were and what transpired there. 

On my first full day, I spent a sobering afternoon at the War Remnants Museum. While I was walking around, I thought about what I learned about the Vietnam War in high school. Lots of people worry about the politicization of how we teach history. I suspect all countries teach their students a narrative that skews positive, it just varies to what degree. And that degree is tied to the level of freedom citizens possess. I had a Shanghainese coworker who majored in history and did not know that the Japanese military occupied Shanghai for part of WW2. Yep.

I had an excellent high school history teacher. He was open with us about his political views (socialist-Democrat) but never imposing, I think he told us for the sake of transparency. Actually, I think the greatest influence he exerted over us is several classmates majored in art history because he taught such an inspiring AP art history class. You're welcome for that one, parents. 

I can't remember the whole of our Vietnam unit, but I remember we spent a lot of time on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. I think that was valuable, it helps contextualize more recent US history. I could be misremembering, but I don't think we talked about the My Lai Massacre. If we did, it wasn't a major part of the unit. The first I remember learning of the massacre was in a conversation about the war I had with my mom as a teenager. There was a section of the museum devoted to it. It's hard to look at.

I've been traveling two months now. Before I left, I was somewhat worried about being on my own for so long. My friend Lily, who just completed more than a year of solo travels, assured me there would always be people around and that it's more difficult to seek out solitude than company. And she was right. I meet people every day. Sometimes it gets boring having the same traveler conversation (where are you coming from/how long are you staying/where are you going), but the real danger is how much more it makes you want to travel. Last night I was having beer with a group and a middle-aged guy so enchanted me with his beach camping/ocean fishing tales of his native New Zealand, I've added that to the bucket list. A couple weeks ago I met a Swiss girl who took a solo trip through all of the Stans except Afghanistan, which just sounded amazing, but she said it took about a year of preparation to sort out all the visas. Presently, I'm reading Travels with Charley and that makes me excited to come back to America. I haven't spent much time there in recent years and there's certainly a lot to see there too.

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