Hanoi – Caught Between Two Worlds

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It took me nearly twenty years to decide that I wanted to actually go to Vietnam. It was a sort of pilgrimage. Having spent years in the National Guard flying Hueys to avoid going there, it felt slightly hypocritical to suddenly want to go. Nevertheless, I had a lot of ghosts to lay to rest. Eunie and I have estimated that about a third of my pilot training course at Fort Wolters, Texas either didn’t make it back or were so adversely affected by the experience that their “Pursuit of Happiness” guaranteed by the constitution of the country that sent them to war was forever thwarted.

Here’s the view of Hanoi from my window at the Hanoi Horison Hotel. It was super-swanky and it cost me US$89 a night. I couldn’t believe it:

View from the Hanoi Horison Hotel

Absolutely nothing was as I expected in Hanoi. I don’t know what I expected, but what I got wasn’t it. I remember coming in on the plane to Hanoi. As I looked out the window at the thousands and thousands of bomb craters stretching from horizon to horizon, I started crying like a baby. It was a kind of catharsis, I suppose. It was also one of the more embarrassing moments of my life. I hadn’t even gotten off the plane yet and I was already attracting far too much attention to myself – something that I’d hoped to avoid.

I’m a little chicken-hearted when it comes to saying things here that might hurt someone. I guess it’s because I’m getting old – the testosterone level is blessedly diminishing. This time, I’ll take the risk. Can anybody tell me anything good that came out of that war? Did it kill Communism? Don’t be ridiculous. Communism died quietly in its sleep. Did it make America look good? Come on . . . Exactly what did all that suffering of every imaginable kind accomplish?

Try to find a Communist in Vietnam today. I can just about guarantee that there are none in this photo of a typical street scene:

Hanoi street scene

When I was getting ready to go, I contacted the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot’s Association. I left a message on their bulletin board explaining briefly the situation and the reason for my trip. I said that if anybody wanted to send me a small item that I could carry from Hanoi to Saigon that I would then return it. It seems now a ridiculous offer. I got one response. It was from a guy whose email address begins with dou4free as in “Do you for free.” If you’re not up on American slang from that era, let me tell you that “Do you” can mean kill you.

The poor fellow actually threatened me if I went to Vietnam. After a couple of increasingly angry emails from him, I told him that I was not willing to feed his rage any longer and I blocked his address. This is what war – especially one so damaging to human dignity as Vietnam – can do to people.

I want to believe that his attitude was not typical of the approximately 8,000 dues-paid members of the Association. (That’s out of 40,000 – yes that’s right, forty thousand – helicopter pilots that served in Vietnam.) That’s what I want to believe.

Hey, this is getting way too preachy. Let’s look at some images:

An astonishing scene - only a few motorbikes in sight in Hanoi

As it is throughout most of Southeast Asia, the motorbike is king. Though there are not nearly so many in Hanoi as in Saigon, there is one thing that they all have in common. They are powered by their horns. It is impossible to escape the sound of honking motorbike horns night or day.

(Okay, so it’s Ho Chi Minh city, but there is a part of it that is still called Saigon. I will use Saigon and, if you please, you may substitute Ho Chi Minh City.)

It has always amused me that Communism tried mightily to beat the religion out of people and so utterly failed. Apparently, it can’t be done. Shrines and temples everywhere decorate Hanoi:

One of the many beautiful temples in Hanoi

This has gone on long enough, so let me show you one of my favourite photos from Vietnam:

Is there a message here?

There’s something in this image that’s trying to whisper a message to my heart. I wonder if I’ll live long enough to hear it.

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5 Responses to “Hanoi – Caught Between Two Worlds”

  1. Mang Thai Says:

    Awww poor those pigs. They must feel very uncomfortable.

  2. mymadang Says:

    Thanks, Mang Thai, for your comment.

    Though the sight of the baby pigs imprisoned in the basket made me feel very bad for them, I was compelled to photograph it. I suppose that those moments when we feel strong emotion are probably the best times to capture an image.

    Yours is the first comment that I have received from Vietnam. I hope I live long enough to return to your beautiful and friendly country.


  3. mang thai có thai em bé Says:

    Thank you for your response.

    Merry Christmas to you. Wishing you happiness and good health.

  4. Ann A Brit Says:

    Your travelblog was interesting, partic. for me as a Brit, seeing your US point of view. I just had to wonder why you couldn’t hear the whisper from the image you photographed. I’m a hypocrite because I eat meat, but we Brits tend to want our animals well treated until we clobber them, and the disregard for animal welfare is one of the main reasons I am reluctant to travel in the third world. Am aware that this is easy for me to say, living in a ‘civilised’ i.e. soft country. Still, have enjoyed your site and thanks for that. The women who wouldn’t speak to you probably judged a book by its cover, although I find the cover interesting and wouldn’t have ignored you. Murderers, on the other hand, tend to look benign and normal.
    Best wishes on your future travels

  5. MadDog Says:

    Unusual, comment, Ann. I eat less meat these days for reasons mostly economic. It would be easy to exist as a vegetarian in Vietnam as the markets are full of yummy veggies.