Hoi An – Remember China Beach?

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 24th, 2008 by MadDog
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Nobody could live through the 60’s and early 70’s without hearing about a lot of exotic Southeast Asian places. As a primary school student, I remember first hearing of American soldiers dying in “Indochina.”

In 1950, thirty-five US soldiers arrived in South Vietnam as part of a training program operated by the US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG). Their mission was ostensibly to instruct Vietnamese troops how to blast their wicked communist brothers to bloody smithereens with the shiny new US weapons that they were receiving.

Twenty-five years later . . .

Well, we all know what happened. I remember watching the last Americans escaping in disarray from the top of the US Embassy while thousands of doomed supporters desperately scaled the fence to try to hitch a ride to . . . anywhere but there. They had been magically transformed from “allies” to “collaborators” with the stroke of a pen – probably a very expensive one.

It was called “Peace With Honour.”

I wonder how many Americans realize that the “Vietnam War”, which the Vietnamese, of course, call “The American War”, lasted 25 years.

By the way, the area we call Vietnam today has been overrun at one time or another by just about everybody capable of mounting an invasion. (The Chinese first invaded in 200 BC.) Apparently, it’s prime real-estate. Nevertheless, the Vietnamese have eventually kicked out every invader. Remember Dien Bien Phu? The Vietnamese have had to fight for their identity and independence since day one.

Okay, enough of that.

Hoi An sits sleepily about 35 kilometres south of Da Nang, a place about which Americans have heard far too much. During the 17th to the 19th centuries, Hoi An was a major international seaport. Today, it’s primarily a tourist destination. If you crave exotic scenery, it’s hard to beat. The Hoi An footbridge over the Bun River is an appealing example:

Footbridge over the Bun River in Hoi An Vietnam

The riverside is wall-to-wall humanity. Small motorboats crowd the shoreline:

River boat in Hoi An Vietnam

The red flags with the yellow star sprouted like poppies. I’d arrived during a major national holiday. Political announcements and slogan banners were everywhere – the usual “Workers Unite!” stuff, I suppose:

Banner in Hoi An Vietnam

Affluence isn’t much in evidence around Hoi An. As near as I could determine, this is an “average” domestic situation:

An average domestic situation in Hoi An Vietnam

Not posh, by most standards, but liveable.

I’d arrived by train (more about that another day). I took a taxi to my hotel. Wouldn’t you know it; the poor driver suffered a puncture on the way. Fortunately, it was only a tire:

A punctured tire in Hoi An Vietnam

Not so very long ago an entirely different kind of puncture would have been common.

I don’t remember the name of the hotel at which I rested for a couple of days. I do however remember that we had our very own elephant:

My very own elephant - Hoi An Vietnam

One thing that I noticed about that particular elephant was that it always seemed to be in a hurry. I thought that elephants mostly ambled. This one sprinted.

A last war note:

Hoi An is not far from China Beach. Americans will remember the place for two reasons. First, it was an in-country rest and recreation base operated by the military. It was terribly convenient. I’ve been told that you could get a picnic lunch at the beach and then hop on a Huey and head right back into combat.

The second reason that Americans might remember China Beach is from the horrible, simpering sitcom/drama bearing the same name that appeared on American TV from 1988 to 1991. I remember the few episodes that I watched as being nearly unbearable.

The war was bad enough – even from a distance.

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