“To travel is to take a journey into oneself” Danny Kaye
[This is a picture I took during early fall, 2011, in Hanoi, Viet Nam. Three years later, my wife had it enlarged and framed, and gave it to me as a birthday gift. It now hangs in the master bedroom at our second home, Hydrangea Hill in Massachusetts as a reminder of amazing travels.]
As I write, President Obama is currently in Viet Nam, the first President ever to visit Hanoi. His three day trip is opening my memory floodgates of the wonderful three weeks my wife, one of her sisters, and I spent traveling the entire length from Sapa, near the Chinese border in the north, to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta in the south; a distance approximately from Albany NY to Miami, FL.
One of my sharpest memories stems from touring Ho Chi Minh’s home site and a conversation I had with the young guide. I mentioned I was in the Army during our war, but never was stationed in Viet Nam. Although not alive during that period, I asked the young man his overall impression of that war and Americans in general. His response surprised me. He explained that the Vietnamese generally don’t think much about our approximate twenty year war. “The Chinese occupied my country for a thousand years; the French for almost a hundred. The U.S. involvement is just a blip in our long history”. He added the two biggest reminders of that time is 1) the lack of males of my generation in his country, and the physical disfigurement of so many people by “Agent Orange”. He added the opinion that “only those in power want war. The people want peace.” I will never forget that conversation, that young Vietnamese man, and that beautiful location.
Viet Nam today is a gorgeous country with friendly citizens everywhere. The various sights and sounds and smells, fills the senses in totally different and totally pleasant ways. From the tiered rice fields in the clouds of Sapa, and Halong Bay’s limestone islands in the North, the ancient towns of Hoi An, and the former imperial capital of Hue in the central region, to the city formally known as Saigon and the vibrantly thriving life of floating markets, pagodas and and villages on the Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam offered a wonderful travel experience.
I hope the President feels the same way after his trip is completed. I feel luckier in a way that as a tourist, I had a chance to meet some lovely people, eat some delicious food, learn about a foreign culture that existed for thousands of years prior to mine, and most of all feel a thrill greater than any amusement park ride, by walking across any busy traffic intersection in Hanoi! Travel books mention it as unforgettable. It is. The secret…keep walking no matter what. Uniquely amazing experience. Unfortunately POTUS will never be allowed to have such fun, even when he is out of office, and that is a shame. On the plus side, I’m confident if he is introduced to Pho, the noodle soup mainstay of the country, he will be culinarily hooked forever. Enjoy your visit Mr. President.
You can get a driver’s permit at the age of four in Viet Nam