The Heat is on in Saigon

In 2011 we travelled through Southeast Asia on an epic journey and sabbatical from life. We spent the most time in Vietnam, travelling south to north, mostly via train. Our first stop was Saigon (previously Ho Chi Minh City) in the south. Here are my thoughts on the relationship between the US and Vietnam, 40 years after our conflict there, from 21 January 2011.

I’ve loved the musical “Miss Saigon” since I was in middle school – I remember going to see it with my choir, and over the years in my high school choir, a group sang the song “Bui Doi” every year at the year-end concert. As I wander the streets of this insane city (insane really is the only word for it, though I would characterize it as controlled insanity), I hum my favorite songs from the musical in my head.

You are here like a mystery…I’m from a world that’s so different from all that you are….how in the light of one night…did we come…so far….

The story, for those who don’t know and Drew assures me that MOST people don’t know, is about a GI who was here during the war, fell in love with a Vietnamese prostitute, went home, and found out later that he is the father of an illegitimate baby (They’re called bui doi….the dust of life…conceived in hell…and born in strife…). He goes back to Vietnam to make it right. The end.

I was interested in Saigon not only to witness the traffic for myself, but also to witness the impact of the Vietnam War. Do people still have feelings, positive or negative, about what happened here in the 60s and 70s? The short answer is, not really. This is a very young city and many people are too young to remember or weren’t even born. There are several monuments and museums dedicated to Vietnamese history, from back when it was a French territory, through its war of Independence from the French, to what is now widely referred to as the American War, but like most museums, the audience is mostly (all?) visitors.

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I understand the controversial nature of our involvement in Vietnam, but I also was taught as a young student that what we (the US) was trying to defeat (Communism) was a worthwhile goal, and that we lost. Here, many of the captions on museum artifacts tell a different story – they refer to the American ‘occupation’ of Saigon that was defeated – finally allowing Vietnam to be ‘reunified.’ They call the South Vietnamese government the ‘puppet regime.’ They depict the people of Saigon celebrating in the streets with the arrival of the North Vietnamese, yet films I’ve seen of the South Vietnamese people storming the American embassy to get on the last helicopters out of the city tell a different story.

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Like most historical events, I have come to understand that no side has the complete truth. Events are remembered, and retold, through the lens of opinion and experience. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle.I leave Saigon with an even more confused feeling about what happened here but in the end, it’s always sad that the effects of wartime (whether justified or not) end up hurting lots of people who get caught in the middle. The kids who were born after their parents were exposed to Agent Orange, the small villages that were razed because they were in the way of someone trying to get somewhere else.

I choose to celebrate Vietnam for its welcoming people, it’s buzzing motorcycle culture and for the progress it’s making internally, diminishing the poverty levels, reinvigorating the environment, etc. It’s a wonderful place to be.

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  • April 8, 2015

    Vietnam is a great place to visit!

    • April 9, 2015

      Couldn’t agree more! We need to head back there again soon.

  • April 14, 2015

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been in Saigon in 2011 myself and as a Dutch person, I’m not drawn to either side. Not to the American side, and not to the Vietnamese side. The Americans brought the horrible agent orange with them, killing so many people and handicapped children are still born nowadays because of it (even children in America. Irony? No, the issue is too serious to call it that). The Vietnamese built these clever, but deathly traps that killed many American soldiers (can still be seen when you visit the Cu Chi tunnels. Have you been there as well?). It just was an awful war for both parties.

    • April 14, 2015

      No side was better than the other. Rarely occurs in warfare. No one comes out clean. It was especially awkward though being an American and walking through an exhibit explaining exactly how terrible the Americans were. But I can’t change our history unfortunately.

      • April 14, 2015

        Apparently they’ve made a lot of changes at the War Remnants Museum. I was told it used to be much more negative towards America. I can’t verify this, as I’ve only visited it that one time.

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