Every day we say “we’re a long way from home” and “THIS is really exotic.” Every day we give thanks for all the blessings of our life at home and our life of incredible privilege on this ship. Every day we pray for the people whose countries we visit. And every day we seem to be in an even more far away place. Chan May, Viet Nam is no exception. It was odd to sail into that (very primitive) port; we had left Hong Kong with Cartier and Bulgari in the Ocean Terminal beside the ship - and the next land beneath our feet was sand on Viet Nam’s shore. Some of the ship’s passengers had last been here as armed forces and their return brought back hard memories.
We drove to Hue on Highway #1, a narrow 1000 mile long road filled with water buffalo and motor bikes and dotted with one room concrete houses. Our perceptive and educated guide Jo noted that the residents are fortunate to have these houses as their former dwellings were bamboo and flood prone. Many of the motor bike drivers wore helmets and large face masks - in the high heat and humidity. In Hue we visited the Imperial Palace, a rather pathetic place under restoration, but even restored it is not going to be a great tourist attraction. Odd how this communist country is proud of its former palace and eager to show it off. Also odd is how this country so ravaged by the war displays hundreds of rifles on a parade ground and features plastic tanks and guns in its toy stalls. Jo says the military focus is not about war but about power. And the difference is???
Next stop was at An Quong Pagoda where Buddhist monks wander and a car is enshrined in a little “chapel.” This Austin was driven to Saigon in 1963 by Thieh Quang Dúc who then got out of it, got into lotus position, and immolated himself to protest government discrimination against religion (Buddhism). So add another odd thing - the communist government approves a pro-religious relic.
After lunch at a hotel where “restaurant services = Hue cuisine for weeding, engage, and party”, we went in a dragon boat down the Perfume River, and walked through a large market where very odd meats were on display and vendors were napping beside them (tired after early morning fishing). A visit to another emperor’s mausoleum completed the day.
Our strongest impressions were how the Vietnam War destroyed a land and a way of life for its people - for a purpose that is barely memorable - and the sad loss of the lives of all the soldiers who fought here. Oh my, oh my, Viet Nam is poor and still filled with land mines. And yet the people are filled with hope - and they see that their lives are improving and most astounding of all, they don’t seem to be hostile or resentful toward the US. They are seemingly focussed on the future and not haunted by the past. But every once in a while we catch a glimpse of hidden anger - like a certain tone of voice while saying things like, “Excuse me for calling it the American War, but that’s what it was.”