Forty years ago today, Saigon fell.
Several people have asked us whether the Vietnamese hate Americans because of the war. The short answer is no. Not once have we felt any prejudice towards Americans. Not once has anyone said anything to us that could possibly be perceived as derogatory. As of 2014, 87% of the Vietnamese population was under the age of 54. Which means that the vast majority of the population is too young to even remember the war. And as an outsider looking in, it seems to us that the current population is far more interested in making money than worrying about a war that ended long ago.
In fact, although today is a public holiday in Vietnam, there was virtually no public recognition of the day. There was a military parade in Saigon and a short fireworks show in Hanoi (we didn’t go because it was rainy, but I have to say it didn’t sound all that impressive). As far as we can tell, that was the extent of the recognition.
Our day in the countryside yesterday seemed to reinforce our view of how the Vietnamese feel about Americans. When we first arrived in Hanoi, we reached out to our tour guide from four years ago and invited him to join us for a drink — he was a great guide and he really clicked with Robert (and loved to talk about — and rub — Robert’s “Buddha belly”…). Well, after drinks, he invited us to his house in the country for lunch the next day. We were flabbergasted (although happily so). The next day, he and his brother picked us up on their scooters and drove us an hour out of Hanoi where we met our guide’s family: his wife and infant son, his father (who, by the way, had been in the military during the war and seemed very happy to meet us), his elderly aunt, his brother, his sister-in-law and his nephew. He cooked us a huge lunch including spring rolls, rice, pork, chicken, tofu and soup. He also showed us his family farm where they raise bananas, fish and (sadly) dogs. It was a wonderful day. And his aunt was the most amazing woman ever. She didn’t speak a word of English, but she sure could make herself understood — although what she wanted us to know is that we could go upstairs and make a baby since we didn’t have one! She insisted that we had to stop by her house for a cup of tea and, when it was time to go, she invited us to spend the afternoon at her house (upstairs, “napping”) and have dinner with her that night. When we regretfully declined, she held my hand and walked us out to the scooters. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience we will never forget. I sure hope someday a member of our guide’s family can visit us in our home and we can repay the favor.
Getting to meet your friend’s family is something you would never read or hear about in a guidebook. What an amazing experience!