Saturday October 21, 2006 | 04:45:23 am 401 words, 118 views

I’m sitting on a bench by the big lake in downtown Hanoi, near where the old quarter starts, taking occasional, slow pulls from a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. The lake is green, but that’s probably because of all the trees around its edges; most lakes and streams I’ve seen in Viet Nam are brown, the color of clay.

A steady stream of traffic speeds by behind, somehow miraculously avoiding a 1,000-scooter pileup. The noise starts to sound like the constant chirping of crickets or something after a while; you don’t even notice it. In front of me is a young couple sitting at the edge of the water, intertwined like eels.

On the bench to the right, two elderly Vietnamese women stop and sit. They take their hats off, look and me and laugh and say “hello” in unison. On the bench to my left are two male teenagers, making glances at me that I interpret as furtive. The little one would probably serve as the distraction. The big, tall one might require some work.

A Canadian or American couple walk by on the wide, clean sidewalk, carting a blond, curly-haired baby who sits high above her father in some sort of backpack contraption. The Vietnamese stare openly up at the curly-haired baby, riding so high in the air. They smile and occasionally make the universal sound all women make at cute babies.

A block away is a teeming mass of people, but not too many people to bother me here. After an hour or so, I’ve worked up enough nerve to enter the shopping district. It’s so crowded, it’s like entering solid matter, a single molecule entering a larger organism made up of similar molecules.

On my way back, a young Vietnamese woman tries to sell me some t-shirts and I make the mistake of trying to barter with her. I’ve always hated bartering. She ducks inside somewhere to get more shirts. I think I’ve shaken her, but when I get back to the café that marks a sort of border, and push the elevator button, she comes running up breathlessly” “Sir! Sir!…”

The security guard chases her away and I escape upstairs and order two strawberry milkshakes. I’m feeling guilty and sweating like a race horse.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Hemingway-esque vignette of Hanoi street life.

Viet Nam: is it anti-American to go there for golf?

Friday October 27, 2006 | 02:32:14 pm 132 words, 50 views

Viet Nam has some excellent golf courses, I was surprised to learn. Not a lot of them. In fact, only a handful. But the ones that are there, scattered across the country, are definitely worth playing.

Here is the larger question: Is it unpatriotic to visit Viet Nam as a tourist? Tourism is skyrocketing in the country, many visitors being American. Is it anti-American to contribute to the economy of the country we were once at war with?

I’ve gotten some negative feedback already for visiting the country. I don’t agree with it, though I can understand the feeling.

I didn’t meet a single Vietnamese who was still bitter about what they call the American War, even those who fought in it, for both sides by the way.

Forgive, but not forget?


Viet Nam golf: leave the bomb craters

Monday October 16, 2006 | 05:09:04 pm 177 words, 198 views

My first experience playing golf in Viet Nam was as the Viet Nam Golf and Country Club, where years ago they covered up the bomb craters left from the war.

In some ways, that’s typical of the way the Vietnamese look at the war, and in some ways atypical. The Vietnamese are pretty open about the war. You can talk to them about it, if you can break through the language barrier.

One early morning on the beach in Pham Thiet, we struck up a conversation with an avuncular Vietnamese who was an interpreter for the U.S. military during the war. Those wounds have healed, he said: we’re basically just all getting older now.

Those bomb craters that were left at the golf and country club had signs: “Traces of war.” Tourists eat that kind of stuff up, and Viet Nam is in the business of attracting tourists these days, so I’m surprised and a little disappointed they covered them up. Historical significance aside, I’ve never got up-and-down from a bomb crater.