Chuc Mung Nam Moi is Vietnamese for Happy New Year! Today is the 1st day of the new year and our last full day in Vietnam. The bright side of hurting my ankle was the ability to convince Alex to chill out in Vietnam for 1 more day before having to hoof it with our packs across the Vietnam-Laos border. Like Lampang, I was glad there was not a write-up in the Lonely Planet, Alex & I were the only Westerners. How can you tell a place is not on the backpacker trail? You feel like royalty. Everyone we passed was eager to serve, wave and shout hellos. All day I was smiling and waving to others like I was the Queen of England.
Alex & I trekked out to the outdoor market and bus station. To make up for being such a dick last night, Alex bargained hard for to buy a beret for my father. This was admirable given I’ve been the negotiator.who knows the numbers in Vietnamese while Alex has not learned any but is the master at miming. On one hand I was proud of Alex for his successful transaction. On the other, I was annoyed. Why the hell did I bust my butt learning basics of the language the last month if someone could just pantomime the same transaction? The reason: I am my father’s daughter and share his love of learning new languages.
At the bus station, we had an audience watching us we bought a bus ticket to the border. An enthusiastic man tried to assist us by typing information on his cell phone for me to read that did not help nor make any sense, but I told him “Cam on”, thank you, anyway. I never tire of interacting with friendly and curious locals always makes me smile.
Having not had dinner the previous evening, I was starving. The first place we checked out for lunch, the owner’s kids had to wake the guy up. It was already past noon. Obviously, the man was hangover from celebrating last night and perhaps still drunk. He showed us his menu by showing us in one hand what looked to be a dog paw and in the other a chicken claw. The look in his glassy eyes showed that he was looking for a dramatic reaction. We smiled, laughed and moved on. Even though Alex & I are adventurous eaters, neither of us wanted to try to eat a furry fido.
Next we passed a rotisserie of a goat the size of a great dane. Finally, we found a restaurant nearby that served pho heo (pig). As I ate, I watched a cat and a dog hang out and search for scraps together looking down at them I said, “Run! You may be on the menu tomorrow!”
The afternoon was filled with wandering the streets and meeting new friends. Kids shook our hands and asked our names. Looking at the way the city was designed, it was obvious that the reconstruction after the war was modeled after the Soviet and East German ideas of town planning. The buildings either looked like mini-cathedrals with cupola-like roofs or were boring tall cement block buildings. Most looked like the former, the grandeur made me wonder where the prosperity was coming from.
We passed countless shops selling beautiful carved wooden furniture and carvings of animals for sale. The most common carving was of the Phoenix, 1 of the animals that aptly represents Vietnam. Like the mythical animal, Vietnam was risen from the ashes of every war to be reborn.
I’m glad to spend our last day here in Vinh. Even though we can see some of the scars from the American War, it was still unscathed from tourism. We got to enjoy Vietnam without the hassle from touts and vendors to “buy something”. Everyone who approached did so out of curiosity without seeing us as walking dollars & dongs except for in the market of course.
Even though I was disappointed to not have a chance to explore the rugged and mountainous region of the northwest, I am glad to have unfinished business to bring me back to this beautiful country.
Vietnam to me embodies the concept of yin and yang. Beautiful scenery shares its space with trash. Old bent over ladies carrying baskets past modern fashion boutiques. Chaotic traffic gives way to a feeling of order. A smile transforms a time-battered face. Scooters & buses on the highways zip pass fields of rice paddies being harvested without machines.
Not only has my journey through Vietnam been geographical, it has been emotional. It started out rough with the negative feelings from the Vietnam/American War. Now I am leaving with the feeling of peace. It makes sense for me to have these opposing feelings. Without knowing the opposing force, how can you truly appreciate something? Without the knowledge of conflict how can you know peace? The same place where it is hard to imagine and comprehend the atrocities that my county men inflicted on many innocent people has also made me more patriotic. The interactions I had with locals helped me to realize all the benefits I had as an American growing up I took for granted.
I am thankful for both the highs and lows experienced over the past 30 days in Vietnam and past 3 months in Southeast Asia. I am happy to be discovering new places and observing how it is changing me in the way I am looking at life. In a way, I feel like I am turning into a Phoenix and being reborn. Today starts a new year. Tomorrow is a new country. My ankle is feeling better. I am ready to turn the page to a new chapter and adventure.