Greetings to one and all,
I had rather hoped that my war posts had ended but they have not. Sorry to those who are sick and tired of the subject, just delete this email!
Our last day in Hanoi was spent at the Women’s Museum. I had tried to go to that during our first few days, but it was closed. It was extremely interesting to me, but also eye-opening, to say the least. The museum had a variety of exhibits (4 floors), there were photos of famous Vietnamese women who were scientists, economists, teachers, athletes, and so forth. The Communist Party has worked hard to document and pay tribute to achievement, as you would expect. There also was a floor dedicated to hand crafts, some very remarkable bamboo weaving and silk weaving, fabric arts, and that sort of thing. There was a floor dedicated to the ethnic minority women–full mannequins in traditional costumes. Many we had not seen before, many were from the south and so we have not run into them. Also I learned that there are ethnic Viet minorities, ethnic Cong minorities, two groups I have not seen mentioned at all anywhere. There are some minority groups who are nearly extinct and because they generally do not intermarry, will soon be so. One group has a mere 400 people left in a single village, near SaPa. We met a British tourist who had trekked there. The majority of the Vietnamese people are from the Kinh group, and that is what we refer to as Vietnamese today. I would be very curious to know how the Viet people and the Cong people fit into these populations, as linguistically, I would have expected the Vietnamese people to be of Viet origin. These things are nearly impossible to discover here at least.
But the real crux of the women’s museum was dedicated to the women who served during the Indochine War (French) and the American wars. Whew! Yes lots of propaganda. Aren’t all nations adicted to it? But truly chilling exhibits, so much so that I had to skip a few. The museum was nearly deserted when we arrived but when we were well into that particular floor, at least 50 students arrived, mid teens. Also several Vietnamese tour groups. They swarmed the floor and I sure did feel uncomfortable. No one made me feel that way, it is just that we are Americans and this floor was documenting the horrors of war. And frankly the horrors of war are universal. The photos of women capturing downed pilots in the north and of American GI’s tromping through the MeKong Delta were just as horrifying as images of captured women soldiers. The fake ID badges north Vietnamese spies used in US bases were chilling, the letters from young soldiers to their mothers in the north epitomized sadness. I hope to forget some of these images someday soon.
And to add to this assault of emotion, we have now arrived in the south. We are south of the DMZ in Hue. Hue is the site of a major battle during TET and images you may have of hand to and combat in the Citadel are from Hue. Hue is an ancient city and dynasties were centered here. At one point, it was the captital of Vietnam.
The south is very, very different than the north. Clearly many, many people here were supporters of the Americans and just as soldiers in the north wanted to talk to us, soldiers from the south do too. We have been ‘adopted’ by two men, one 53 and the other 64. Both have numerous family members in the US. We had coffee with them and they took us to a quieter hotel on their motorbikes. Sunday, they will pick us up and take us into the Hue countryside. The older man was a south Vietnamese Army soldier but not an officer and so was not imprisoned after the war. He has a pretty nasty injury (which I have seen, everyone wants to show us their injuries) just above his ankle. He is deeply indebted to the American army doctors, as when he was injured during TET in Hue, he was taken to the airbase (now the airport used by Vietnam Airlines that we arrived at). Doctors there did an outstanding job and there is no doubt that had he not seen our docs, he would have lost part of his leg. He also told me about a Vietnamese woman who was pregnant and had run to the base for protection during the assault, and how she was hemorraging. She and he arrived at roughly the same time and he found a doctor to help her. He was overwhelmed at the dignity and privacy the doctors afforded her and they saved her unborn infant. The younger man, the man who ‘found’ us has a brother who was a major in the south Vietnamese army. He was imprisoned for 8 years after the war, as were many officers. Once released, he was permitted to apply to leave and he did. He now is retired and lives in San Francisco. His two sisters married Americans some years after the war and left the country in the mid 80’s. One lives only a few blocks from the Twin Towers and saw it all on 9/11. The other lives in Seattle. I am sure as we get to know them, we will learn the other side.
Both men said that there were very hard times after ’75 but that things are pretty good now. Neither has ever been to the north and were very curious what it was like! For some reason that surprised me, but I think people who were from the south with American sympathies may not travel much.