A final word on VIetnam

  • Author: Dolora Dossi
  • Date: Mar 28, 2014
  • Location: South Vietnam

Speed Blog: Last Hours in Vietnam


Dolora: I am weary of scooters. Scooters parked on sidewalks so you cannot walk on said sidewalks; scooters coming at you in crosswalks; scooters darting out of alleys nearly running into you; scooters using the wrong lane and turning into you; scooters driving on the sidewalks for blocks; scooters spewing exhaust on market/street food making it inedible; scooters just loud and everywhere.


Jim: I’m ready to go. It’s 10:30am in Saigon and I’m ready to leave behind the narrow alleys, the scooters, the scooters parked on sidewalks, the sameness of the shops, the hard workers all around me while I’m at leisure on my sabbatical year.


D: Why do people on the street ask if you want to buy knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses when you are wearing a nice pair of sunglasses? And why does the guy right behind the guy that I just said no to ask me if I want to buy his knock-off sunglasses?


J: I’ve been walking throughout the narrow alleys where families live their whole lives in shadows, and I think, How do you do it? How can you live without a hint of nature other than a stray cat and whatever else scuttles in the night, and maybe a sliver of blue sky that’s criss-crossed with wires.


D: It’s really tiring trying to find vegetarian food in Vietnam. This is not a nation of veggie eaters. Pork, beef, chicken, fish, bugs, dog.


J: Last night Liam and I sat down to eat our pizza in the park. A young man asked Liam to read aloud an English passage to him that he needed to know for a language test. It was a crazy complex selection about homo sapiens and brain size. Before too long, more friends had joined the young man and wanted to practice their English with Liam. They chatted, then Liam walked away with a group and played that Vietnamese kicking game with a heavy shuttlecock. He’s the most social person I know, that Liam. By the time we left an hour later, one of the boys wanted to adopt Liam and another planted a kiss on his cheek. That’s right: a real kiss.


D: There’s a certain level of discomfort I feel being in a country that my home country nearly destroyed. It will be a relief to not feel this.


J: While Liam was playing with the boys last night, one of the girlfriends sat on a bench alongside me and asked very thoughtful questions. What is culture? What’s more important, nature or nurture? How important is traveling in a child’s education? While chatting I noticed a lot of double-takes from the many people passing us by in the park, and I wondered if they thought this was one of those creepy situations we’d seen so often throughout Southeast Asia—an older whitey on a “date” with a young Asian woman. I told the woman this, and she said, “I don’t care. Let them think what they want to think.”


D: I am so glad I saw Hanoi and Halong Bay in muted colors, mist, and gray. It made Hanoi seem so much more foreign and unforgiving and the karsts in the bay ghostly and mysterious. It matches my experience of this country.


D: We went to a dance performance in Saigon called Ao. There were live musicians playing instruments that are unknown to me and the performers used only varying sizes of bamboo poles and rice baskets. It would take more brain power than I have at the moment to fully describe what they did. It was stark and energetic, powerful and playful. I was reminded several times of eurythmy performances I have seen at Sierra Waldorf School.


D: People openly pick their nose here. They dig their fingers up there, take out a boogie, roll it, play with it, and fling it. And I mean people who are about to make you some food, the guy you are sitting next to on the bus, everyone. It is really weird to be standing at a food stall waiting for your drink and having the young woman next to you nonchalantly fishing around for something in her nose. Another thing is that many men have very long nails, especially one pinky or thumbnail. I wonder if it is kept long for this purpose—to be able to scoop something out of the nose. Liam and I saw a thumbnail so long on our taxi driver that it began curling. They file it to a sharp point. It’s creepy.




Later: Dolora took Liam back to the hotel. He’s edgy, cranky. We have this unending tussle about keeping up with his journal. All year long he’s been a week or two behind the current place we’re visiting, so there he is at the Taj Mahal trying to recollect what he did in Dubai. Right now, rather than write about our adventures in Saigon last night, he’s back in the monastery in Dalat from days ago. He gets frustrated and I want him to feel frustrated, to feel from the inside that procrastination is an inefficient and unpleasant way to run a life. Still, it goes on, and when it goes on, he projects this frustration onto Dolora and me.


Ok, while Dolora’s off dealing with that mess, I’m here alone in a coffee shop for a final ten minutes in Saigon before hopping in a taxi for a plane that’ll take us to Singapore.


Random Vietnam:


I never came to love the place or the people or the culture. Sure, every day was full of rich experiences—from Ho’s tomb in Hanoi, to kayaking around the karsts in Halong, to setting a lantern onto the river in Hoi An, to riding the gondola over the sea at Nha Trang, to hiking into the mists in Dalat, to the war museum in Saigon—but seldom did I feel a shift in my breathing, a deep sigh of awe that would make me say, “You HAVE to visit Vietnam.”


The issue could be mine. I came to Vietnam freighted with the story of the war, as an American citizen from a country that did horrific things to this land and these people, the same things that arouse our moral outrage when we observe them in other countries. Maybe in coming to Vietnam I had to work my way through that story. Maybe coming to Vietnam was less about getting to know this new country and more about getting to know America, and myself.


The ghosts of the war were everywhere for me during this month. It was in the pages of Michael Herr’s book that I carried in my back pocket. It was in the 40-year-old foliage around the city of Hue—since everything before 1972 was wiped out. It was in the beggar without arms or legs, a 2nd-generation tragedy of the napalm which American B-52s dropped by the ocean-full. It was in the war museums in Hanoi and Saigon, in the Chinook helicopters on the lawns of parks.


So much more to say but time to go. Last word: My soul wants me to leave Vietnam behind. My soul wants to meet Singapore and Indonesia without guilt, with an optimism and wonder that are the hallmarks of America.






Dolora’s last notes on Vietnam


I agree with Jim in that I rarely felt awed or in some state of transcendent splendor here. I was very satisfied (to quote Stefan) with Hoi An, its beautiful lanterns and family friendly life, the good food and cycling, the experience of making rice paper at the organic farm, peddling through vast rice fields that were so fragrant, making silk lanterns with Liam, settling into a town for a number of days so that you knew your way around the streets.


And there is nothing I have seen on earth like Halong Bay. I felt like an explorer or pirate or like I was in a movie filming in this exotic location. It did not feel like real life, but some parallel planet where things are familiar but slightly off what you know. We had such a spectacular boat ride and that’s where we met Evy and Matan who will be our friends for a long time.


I am not sad to leave. I will not miss the difficulty of finding food we can eat or wondering what that animal was sitting on a table all skinned and parboiled. Being here has left no doubt why the Americans had to evacuate and get out of this place, why they “lost” the war. There is a toughness, a resoluteness, an iciness, a take no prisoners feel that hangs over the air. One of the fatiguing things about world travel is wondering if the host culture is treating you kindly simply because you represent cash or if they genuinely have curiosity or a fondness for the foreigner. When service people are congenial here, it is a little off-putting while at the same time being comforting. I can’t say that the Vietnamese are not nice or helpful, nor can I say that we met many who seemed to care one wit about us. I won’t miss anything here. That is weird.









  1. Joe Garcia

    I agree with Katie. The speed blogs are my favorites. Having all of you give your thoughts are most enjoyable

  2. Katie

    Beloved Toners, I’ve still been following along, every day, every blog and I love it so so much. I just wanted to say, I love when you do speed blogs. It’s like a little montage of thoughts and snapshots. Your two, sometimes three, voices all pitching in. Love it, love you guys

  3. Lainie

    Laughed out loud about the overnight to Saigon on the bus: very, very funny.

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