Reflecting on Vietnam
Several times since we've gotten back, I've been asked how our trip went and how I liked Vietnam.
Not usually at a loss for words, I've struggled to find the way to completely convey my feelings for our trip. Each time I've been asked, I've sat for a moment not quite sure where to start, and even now I'm a bit at a loss.
To those who know me well, I know this news is somewhat shocking. I usually have something to say, sometimes sarcastic or, when I'm on my toes, witty and not necessarily on topic but I usually come up with something.
We had a great time in Vietnam. Halong Bay was amazingly beautiful and Hanoi was pretty fantastic but there was another aspect to my experience and, while I feel compelled to share, I hate to get all serious on anyone.
Lord knows, when we ask someone how their vacation was, we're not really looking for an "it changed my life and let's sit for 20 minutes so I can tell you how." Most people, myself included are waiting for the "it was awesome, you have to go some time!"
So, how do I begin to explain how I feel about this trip, without getting overly deep and boring you senseless?
Well, let's start with the "it was awesome and you really have to go some day" because, well...it was and, if you can, you should!
I already posted about Halong Bay here and I don't even know where to begin describing Hanoi other than it's just nuts. You must walk (or rickshaw) through the Old Quarter's "36 Streets", which are, for lack of a better word, chaotic with all the people, motorcycles, bikes, stores, etc and the French Quarter with it's beautiful architecture, opera house and high end shopping, including stores like Gucci. To me, Hanoi felt like two cities that were smashed into one, with people and motorcycles everywhere you turn. Maybe the craziness is exactly what makes Hanoi feel so exciting. Everywhere you look there is something new to see and explore; it's a feast for the eyes.
On the other hand, the city, in general, is not what I would consider beautiful. It looks cramped, tired and run down. The building fronts are dirty and decaying and the state of the electrical work is down right scary with wires absolutely EVERYWHERE! On top of the electrical poles are loud speakers that blast government propaganda every morning, a reminder that Communism is alive and well in Vietnam.
Our guide mentioned on multiple occasions that Hanoi had been growing very steadily and that there was a lot of new construction going on. I was actually embarrassed because I couldn't see it. Perhaps it was because I had never been to Hanoi before, or Vietnam for that matter, and didn't have any frame of reference for how far the city had come, but I couldn't really tell what was old and what was new.
On our way to Halong Bay we drove through the beautiful countryside for hours and passed farm after farm. Instead of seeing John Deere tractors plowing or irrigation systems watering the crops, like we would in North America, we saw fields spotted with farmers in their traditional pointed hats, hunched over with hoes, working the land by hand or scooping water onto their fields with baskets.
How do you come to terms with the fact that on one side of the world they have farming down to a mechanized science and here, a plane ride away, they are still doing the back breaking work by hand?
I'm not really sure. I guess you just become aware and appreciate the differences.
One of the things we wanted out of this vacation, besides having a good time as a family, was to really open the boys' eyes about what life was like in most of Asia. We have lived such a blessed life in Montreal and Singapore that they really had no idea what reality is like for most of the world. It's difficult for them to imagine anything else because this lifestyle is all they know and it's all their friends know. Singapore, in the middle of Southeast Asia, is modern and amazingly western but it's definitely not a fair representation of most of the region. I remember when I first came to visit, more than one person here told me that Singapore was more like Asia "light." While an amusing take on the city, it's actually pretty accurate.
Spending 5 days in Vietnam got the boys' attention.
They saw the farmers working in the fields. They saw the little villages with whole streets engulfed in black coal dust from the local mines. They saw the families of 3, 4 and 5 all riding on one motorcycle with the babies just wedged in between the adults. They saw the Communist propaganda banners hung all over the city. They saw the women waiting on the side walks, ready with their portable burners to make lunch or dinner for anyone walking by. They saw the dark narrow alleys that led to tiny cramped rooms that housed 15-20 people.
However, it's a slow process. We've been back now for a few weeks and they've slipped back into their daily schedule without much thought. Vietnam feels like a far away place and I know it will take a few more trips to other areas around Singapore for the boys to be truly conscious of the fact that the working and living conditions in Vietnam are not unique. It's definitely a start though.
So, there you have it. Vietnam was amazing, eye opening, humbling, magnificent, a reality check and so much more.
Would I go back?
Would I recommend going?
A resounding yes.
Until next time!