Visiting Vietnam – Cảm ơn



Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb


So much for weekly posting. First semester finals and a family vacation put the kibosh on blogging. That’s how it goes when you’re a mom. Finals come to town and we don sheriff badges, tutor hats, snack provider uniforms and crisis counselor faces. The day after finals we all deserve a break. Our family settled on board a Korean Air Airbus for a long-awaited trek to Southeast Asia. Maintenance issues added a few more hours to the wait, causing us to miss our connection. That’s travel. It didn’t ruin our trip. Actually, the unplanned overnight stay at the Airport Hyatt Seoul gave me an excuse to place an extra thumbtack on my World map.
After another flight we landed at our destination: Hanoi, Vietnam. It was surreal; cows plowing fields near the airport not far from where large corporations have erected sprawling, modern factories. The fanciful French architecture, beside skinny, tall Vietnamese homes, wedged beside Soviet-era no-nonsense homes gave us a quick history lesson about the various influences swirling around Hanoi. When we passed by Truc Bach Lake I asked about an unusual sculpture. Turned out to be a monument to John McCain’s capture. In 1967 he’d parachuted into the lake after the North Viets shot down his plane. Like I said, surreal.
I grew up during the Vietnam War and was not sure what to expect from the Vietnamese. What I learned is that they are gracious, lovely people. And they are tired of fighting. Vietnamese have a saying: “You can live without a father, but you can’t live without a mother.” To them, Mom’s are #1. Our local guide, Tam, credits his mom and dad with making sacrifices so he could attend college. After the Vietnam War, the North Viets sent Tam’s father to a re-education camp and when he returned, the government prevented him from running his business. Soon, his dad’s health began to fail. Tam’s mom sold the small piece of land they owned so she could send Tam to school.


I expected to see men like Tam’s father who had fought in the war. Unfortunately, the healthcare system is not great and life expectancy in Vietnam is about 65, tops. I didn’t meet any of their vets, though I saw a few of them with missing limbs on the streets of Saigon and it was a sad sight. We also crawled through part of the Cu Chi Tunnels and this too, made me sad reminding me of the senseless loss of life. The VC lived underground for as long as a month at a time. They had medical facilities and sleeping quarters, as deep as three stories beneath the ground. They also had booby traps and rifle peep-holes affording them deadly aim at American soldiers. Over 58,000 American soldiers died during the course of the war. Millions of Vietnamese died.


Dark, cramped and spooky

Dark, cramped and spooky


But we’re talking more than forty years ago. God Bless Bill Clinton for having the insight in 1996 to lift sanctions and improve lives in Vietnam. They’re doing business with Americans, Japanese and others. Every city is bustling with motorbikes and mopeds, everyone moving, honking and in a hurry to get someplace else. There’s a paved road system and we rode our bikes over miles and miles of it, some smooth, a lot of it bum-achingly bumpy.


Slow down to see the world on a bike

Slow down to see the world on a bike


Vietnam remains a one party country, but this is not Communism like you imagine it despite red and yellow star flags waving in front of Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. “Today we look forward. We have compulsory education up until the sixth grade,” said Tam. Tam admits most cannot afford to go to high school and college.


As we biked through the backroads of Hue, Hoi An and Saigon, hordes of children looked up from playing and ran out to greet us. Waving and shouting “Hello!” and “What’s your name?” I smiled, high-fived but was secretly disappointed they weren’t in school.


On the plane ride home, I realized my High School kid had a few revelations of us own when he said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually looking forward to going back to school.”

viet child


As always, it’s the people of a place that leave a lasting impression. To those Vietnamese who waved hello, offered help and sold us trinkets and food, I say thank you – Cảm ơn.

Author Description

Cynthia Baseman

Cynthia Baseman is the author of 'Love, Mom: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Hope.' She writes about motherhood, the environment and education.

There are 8 comments. Add yours

  1. 18th January 2014 | Christina Simon says: Reply
    Very cool pics and detailing of your amazing trip. Thanks for sharing!
  2. 15th January 2014 | Jordan says: Reply
    Sounds like a really amazing trip. I cannot believe how narrow that entrance to the tunnel is. I would not be able to muster the courage to go down there. And yes, gotta love President Clinton. Such a smart man. Where will your next trip be?
    • 16th January 2014 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      If my boys hadn't shamed me into squeezing down that hole, I'd have taken a pass for sure. Not sure where to plan the next stop. Patagonia? Nashville? There's so many places near and far I'd like to visit. Suggestions??
  3. 14th January 2014 | mamacita says: Reply
    What a memorable trip with my beautiful Baseman family. I loved Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand (Bangkok). It was exciting and historically informative. I can't wait for the next adventure.
  4. 13th January 2014 | Michael Vincent says: Reply
    Once again.. Good stuff Cynthia…….
  5. 12th January 2014 | Hayley says: Reply
    What an amazing experience for you and your family. So impressed you all were able to tour on bikes and keep us posted as to how long the feeling about wanting to get back to school lasts with high school kid!
  6. 12th January 2014 | Jim bennett says: Reply
    Different Vietnam than the one I remember. I am happy that things are better there And that you had a pleasant/safe visit
    • 13th January 2014 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Thanks Bennett! If you ever have the chance/desire to return, I think you'd be amazed at the changes. It is a long way for us to travel, though. I'm just getting rid of jet lag and it's been a week and a half.

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