Monday, March 22, 2010

I Left my Heart in Southeast Asia

    Let’s backtrack a little-time travel if you will-back a few weeks to Vietnam.  The water is brown, palm trees are everywhere and for the first time I stepped out into port and instantly thought ‘I’m gonna like it here’.
    When I left the ship I expected to walk into a swampland, one that still had footprints of soldiers and was filled with Vietnamese that hated Americans.  To my surprise Ho Chi Minh City was a city that looked like a European twist on an Asian country and was filled with friendly, English speaking people.  People everywhere were excited to talk to Americans, practice their English, and try to get you to ride on their motorbikes.  The motorcycle thing really threw me off-it really is their main (seriously main) source of transportation.  My personal favorite image was while I was passing by a primary school as the children were getting let out.  Just as I waited outside my middle school after play rehearsal waiting for a ride from my Mom or Dad, the children were all crowded outside the front doors waiting for their parents.  But instead of the line of SUV’s and minivans there was a parking lot filled with moms on motorbikes.  It was incredible.  They were swarming-the motorbikes swarm every street.  Another personal favorite image of mine is the full family motorbike.  I searched to find the maximum number of people I could see on a motorbike—Five—one being a small child, two older children, a mom and a dad—So good.
    I don’t like motorcycles.  In the U.S. they are a death sentence—too many people, too many cars.  But here, it is a culture, a way of life, and a luxury.  Our Dean, Loren Crabtree, explained to us before we left that Vietnam was in their motorcycle stage.  Meaning that thirty years ago the Vietnamese were all riding bicycles-not really a developed enough country yet, but as time has progressed their status is improving and moving closer to a fuller more westernized society but not quite yet at SUV status, so motorcycle it is.  I thought Crabtree was using it as a metaphor for the political and social situations in Vietnam-and he was-but I had no idea how important the motorcycles really were to the culture there.
    I much more expected the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese call it, the American War to be a huge part of their culture-but instead it was something that has passed by, and a topic that I had not discussed with anyone outside of the war remnants museum.
    I had a trip on the first day to the war remnants museum and to visit a UPI photographer.  It was unbelievable to see these pictures and hear the stories that actually went along with the pictures too.  The photographer showed us his work and with almost every photo he knew the background of that moment.  He could tell us that in the picture where the Vietnamese woman is crouched down in front of a helicopter with her hand on her forehead, that the woman had just lost her husband, her children, and her land-she had nothing.  I couldn’t believe he could remember all the stories, the dates, the faces.  This was thirty years ago and it was all he had left from those years.  After the war the Vietnamese government raided his house because he was a photographer for the U.S.  He fled the states but in order to salvage what he had spent his life working toward he had to bury his pictures underground.  Dozens of photos that we looked at were discolored and worn down from the dirt that was left permanently stained on them.  It was sad to see his life work put into something that went unappreciated and buried for years.  Today his work was displayed in the war remnants museum.  Meeting him before going to the museum really brought into perspective how many people were affected by the war.  The sights that were seen by soldiers, locals, and photographers were gruesome.  I had never before seen even a picture of a person carrying skin by its head.  That picture is sure to haunt me for the rest of my life.  Another prime example of why I don’t believe in war.
     I will say that even though I find acts of war disgusting I still appreciate the soldiers—on both sides.  There is a faith in military men that I can always admire.  The pictures in the museum showed the passion behind their eyes.  I respect that a person can listen to an order and perform for their country.
     I guess I really just don’t believe in countries.
    --I don’t believe in sides.

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