Hitchhiking Vietnam
life in vietnam
The Vietnam War
Contrary to what you will find in the majority of public libraries and bookstore shelves, Vietnam's history did not begin with the incident in the Tonkinese gulf. Their national symbol is not barbed wire. Their most esteemed historians are not 19-year-old American soldiers living in trenches.

Click here if you are looking for facts about the Vietnam War.

"Word spread that I spoke Vietnamese and the conductor soon called me to the front and cleared a space for me. He asked me where I was from and laughed maniacally at my response, then clapped a heavy hand on my shoulder to keep me in place.

"Before, I VeeCee!" He said in pidgin Vietnamese, loudly enough to include several rows of openly eavesdropping passengers. "I kill two Americans in war. Bang Bang!" He laughed again, cocked an imaginary trigger and fired twice. Before I could react he reached into a plastic bag, pulled out a fresh baguette and tore it in half. "Different now," he said, "Welcome back!" and handed me a piece. I took it with numb fingers. He settled down beside me, munching on his bread, and regaled me with stories of his years in the jungle, of carrying his ration of rice in a tubular sock, the feast when a hapless village cow stepped on a hidden mine and the famine that followed.

When he heard that we had no clear destination in mind for the night he chose a picturesque village and insisted that the bus driver take us directly to the guesthouse door. He wasn't trying to make up for the two dead soldiers he had once had in his gun sights; his own family had lost three sons and he still carried heavy shrapnel scars in his elbow and calf. For him the war was over, its sorrows laid to rest, and he was ready to move on."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam

Some unusual reactions...
They say they won the war and lost the peace

They love their Uncle Ho but understand that his policies didn't work

They want capitalism back. (America number 1! Welcome back!)

They believe they made the same mistake in Cambodia that we made in Vietnam

Their government is imposed - they have no say. They think we must be in the same position, so they can criticize the American government while holding the people blameless.

They understand that US soldiers didn't want to be here - they were as much victims as the average Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese have fought five major conflicts in the last fifty years - French, American, Cambodian, Laotian, Chinese. Many families had sons and daughters fighting on both sides of the war. This was the only way they could "purchase" their freedom - from the south Vietnamese army by day and the VC by night.

I don't I really began to understand the war until I heard the story of my guide and friend Tam...

"The train conductor came by on patrol and ordered me sharply to close the window grate. Just as he was leaving he turned and asked, "Sprechen Sie Deutch?" When I answered yes he returned with two cups of coffee and another stool, and sat down for a chat.

His name was Pham, and he had spent six years in East Berlin, learning to weld pipes and work with iron. He spoke a soupy, soft-edged and lyrical German that must have raised the neck-hairs of his stiff-tongued hosts in the Fatherland. He carried an ugly scar on his leg from shrapnel that had left him with a permanent, shuffling limp. Both he and his father had spent four years on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and fought against three uncles who had chosen the south. The losers had migrated to Munich and Los Angeles, and he had disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. As the years passed their ideological differences faded away but the physical ones loomed taller as the family tried to reunite itself across the impenetrable Berlin Wall. His dream of visiting them had faded with a thirty dollar monthly salary that couldn't begin to cover the airfare, let alone the four-thousand-dollar bond required for an overseas trip. "And for this," he shrugged, his laughter gone, "we fought a war."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam
Back to "Life in Vietnam"