Vietnam, Oh Vietnam, why has thou forsaken me?
I'm in Vietnam where the traveler's road is easy because the country actually has paved roads but the people are "hard." I now understand how the Vietnamese kick the omni-potent U.S.A.'s ass in the "American War" (the Vietnamese term for the Vietnam war) because these are some "blunt" folks up in here.
However, I don't want to paint a picture of misery and hardship throughout my travels because I've shopped till I drop at the tailors in Hoi An, viewed anti-American war propaganda in Saigon, saw a lovely sunset in the Mekong delta city of Can Tho, got lost in the Hue's Imperial City, laid on the beach in Nha Trang, and visited the "crazy house" and the "crazy monk in Da Lat.
But I've also been laughed at and made fun of by local people as I walked the streets of Vietnamese towns. And I must admit that the laughter and heckling shocked me into painful memories of my adolescent years which I've been so happy to escape. I've also realized that there is a big disconnect between the image that I have of myself and the image that people see when they look at me. Basically, I don't feel my size at all. I'm a big girl but I don't feel it. I feel strong and powerful not gluttonous and out of control. I feel like a girl who can run a 5 kilometer marathon and trek in the jungles. However, Vietnamese people expect me to eat them out of the restaurant (which never happens since I can barely make myself eat 3 meals a day).
I've found my travels in the land of Uncle Ho to be challenging in an emotional way. I've been proud of the fact that I haven't shouted or lashed out at anyone (other travelers have) nor have I allowed myself to wish bad things on people or cry. I'm trying to view my time in 'Nam as a great learning experience. I know this may be the beginning of people laughing or making fun of me because my Black skin, large body, and short hair make me a very unusual sight in their land.
The positive side of my traveler's confession has been the weird openness some Vietnamese people have extended to me. One man, told me to sit down and listen to him, after he learned I was American."In 1967, I was with the Americans, with the soul brothers," he told me in a quiet voice. It took me awhile to register that this man had fought against the Viet Cong in the American War with African-American soldiers. A woman running a stall at the Hoi An market didn't bat an eye when she saw me because I was the "same, same" as her sister's husband. And my favorite moment so far in Vietnam has been sharing drinks, chatting, and taking photos with Loan and Kim, two Vietnamese university students, who picked me up at the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Saigon. They also made sure I got a fare price from the motorcycle drivers.
I've recently arrived in Hanoi which could win me over with its French architecture, beauteous Ha Long Bay, and can't be bothered to bat an eye locals. I'm hoping the Vietnamese have a few more "hard" core tricks up their sleeve to seduce me once again.
Please note I think Vietnam is a beautiful country and a definite stop on any interested traveler's itinerary. However, I think the country may be easier to travel in a pair or group.