Remembering Vietnam

A young girl offers to take me to the next village on the back of her motorbike. Just friendship, she says. This is the kind of thing they warned me about at my hostel in Saigon. They will start out saying it is free but then will ask for a lot of money later. Better not to cross the Mekong Delta by yourself, they told me. Some guys sitting around a table nearby give me a shot of rice wine and two pieces of watermelon. They don’t know her, but they tell me it is going to be ok. This is Vietnam, they say. And she comes back and we go and there is a dramatic jungle thunderstorm on the way, big leaves across my face and she really doesn’t ask for any money. I ask her are you sure, isn’t there anything I can give you? Maybe just a hug, she says. And that you remember Vietnam.

The next day I wander out to one of the small canals in the jungle. There is a certain kind of silence that’s louder than the wind in the palm trees. This is the first place in Vietnam I have really been able to “feel” the war . . . how could they fight in this heat, this stifling beauty. There is the feeling of waiting, endless waiting, soldiers with dirty faces crouched in the palm fronds holding rifles not coconuts. I can never fully digest the totally strange feeling of a unique place, a place that only belongs to the country it is in. I always feel I am not lingering as long as I should. At the moment I am there I long for the place with a kind of nostalgia, as if it were already a memory.

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