As Ngu and I have moved around several locations in this incredibly beautiful country, we’ve met so many interesting people. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how friendly most people are toward us. Other times, well….
Today we popped into a small shop looking for a bottle of water as we were walking through Hanoi. The proprietor was an elderly man; like most he was quiet and reserved at first. As I drank my water, we began a conversation through Ngu’s translation. I asked him where he was from originally and he told us he was born and had lived all of his life right here in Hanoi. With a laugh, he told us many things had changed over the years,not all of them good.
I asked if he had been in the city during the war with the Americans and he replied, “yes”. He told us life was very hard then and the people of the city would move around constantly because of the bombings
Many structures were destroyed during that time, he continued.
After awhile, I asked how he felt about seeing all these westerners come here in the last few years (there are quite a few Australian tourists, and even the occasional American). I wondered aloud if he had any issues with the people he was taught to hate as the enemy in the ’60s & ’70s coming now and walking around his city.
I have to admit his response startled me. “It doesn’t bother me. We are all just people, whether we live here or there. There is no reason to hate.”
Then with a grin he added, “it’s our own government I don’t like very much!”
What made this short interaction so insightful is what happened just an hour later. Ngu and I were at a busy shop, the kind of place that sells small souvenirs.
I noticed the woman and young guy behind the table look at me and begin to speak back and forth to each other. Normally I don’t let this kind of stuff bother me because it happens all the time in other cultures but it was obvious they were having a somewhat serious discussion. After a couple of minutes I asked Ngu what they were saying and he smiled and told me, “The woman said she thinks you look like one of those American pilots who has come back to see Vietnam.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that when the young guy (probably 17 or 18 years old) said in a defiant tone, “Why did you come? We released all of the Americans who were held prisoner here!”
I really didn’t know whether he was serious or not but it became obvious that in his mind they, the Socialists Republic of Vietnam, were the good guys in the war.
It was then that I remembered something from yesterday’s visit to Ho Loa prison (the infamous “HanoiHilton”)
Over and over again the propaganda of the displays in the prison gave evidence of the French colonialists inhumane treatment of Vietnamese prisoners in the years leading up to the 1950’s. The only mentions of American prisoners would consistently include a phrase to this effect: “The Americans were in temporary captivity or temporarily held”.
I realized that this teenaged boy had been indoctrinated throughout his school years with a very one-sided view of the Vietnam/American conflict and he didn’t mind one bit telling me about it. It also reminded me that a story doesn’t have to be true, it only has to be repeated enough times until most people will believe it.
How interesting that the old gentleman who had lived through the dirty, ugly experience of being in a fight for his life had chosen to forgive and move on. He certainly didn’t see any reason to waste one moment angry at another person from a far away country. He saw me more as just a valued traveler on the journey of life.
The young man, who had experienced none of this hardship, felt it important to set me straight on truth as he interpreted it.
Just goes to show there can be a vast difference between wisdom and knowledge, you know?
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7