Not sure I can label this Vietnam anymore, as we are in Seoul for 6 hours. We had the option of taking a bus tour of Inchon or Seoul, or finding the Korean Spa in the airport. The spa won. We had to go through customs and find the spa somewhere at street level. Then we spent 4 hours soaking, sleeping, cleaning up and sleeping again. Our plan had been to sleep on the flight from Saigon, but Rachelle could not, and I had a sick woman next to me who managed to kick me randomly between coughing bouts. Back through customs and onto the flight home. I watched “Into The Woods,” loved every minute of it, and slept the rest of the way.
I always come home with mixed desires – adventure or routine, the new or the familiar. One is neither easier nor more challenging than the other. I do know that the more I travel, the more I appreciate my need to connect to people who are different from me. I remember an afternoon in Madrid in 1978, sitting at a bull fight. (sounds very Hemmingway, don’t you think?) I did not want to be there, but before I left, I noticed a Middle-Eastern couple behind me. I turned around, found out they were Iraqi and we spent the next hour talking about the things that linked us. If I remember, they shared some of their food. I believe we all look for what connects us. It might seem that I spent a lot of time describing what we ate. And I did – but I believe that food is an expression of our culture, history, and upbringing. When we are in someone else’s home or country, sharing and showing appreciation for their food can be such a gracious and satisfying gesture. Learning to cook someone else’s cuisine means that we are deeply interested in their lives and traditions. Of course, there is also the obvious – it can be a most wonderful culinary experience.
There were moments in Vietnam when I felt unconnected, feeling more the burden of being the enemy. I wanted to tell people I protested the war. I was at UCLA, on Westwood Blvd, when the police came with teargas. But the truth is, I knew a Greek guy who worked at a restaurant on Westwood. He saw me and unlocked the door. I ducked in, and never got a whiff of the gas. There – I’ve put it writing. I was not willing to be gassed, or arrested, or hit. My point (aside from the UCLA story) is that travel allows me to grow and change in a way that I cannot in my comfortable surroundings at home.
My friend Trang suggested I read “The Sacred Willow, Four Generations of a Vietnamese Family.” I took it on my trip and it profoundly affected my experience in Vietnam. I hope I left there with more compassion for everyone involved, Ho Chi Minh and US vets included. Thank you, Trang.
Anyway, I had a great time traveling with Rachelle. It was lovely to see everyone respond to her open heart and free spirit. One of my favorite moments was just a few days into our trip. We were in Hanoi and she needed some dental adhesive. We actually found a little dental dispensary and she tried to explain what she needed. She kept saying “glue” louder and louder. I suggested that saying it louder was not going to help him understand. With a bit of pantomime, he finally got it and gestured that he did not have any. We laughed over that for days, and whenever we had trouble expressing ourselves, we just shouted “glue.”
I never expected to connect with so many foreigners in Vietnam. I hope and expect to see some of them in the future, in my country or theirs. Someday, I hope to return to Vietnam. To see places I missed on this trip, and to see the people I met. I leave you with a picture of Linh’s daughter. She is a delightful 18-month-old and I especially hope to see her and her family again.