In Vietnam, they call it “the American War.” Tonight 1300 teachers, mostly American, Canadian, British and Australian ex-pats came together for a reception at the Reunification Palace. This building is next door to the former US Embassy, the bunker atop which sat the infamous helipad where the last chopper took off in April of 1975. The building is familiar to those of us who used to look forward to reading Life Magazine every week — those of us who remember Life Magazine.
First, I couldn’t believe I was there, second I couldn’t believe that these beautiful people who were considered to be enemies for so long, were welcoming us with such warm smiles and elegant service. “White Guilt” is a phrase tossed about at poetry readings back home, but try carrying it through a country where we killed 4-5million folks over 19 years just a generation ago. Where some of the victims of Agent Orange and Napalm beg on the streets. Yeah. Heavy.
As we approached the building the Palace groungs were a bit off putting with spiked fences and uniformed guards, but as we turned our eyes on the wide staircase we saw it was banked on both sides with at least 50 wait staff, dressed in white, holding trays of drinks. A (what would you call it?) combo of Vietnamese musicians were playing meserizing, lyrical stringed instruments, luring us in like Sirens. It was an unbelievable and healing experience to be walking and nodding at folks in the building that was once war central. An unbelieveable meal was stacked at dozens of food stations, local and international fare of the highest quality. Thoughts of old wars disappeared as the teachers mingled. At this event, the question, “where you from” is a two parter…I’m from Wisconsin, based now in Singapore, or from Oregon, now in Bali, just relocated from Hong Kong. The night was magical.
Michael and I lingered in the halls that Nixon and Kissinger had used to meet with Diem, chatting, munching on everything from curried noodles to ice cream. As we were leaving, I noticed a couple of tanks parked on the front lawn to the left of the broad circular drive, left there in commemoration of the arrival of the troops we know in the west as the Viet Cong and what is termed here to be Army of Patriots. Outside the spiked walls the city zoomed through the night toward tomorrow. The Vietnamese people have obviously moved on, on motor scooters, bicycles and in honking taxicabs. The city is thriving and throbbing with possibilities. Like at home, the young people are much more interested in the latest movies and fashion that in old war stories. Still, I have trouble getting my arms around the irony that the war that caused such division at home, ultimately brought reunification here. Yes, communist red star flag flies over the building, but there is no boot on anyone’s back that I can tell. Everyone is moving too fast toward the future.