I can be cute and say that the American dollar still has some value in Vietnam. Many meals cost $2 and the hotel room is $15 for two persons per night. (And this includes breakfast.)
Vietnam is a safe country—the nearest things to terrorists are aggressive street vendors selling fruits, books and post cards. I thrive on the irony of being in a wildly capitalist country that flies the hammer and sickle over the industrial parks of Fortune 500 industrial parks.
On a practical level, it is warm and humid in Vietnam and cold and damp in Chicago. Plus, I have enough frequent flyer miles from United Airlines to make the flight free.
It was not difficult to persuade Tim to leave behind his Web-developing job and his wife with the promise of a guided tour of Vietnam. (He is going to probably kill me the first time I get lost and confused. No he won’t, he is a committed pacifist and will merely grumble.)
Tim is a high-tech genius and fantastic photographer and can help me post blogs and take pictures. (OK, compared to me, everybody is a high-tech genius.) From previous travels together he knows how to tune out my endless commentaries on life and my high anxiety about getting to airports and train stations on time.
This is a vacation. Our planned itinerary—explore the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City, the old imperial city of Hue, then Hanoi with side trips to Ha Long Bay and native villages near the Chinese border—is not dissimilar to that taken by college students. And if we were willing to add a few lectures by local college teachers and government authorities, we could earn more than 12 hours of college credit.
If we spent a week in a local medical clinic and painted a few rooms under the auspicious of some do-gooder organization, or listened to how folks suffered during the American war, or paid a friendly visit to Vietnamese church leaders we could justify the trip as a short-term mission or affinity-group expedition.
(I am not closed to the idea of spending longer periods of time in Vietnam when I retire and trying to make myself useful. I speak and write English fairly well and there is a demand for such persons in Vietnam.)
But this trip is tourism. I go, I see, I take pictures and write a few notes; I eat exotic foods and sit in coffee shops watching the world go by. My intent is to do very little harm but also no good.
I could pretend I am a journalist. The Hillsboro Free Press needs an international correspondent writing from far-flung places in the style of Ernest Hemingway. I asked my editor, Don Ratzlaff for a travel allowance after my last trip.
He chuckled. Leaned back in his chair. Said, “No.” Cheap editor. I can imitate Hemingway but I can’t access his expense account.
But seriously, why go back to Vietnam?
Maybe, I am returning because I have a memory. Forty years ago I saw naked, hungry kids sleeping outside on cold slabs of steel in the cold Saigon mornings when I returned from duty at the Port of Saigon.
Two years ago, my travel companion Adam and I played Frisbee on the beach at Hoi An. (OK, he plays ultimate Frisbee; surprisingly I did not make a complete fool of myself.)
I am going back to Vietnam to double check. “Are the kids OK?”
You can contact the writer at Dale.Suderman@gmail.com or see updated travel reports about the Vietnam trip and add comments on his blog: www.quietamericans.blogspot.com