Archive for January, 2009

Vietnam: Resilience at its best

Few cultures have undergone as many foreign occupations as Vietnam, from the Chinese in the 10th century to the French in the 19th and the Americans in the 20th century.

Despite the influence and setbacks by war, Vietnam has moved forward—rapidly. Seen in the entrepreneurial spirit of its small businesses and even the intrepidity of its pedestrians crossing effortlessly through the sea of motorbikes during rush hour, resilience and tenacity thrive in Vietnam.

I had the opportunity to welcome the first two weeks of 2009 from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

In the picture below, a family of three, possibly four, people cross the Long Bien Bridge into downtown Hanoi. The bridge was originally built by Gustave Eiffel in 1903 (the same architect who built the Eiffel Tower in France and the Statue of Liberty in the United States) and most of the bridge withstood heavy bombardment during the Vietnam-American War in the 60′s and 70′s. To this day, the bridge serves as a symbol of Vietnam’s resilience throughout history. —I was told you can still find bullet holes from the war. I tried looking myself, but I must have been riding too fast on the motorbike to see them.

Note: The picture was actually a “Hail Mary” shot of sorts. The camera was hanging behind me as I was on the back of a friend’s motorbike, and I just hit the shutter as we passed by someone or as someone approached us from behind.

Crossing the Long Bien Bridge

Below, a family of three heads out into the heavy traffic of Ho Chi Minh City on New Year’s Eve. I’ve found from first-hand experience that driving a motorbike through Vietnamese traffic by one’s self is extremely daunting and tiring; I have no idea how they do it as a family of three.

Riding on New Year's Eve

On New Year’s Day, some friends and I rented two motorbikes (only $5 each!) and drove about 50km south of Saigon to the rural district of Can Gio. After a police chase, a ferry crossing, four downpours, and a bike accident, we finally decided to pull over to a roadside stand for directions. Here, we met a comical group of Vietnamese returning from a so-called “Monkey Island” less than 2km down the road. Unfortunately, by this time the park had closed, so we decided to turn around; fortunately, one of them, visiting from Australia, helped us translate from English and Mandarin to Vietnamese for directions back to Saigon.

Rest stop in Can Gio

I suppose life in Saigon can get pretty tiring: a silk shop owner/tailor takes a nap between customers on the notoriously slow-for-business New Year’s Eve.

Siesta in Silk

Anywhere you look, someone’s out to make a living. Below, a few Vietnamese turn a street corner into a shoe repair shop.

Shoe Repair

Maintaining spindles

It’s always interesting to see the products we consume everyday being created at the source. From the raw cotton thread, above, to the shorts destined for Target stores worldwide, below…

Thuan Phuong Garment Company

…and of course, the hand-crafted pottery possibly residing in your grandmother’s living room.

Hand-painted vases

Absorbing the Thien Cung Grotto

Often, people overlook Vietnam as a place to explore, instead opting for Thailand or China. While I’m not arguing against either, Vietnam’s history, people, natural beauty (above and top), and tenacity make it a destination I’d be more than willing to return to.