Saigon presents just as I imagined - full of enthusiastic activity, noise, honking horns, bikes and motor scooters. We are staying near the opera house and just down the street from the historic Caravelle Hotel where American news agencies were headquartered during the War and much political intrigue and negotiating took place. The streets are filled with happy excited people and beautiful decorations as the city prepares for Tet - the Vietnamese New Year but crossing streets is an act of faith.
At our first dinner in Saigon I was seated with a former VietCong soldier and former officer of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The VietCong soldier was a 60 year old grandmother named Hoa Lu who told of starting her service at age nine as a VietCong communications runner and of being wounded, capture and imprisoned by the ARVN as a teenager. As I sat between these veterans, who had once been enemies, and experienced their reconciliation and hospitality I was filled with hope. These people had clearly suffered much from war but they told their stories eagerly and proudly and with a sense that their stories were not their's alone but a communal property needed by all. As Hao Lu continued to ensure that our bowls were filled with food I asked why they were willing to extend such hospitality to Americans - given our involvement in their past. Hao Lu smiled and touched me on the arm and simply said (through a translator), "It is the Vietnamese way."
Dinner with Vietnamese Veterans