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Saturday, January 23, 2010


The Vietnam civilization began in the Bronze Age (3000 BC). Officially now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the country originally gained independence from China in 938. The society flourished for nearly a millennium, until colonization by the French in the mid-1800s.

Ho Chi Minh is the father of Vietnam. What a life! Born in 1890 as Nguyen Singh Cung, he left his country at the age of 21 and travelled, mostly through Europe, but also in the U.S., for 30 years, working mostly in menial service jobs and facets of journalism, partially supported by the communist party. It is reported that he educated himself by reading in public libraries and was coached to become a revolutionary. Following World War I, he became Nguyen Ai Quoc, then began to be known as Ho Chi Minh around 1940. In 1941 he finally returned to Vietnam and led the revolt against France, gaining recognition from Stalin and Mao in 1950 and prevailing with the victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. He passed away in 1969 with the outcome of the Vietnam War (known as "the American" War in Vietnam) still in doubt.

The Americans were finally evicted from Vietnam in 1975. Incidentally, 58,000 Americans died in the "American" war here, while less than one-tenth that number of deaths have been experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined, even though the length of both wars are similar. Most don't even know that Vietnam actually invaded Cambodia in 1978 and fought a war against China in 1979, when half a million ethnic Chinese left the country. There has now been "peace for more than 30 years.

The breakup of the Soviet Union and free enterprise in China, further catalyzed by the lifting of the U.S. embargo in 1994, spurred an economic boom. The population is in the range of 86 million, and it is reported that in a couple of decades, Vietnam will have a larger population than Russia. 85% are Buddhists, there are now 299 universities and oil is an important export commodity. From Wikipedia:

There is no particular animosity today towards Americans. There remains, though, a sense of South and North. An individual born in Ha Noi would have difficulty in Sai Gon.

The city of Hanoi is 268 days away from becoming 1000 years old, as shown in the next photo:

Above is a cyclo (pronounced seeklo), the most adventurous mode of travel in Northern and Central Vietnam, for your life is at constant peril. You've heard of the rickshaw, a human powered people mover, first used in Japan as early as 1868, and more recently in Waikiki. Then there is the tuk-tuk, where a two-cycle internal combustion engine powers the vehicle. This was popular in Bangkok in the 1980's, and while mostly no more, it is still used in countries of Southeast Asia. But the cyclo is a throwback, for this is bicyle powered and a major transit form in Ha Noi and Hue. Imagine that every driver has self-proclaimed priority and pedestrians have none. These are the streets of Vietnam.

Oh yes, it is not Hanoi nor Saigon. Here, these cities are spelled Ha Noi and Sai Gon. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is rarely mentioned, but HCMC is used in print.

Some music from Vietnam:

There is a millennium art form here known as the dreaded water puppet show. Tourists are hoodwinked into this cultural event, but I can recommend that you cleverly find something else to do. In some quarters it is known as the Vietnamese version of water boarding. Certainly, don't even think about showing up if you already have a head-ache, as the potential for some form of resultant cerebral hemorrhage surely will be high. I would show you what it is, but I'll let your curiosity influence your decision. I should mention that I also consider Kabuki and Noh to be excruciating.

Tropical Cyclone Olga today made landfall in Queensland (Australia) and is weakening.


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