A LOVE AFFAIR
Christina T. Vo
         I always knew that I needed to go to Vietnam but for what reason and under what circumstances was unclear and uncertain. Perhaps reason wasn't my guide, perhaps it was something greater than my rational mind could comprehend, and perhaps it was love that was my guide; the love for the country bestowed to me by my Vietnamese parents or the latent love for the country that would soon develop. This desire to travel across the world and to leave my comfortable surroundings was strong.

         And all I knew was that soon enough I would go to live in Hanoi. Prior to my departure I read and re-read a memoir by Dana Sachs, an American journalist who spent some time in Hanoi, and I would underline certain sentences without knowing why or when or if those words would ever be more than mere words on a page. She wrote "Staring across the rice fields toward that unknown mountain, I'd felt alone and quite terrified. My plan to come here, which had once sounded like a great adventure, now seemed foolish, like a game of pretend that I had taken too far. I had nothing except a backpack and a wavering determination to build a life for myself in this place."

         When I arrived in Hanoi's Noi Bai airport, I thought of her words and how they so strikingly mirrored my own. I had no idea how this adventure would unfold and whether or not I had made the right decision in moving to Vietnam. I only knew to make the most of the experience.

         Perhaps because I view my life through a lens of love, I often compared my experience with Vietnam as a love affair of sorts, for it was certainly a country that I feel in love with over and over again. Eric Fromm defines love as "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." I believe Vietnam contributed to my personal growth, for in many ways I was able to face myself, see myself more clearly in this familiar yet unfamiliar context. I was able to pose questions I perhaps didn't ponder while living in the States.

         I fell in love with the natural beauty of the country from the northern most tip bordering China all the way south where the country meets the Gulf of Thailand. I loved and embraced every region, every variation of this country - the green rice paddies of the countryside to the cluttered and bustling Mekong Delta to the beautiful, rocky islands of Nha Trang to the fresh and verdant Central Highlands.

         And, of course, I loved the human extension of the country - the people who I was eventually able to see as my own people. I was often asked by my friends at home whether Vietnamese people harbor resentment toward Americans. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they mask it well underneath their open, loving and gracious demeanor. But, in my opinion, they have truly mastered the art of forgiveness. They consider it a compliment that foreigners, especially Americans, are now coming to Vietnam to live and work. They want to teach you about the rich history of their country, they want to demonstrate by example what it really means to be hospitable, they want you to understand and embrace what it means to be Vietnamese. Their desire to open their country and their hearts is in essence what it means to be Vietnamese. You show a modicum of interest, they give you their world.

         One evening my roommates and I threw a housewarming party. We anticipated this would be a large gathering so we hired some of the street children, who we would frequently encounter as we were walking around Hoan Kiem Lake, to watch the guests' motorbikes. Children who were sent from tiny, remote villages in Vietnam to work in the big city of Hanoi selling postcards or other handicrafts to support their families. Children who are usually found meandering around the Old Quarter and the famous Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Children who have learned to speak fluent English not because of any formal schooling but because of their interactions with foreigners. Children who knew me and all my friends by name and who would warmly greet us at every possible encounter. Children with so much potential, but so little hope to move beyond their current situation.

        Please read the rest of the story in REMEMBERING SAIGON.