Two Hanoi Haiku

By : June 4, 2019

cyclo-pedaled to
        Revolution Museum
by NVA vet

This incident happened to me on a return to Viet Nam in the summer of 1993. Something seems amiss when a war’s winner gets to pedal the loser to a museum celebrating the victory.

That seems especially true when the loser’s army had no adequate reason to be in the winner’s civil war. I love irony, but this event was too personally devastating for me to react as an intellectual, so I was forced to react as a remorseful human being.

On the way to the museum I recalled a photograph from Viet Nam’s French colonial days of a comfortable Frenchman being transported by a barefoot Vietnamese, and felt deeply guilty. To quote or misquote the first line of a 1970s poem by Anne Hickey (whose name I might be misspelling), a line that crushed me when I read it, never you say but it’s you.

My guilt going to the museum was not about the ride itself, because the Viet was cheerful and very happy in those difficult times to get a foreigner’s fare and tip for his hard work, it was about my having been yet one more of the many foreigners whose “service” delayed Vietnamese independence at grim cost. The photograph below shows what cyclos looked like before they had gasoline engines.



Army Museum:
Hanoi children smile at one
old American

The Army Museum incident also happened to me in 1993. I was walking around the museum by myself, the only non-Vietnamese visitor that day, as I recall (the American embargo on travel to Viet Nam had not yet been lifted, and the country was not yet either a business or tourist destination).

I heard children’s excited voices and turned to see a class of young Vietnamese children pointing at me, giggling, laughing, and exclaiming to each other. At that moment they completely ignored the exhibit that their teacher had taken them to, a sculptural mass of twisted American airplane parts from anti-aircraft successes long before those children were born.

I do not know what their teacher was thinking, but the children were smiling and laughing. That made me more than content to be another museum exhibit from an old war.

The children’s reaction was rather like this Hanoi street reaction to me, back when westerners were rare sights.

Filed Under: Vietnam War Poetry

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