Mekong Delta & Phu Quoc Island: The Echoes of Hello

Dear Lunch Table,

The Surprise:


In an elegant looking hotel lobby you’ll find 7 people drinking coffee, 2 people talking on phones, 5 people working on computers, 3 people discussing politics in Vietnamese, and 11 people holding newspapers (eyes peeking through the holes cut out from the black and white print).

And who might be the quirky, hilarious, witty bunch of 11 who, after traveling halfway across the world, found themselves laughing behind news articles? Ah, well, those are my mom’s friends who flew out to Vietnam to surprise my mom for her 50th birthday.

SURPRISE!

For some reason, in order to properly execute the surprise portion of the party, the group took on the idea of becoming agents. So, I would tell you how we planned the whole party, but then I might have to kill you . . . Of course, we, the agents, after surprising my mom in the hotel lobby weren’t over with our work, since we had to carry out a few more missions.

Mission Mekong Delta:

Just picture 15 weird, funny U.S. Americans riding bikes down the bumpy dirt roads of Vietnam. They’re laughing at one another. Trash talking, Celebrating the Giants’ Super Bowl win. That kind of thing. And then there is a “Hello.” A soft, smiling whisper of “Hello.” And the 15 friends turn their heads toward the little whisper. A tiny Vietnamese girl stares at them, smiling and jumping up and down at the sight of foreigners. Footsteps surround the travelers. Dirt is kicked up into the air as louder hellos spring into the sky. A crowd of school children now smile into the visitors’ eyes. There isn’t a dramatic pause or an epiphany about forgiveness. It’s more like a swarm of children smiling and yelling “hello” at the 15 vivacious, zestful travelers tumbling over bridges on their bikes, shouting “hello” back into the crowds. The kids are running through the rice paddies, holding little Elmo backpacks, smiles plastered on their faces. Sometimes the travelers pause, try out their faltering Vietnamese, give a kid a high five . . . Perhaps, it’s innocence that allows the kids to accept these 15 friends from the United States. Maybe, the children never forgave the Vietnam War, because they never hated it.


There is a farmer working in a rice paddy. A pointed hat protects her face from the sun, a large knife-like tool in one hand. She offers the travelers a chance to cut a rice stalk, an opportunity the group gulps up eagerly. I take my camera out, sling it over my neck, and wander over to her. I ask her what she thinks of the U.S., what she thinks of the Vietnam War. I press the red record button. She lost her brother in the war. She lost him to the bloody air and to the stained red dirt. But she smiles at me. She tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to travel. She doesn’t hate me. She doesn’t hate the United States. This forgiveness is not innocence. It can’t be. She knew the war. She lost her brother.


There are two little kids waving at the travelers. I run up and give them a high five. They giggle and race into their house. Their doorway lacks a door, and I can see them tugging on the clothes of their sister and parents. The family returns to where I’m chugging down cold water. They smile at me. I smile back. They hand me a piece of fruit. I thank them. They hand me another piece and then give me a bag full of peppers. I ask for their picture and they jump up and down. They fix one another’s hair. They stand up tall. We hook arms and smile for the camera. See, forgiveness doesn’t have to be dramatic. It just has to have a chance.

Mission Phu Quoc Island:

The last leg of the birthday week in Vietnam was Phu Qouc Island. Here, we swam, played, and partied in a wonderful resort. While many of the agents toasted with Tiger Beer, us underage spies celebrated with fruit juice and Coca Cola. I had a blast the entire time but visiting the jail in Phu Quoc really bothered me. Now a museum, the jail was where the U.S. troops directed the torture of North Vietnamese who were caught fighting for their independence. While I was walking through the prison all I could think about were the tiny squeals of hello echoed through the Mekong Delta. How can the Vietnamese forgive us, the United States?

I’ve always been proud to be a citizen of the United States. I know we’ve done some terrifying acts, but we’ve been a part of some amazing deeds as well. After visiting the jail, my idea of my country is complicated. The acts the United States committed – the violence, the evilness, the torture – was so outrageous, horrific, barbaric that I can’t imagine the torturers as mentally stable human beings. What are we doing right now in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp?

I still love my country, but I’m not proud of everything we’ve done. Having to admit to a past involved with torture is sad and ridiculous. And having to admit to a present involved with torture is just as ugly. I guess what I’m saying is: “Who do we want to be?” Alright. Great. We want to be a country who doesn’t torture others. Okay, let’s do something about it.


Up next is a post on the top 10 things I learned from traveling with my parents’ friends. Oooh! This should be good.

I miss you guys,
KJ

Interesting Fact: Around 5.4 million people were killed during the Vietnam War.

Things I Liked:

1) Jail Museum: As a proud citizen of the United States, I was in shock upon leaving this museum. The faux figures used to demonstrate the different torture techniques had an eerie feeling and definitely contributed to the harsh and sorrowful vibe of the museum. Walking through the jail was painful, but the perspective it provides is worth it.

2) Biking: This bike tour was a great experience. The guides were knowledgeable, funny, and engaging. This adventure allowed me to understand Vietnamese life in the countryside. If you do choose to bike through this country, I recommend Vietnam BackRoads Bicycle Tours. Here’s the contact information:

Guide: Van the Man


Email: info@vietnambackroads.com

3) La Veranda Resort: This is a perfect resort for swimming in the pool, munching on cheeseburgers, and reading a novel on the beach. The staff is very friendly and engaging. The band is absolutely brilliant and is great at adapting the music to the variety of audiences they gather each night. Just make sure you dance! Oh, and beware of little invisible critters that nip at you in the ocean. They don’t leave marks, and as soon as you get out of the water you’re fine, but while floating in the ocean you get a prickly sensation.


Things I Didn’t Care For:

1) Pearl Farm: I was under the impression that this Pearl Farm was going to offer us the opportunity to learn how to harvest pearls. So, I was a little disappointed when I arrived, and the farm was only a store. I’m not a pearl person, so I am unable to explain what pearls they offered. I do know, however, that they looked pretty . . . The pearls were a lot cheaper than those sold in the United States. A few friends bought some strands, and they put them in their mouths to see if the pearls were genuine. According to them (and the vendors) the pearls are real . . .

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About KJ

I, KJ Davidson-Turner, have willingly given up the trauma and drama of Junior year and my lovely friends at the lunch table (I'm going to miss you guys!) to travel to unknown areas of the world and experience the cultures of these unfamiliar places.

4 Responses to “Mekong Delta & Phu Quoc Island: The Echoes of Hello”

  1. Well done, KJ. Enjoyed catching up on all of your adventures! I envy you this year of your life.

  2. Honest, insightful, reflective and wonderfully descriptive…..your blog invites us all along, experiencing this grand adventure through your eyes. I’ve got my walking shoes and bottle of water ready for the next edition!

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