Dreams Fulfilled and Hesitancy Overcome
This is a purely personal entry although I will make an attempt (albeit rather feeble) to link some of it to cancer. I am writing to say that there will be a silence on this blog until February 10th or 11th. As you know, I don't write on week-ends, and my husband and I are leaving for Vietnam on Monday. Even if I wanted (and I sort of do want) to continue intermittently with this writing during our trip, I won't have the available technology to do so.
I need to explain the dreams and the hesitancy. I lived in Saigon with my parents when I was almost 10 until I was almost 13. It was my very favorite part of my childhood; I loved everything about it. My father was a general, and one of a few American military officers who were there with their families. There were a few more men (all men, I'm sure) who were there alone for twelve month tours, but we left before the American buildup. Those years were a pause between the end of the French war and the start of the American war; Saigon was lush and tropical and quite French--years later when I went to Paris for the first time, I infuriated a number of French people by commenting that the city reminded me of Saigon.
My parents did a good job of protecting me from their security worries. There was always a soldier posted in a guardbox outside our gate, and the school bus had heavy wire mesh over the windows, but I accepted those things as normal. I remember that our out-of-the-city travels were curtailed the last year we were there, but I believed the explanations that were given of schedules or inconvenience. In the first two years, though, we moved widely around South Vietnam. My Girl Guide (remember this was a mostly French city, so "guides" not "scouts") troop took field trips to rubber plantations (you coud peel a little strip off bark off the tree and chew it or bounce it) and tea estates and lots of rice paddies. We rode around town in cyclos, and I was sometimes allowed to go with my good friend, Louise, to a cafe on the nearby shopping street. There was a equestrian club in the city, and I rode every day and then owned (well, my parents owned) a horse the final year. There was a lovely old colonial swimming club, and we swam and ate the best pound cake I have ever had at the poolside restaurant.
I attended an international school with lots of kids from lots of places, mostly American and European. I remember a boy in my class from India and another from Argentina, but they were the exceptions. We spoke French and English, and, because I was a child, I pretty quickly became fluent. Sadly, there was little attempt made to learn Vietnamese; I can count to ten, greet people, say "please" and "thank you", and that's about it. I asked a Vietnamese man here to write two sentences for me to memorize:" I lived here as a young girl, and am so happy to be back." I have been trying hard to memorize them for two weeks, using all tricks that I know, and am getting no where. I think I will have to take the slip of paper and read it.
It wasn't all perfect. We were there, living two blocks from the Presidential Palace, when there was an attempted coup again President Diem. We were awakened in the middle of the night by what sounded like fireworks. I awakened to my father's urgent instructions to roll off the bed onto the floor and crawl with him into my parents' bedroom. We stayed there for two days until we were rescued by a few American soldiers who walked us out of the house past a squad of machine gun holding Vietnamese soldiers who were telling us not to leave. Again, as a child, I just thought this was all pretty exciting, my my mother told me later how she had truly expected that we might be shot.
So, what about those dreams and hesitancies? As you can tell, I adored my time there, and I am well aware of how much Vietnam has changed. Everywhere in the world has changed over so many years, but Vietnam even more than most places. I have been reluctant to mess with my memories. The vague cancer connetions is that, if I kept a bucket list, returing to Vietnam would be at the top of it. It's time to go.
As we walked to the plane to depart Saigon all those years ago, I tearfully told my parents that: "I will come back, and, when I do, I will kneel down and kiss the ground." I have also fretted about that promise. I can't quite imagine getting off the plane in Hanoi in a few days and dropping to my knees. I can imagine that there will be a moment and a private place that I can kneel for a moment and be grateful for my memories.