Jul 19, 2008

Aù Revôir Vietnam

I was in Vietnam for almost a month, the longest time I've spent in any foreign country except for a summer in France during college. And in all that time, I'm sorry to say that the place never grew on me.

My favorite moments were meeting and talking to the local artists that Brian hooked me up with, and of course in meeting Dr. Boi. With those people I felt a depth of culture and sophistication of thinking that was thought-provoking and inspiring. I admire the clear-eyed honesty of people like Dung and most of the people I met in the countryside, including the A Luoi girls pictures above. And I did enjoy a few meals that were beautifully prepared and delicious. But for the most part the country is in survival mode. Not surprising I suppose, Vietnam is a third-world country; it just doesn't make for a great vacation.

I was constantly being hassled on the street to buy something, a great deal of the food was unavailable to a vegetarian like myself, the best architecture I saw was left over from French colonial days, the electricity would go out every night for 3-6 hours, the street are a cachonomy of honking, the trains are roach-infested and (at least one time) six hours late, and anything that comes close to a cultural event always has a none-too-subtle political agenda.

Whiney? Perhaps. A tourist could level a great deal of criticism at New York and while likely well-deserved, the city has so much on the other side of the ledger that's it's worth putting up with the rats and filth and the dog-eat-dog attitude of the place.

That being said, the third-world nature of Vietnam and its turbulent past makes great fodder for a project like mine. In much the same way as New York's grit seems to inspire artistic creativity, Vietnam's past and present makes for fertile ground to explore ideas from renewal to repression.

So it seems likely that I'll be back at some point for work. Just not for a vacation.

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