Andrew Lam writes: The first time I returned to Vietnam, a customs officer looked at my American passport and asked, “Brother, when did you leave?”
“Two days before National Defeat Day,” I mumbled.
That day, April 30, 1975, marked the end of the Vietnam War. Its anniversary brings back bad memories: Saigon ransacked by the communist army, thousands fleeing in boats, helicopters hovering above a city wreathed in smoke. My family and I made our way first to Guam and then later to California. I was 11.
National Defeat Day turned into an unhealed wound for many who fled and some who were left behind. But the words are from an exile’s vocabulary.
“Brother,” the customs officer corrected me, “don’t you mean National Liberation Day?”
Last month, I was back again. No one questioned me when I went through customs. I was neither a prodigal nor a curiosity, just another traveler. No one remarked on the timing, so close to the 40th anniversary of defeat and liberation.
“Please, who wants to talk about stories of such ancient time?” was how Hoang Tran, 27, put it when I asked him what April 30 meant to him. We were in a bar in downtown Saigon. “No one pays attention to this kind of fairy tales,” said his drinking companion, Binh Nguyen, 24, who was on his fourth whiskey.
“How much did you pay for that iPhone 6? It’s so expensive here in Vietnam,” said Binh.
“Yeah, but I’m saving money for it,” added Hoang.
In 2015, Vietnam belongs to the young. And the young don’t look back. Two out of three Vietnamese were born after the war; most of the population is between 20 and 25 years old; they have no direct memory of the war America lost, the war that undid the South and reunited their country under a communist system more pragmatic than pure these days. [Continue reading…]