The Streets Of Hanoi

By

Leonard Zwelling

It is hard to grasp. I am walking in a country that I spent so much of my young life trying to avoid—Viet Nam. It is Saturday, December 8 here. It’s still Friday in Houston.

The estimated population of this bustling city is about 9 million and they all seem to be on the road on motorbikes at once. They park these things everywhere and somehow manage to find the one into which their key fits. There is very little violent crime here. It is safe to walk anywhere at any time. Pickpockets are a problem, but not guns. Many of the few police we see do not have firearms. They do direct traffic in some places, but not enough. Getting across the street can be a life-and-death sport here.

There are luxury hotels tucked into small side streets crowded with pho shops and trinket stores. In the park around the lake are multiple food stands selling things I have never seen and which probably would be best left outside my digestive tract, but they are being gobbled up by the populace. All the signs are in Vietnamese. No English. No French although the French influence is prominent in the architecture and the food. They were here from the 17th century until their defeat in 1954. It was after that that American involvement began to escalate leading to what is known here as the American War. The war we lost. Or did we?

American music is blaring from loud speakers everywhere. The styles of many of the clothes are American and American brands dot the stores. But mostly it is the full throttle capitalism in this putatively Communist country that convinces you that we may have lost the war in 1975, but have won the peace since. It’s the Rolls Royces you see parked here and there along with thousands of Japanese cars and European brands that make you know that those fighting globalization in the Trump Administration are fighting a tidal wave against them.

Tom Friedman’s points about airports in Asia (modern) vs. the United States (dated) was apparent in Inchon, the major hub serving Seoul, South Korea through which we transferred to Vietnam Air on to Hanoi. The airport is ultra modern, and you can eat off the floors they sparkle so brightly. The train taking us from one terminal to the next was prompt and efficient and most everyone we asked help of spoke English. America has won the battle of the world so much that many countries that were once our enemies are outdoing us.

That is not true of Viet Nam. Although the Hotel Metropole at which we are staying is a beautifully restored French colonial space with all of the modern amenities, most of Hanoi does not look as good as the best of America. But the best of America doesn’t look like the best of Seoul or Singapore and we need to work on that.

What is so apparent in the first 24 hours in Viet Nam is that we did lose that war 40 years ago, but have influenced the rebuilding of the country since. This should be reward enough for America and most American politicians welcome the reestablishment of normalized relations with Viet Nam. Getting into the country was a breeze. You just buy a visa on the way in.

But as we walk the streets of Hanoi, still flabbergasted with where we actually are considering all that was taking place in our formative years here, we are struck by the fact that it’s still American movies on the screen at our seats on Vietnam Air. The music blaring is Ariana Grande and blue jeans are everywhere along with Under Armour and Nikes. America is a great country. Viet Nam is on the way to becoming one. The world is shrinking. Excuse me while I Face Time my son 13 time zones away.

Trump’s nationalism has no chance. It’s so 18th century.

Leonard Zwelling