Vietnam is a country in southeast Asia which borders China, Laos and Cambodia on the north and west, and has coastline on the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea to the east and south. It declared independence from France in 1945, largely through the efforts of the Communist groups in Vietnam; however, the French spent eight years fighting the Communists. The decision at the end of this war in 1954 was to split the country in two, with North Vietnam being Communist and South Vietnam led by the Vietnamese who supported the French. Political struggle after South Vietnamese president Diem was assassinated (in a coup launched by his own generals) in 1963 caused the U.S. to send over American troops to try and support the non-Communist regime in the South. It was 1973 before the US started to withdraw its troops, and in 1976 the two sections of the country became one again under the government from the north. Border tension with the Communist government in Cambodia got worse after the fall of Saigon, and in early 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and installed a pro-Vietnamese government. A few weeks later, Vietnam was itself attacked by its Communist neighbor and erstwhile benefactor, China. In the mid-1980s, troops were stationed in Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam substantially reduced its forces in Laos during 1988 and withdrew nearly all its troops from Cambodia by September 1989. Still claims the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands and sections of the land borders with China and Cambodia are still disputed.

When most American people think Vietnam, it is hard not to associate Vietnam with the Vietnamese conflict that America was involved in nearly three decades ago. Images of a war torn country where tens of thousands of Americans lost their lives and the millions of Vietnamese who died along with them never escape our minds.

There is no doubt that the war left a mark on Vietnam and the Vietnamese people, but it has also left a mark on us - the American population. We will never forget what the war has done to us.

If you ever were to visit the country, however, you would quickly forget your previous notions of Vietnam.

Vietnam is terribly romantic, a beautiful country. There are atmospheric old French villas, peeling behind coconut palm trees and green gates, almost made more nostalgic now by decay, and lined by beautiful rows of tamarind. Look past the mist of the mountains to the West and the North, and you can find over 50 distinct minority tribes, each with their own colorful costume, customs, and tongue. Often you can smell burning incense that pervades the air around Vietnam's many pagodas and Buddhist temples, and there are lots of oil-lit lamps along the crooked streets at night, which surrounds you and makes you feel like you are in a different time period.

Most of all though, there are the exceptionally attractive, cultured, and hospitable people, that still light up at the sight of foreigners, but are are still self-possessed and full of the quick intelligence for which they have long been famous. A Korean businessman that has been all over the world once said with a touch of hyperbole that, "The Vietnamese are the last natural human people in the world." That may or may not be true, but the Vietnamese people certainly do possess a cultural richness and diversity rarely seen in even the most ancient cultures.

The official language of the country is Vietnamese, which is a mix of mostly Mon-Khmer elements with some Thai and Chinese. Most of the minorities, however, retain their language, like Chinese or some Malayo-Polynesian dialects. The main foreign language, especially among the youth, is English, but in the north, French and Russian are spoken. The written language, however, is not what you would expect out of an Asian country. The script is actually based on Latin with many accents, a script developed by Alexander De Rhodes in the 19th century as an attempt to phoneticize the language.

An interesting thing to note about the country is that 50% of the population in Vietnam are under the age of 21. That means that 50% of the population have never met an American, or even know what their parents speak about when they speak about the "American War".

Actually, Vietnam is going through many changes right now. One example of these changes is a program instituted by the Vietnamese government called Doi Moi, which is meant to encourage young Vietnamese to start businesses and get more involved in the economic development of Vietnam. The program is comparable to the perestroika reforms of the Soviet Union. It released Vietnamese from the socialism that surrounded the government and opened Vietnam in many ways including allowing foreign investors and greater freedom of expression and worship.

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