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
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.