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Vietnam & Laos
Nine Months as an American Vagabond


Vietnam was really an amazing place, beautiful countryside, lush mountains, the sea side beaches. As a people they were scheming, mercenary and sometimes violent but functional, respectful, courteous—especially to old people—and generally reason and think at a much higher level than Americans. I didn’t see the constant obsession with football and celebrity mating that I was used to in America. They placed emphasis on family—which was just something I had not seen in America until very recently—and was something that was not on the radar of any of the Europeans or Americans I ran into in the Far East. The kindness of random strangers to children was particularly shocking, a strange elderly person or busy adult speaking to a strange kid in passing and patting them on the head. Never had I been exposed to such behavior in the States.

Women were feminine and polite, independent and strong-willed, a combination you don’t see here, where sweet women are pushovers and strong women are raging bitch storms.

What was most shocking was that the men were men, not constantly apologizing for everything, not bowing to their women at every turn, not pressing their sons to be super sissies like everything I had seen in the States.

It was a heathy culture. People knew I was an American and I didn’t detect any animosity. I made a few acquaintances. This one really smart guy was in the navy and worked at a coastal weather station. We had a few beers and he told me, flatly, that his father had been killed by U.S. forces. Over here, that blame gets assigned across generations to the race of people of the actors. But over there, they knew I had nothing to do with it. I was too young.

I toured tunnel complexes which had been made into tourist traps and were truly amazing.

It wasn’t all bliss.

There was a real north-south religious and cultural divide, with two rival religions, Catholicism and this weird religion that deified Jesus, Victor Hugo and Louis Pasture. I met dudes who had been through reeducation camps. In the big cities former ARVN soldiers still lived as homeless and jobless men unable to get paperwork for residency and work.

I saw fishing villages, battlefields with still unexploded ordinance, rode a bike from Saigon up to Phan Thiet, a hundred and fifty miles and my ass was sore.

The bank was giving me a hard time about getting money and I was nearly broke so I had to get back to Thailand. I took a month long bus trip through the highlands, Laos and into Thailand. I saw Montanyards hunting with these tiny, like .17 caliber homemade rifles, almost like air guns as far as the projectile size.

It was amazing.

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