Just south of the city of Danang in Vietnam, there is a small town called Hoi An, the former port city of the Cham Empire.
On a sunny afternoons, hot tropical breezes from the South China Sea roll through the Old Town of Hoi An, rustling the leaves in the trees along the winding lanes of colonial buildings, beckoning you to visit the nearby beach. By night, paper lanterns and fairy lights twinkle outside of the art galleries, restaurants, and homes along the waterway.
But tourists do not come to Hoi An for the charm of Old Town or to see the ruins of the Cham civilization in My Son.
They come to Hoi An for the shopping.
The facts were these:
Late on a Wednesday afternoon in July, two twenty-something gals were strolling the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, trying not to get hit by a car. One of these gals was myself; the other was my friend of many years, M.
Streets of Ho Chi Minh City
As tends to happen in the rainy season in Vietnam, the pale grey clouds overhead erupted into a burst of rain with no warning. Seeing a red and white sign with the word ‘Restaurant’ printed boldly in all capital letters, we ran toward it and ducked into the cafe, resolving to wait out the downpour over a glass of juice.
There was nothing immediately suspicious or unusual about this restaurant. There was an assortment of tables and chairs near the front window, a bar along the left side, and a hallway at the back, presumably leading to the washrooms. There was one other table occupied by a group of businessmen at the front by the window and about three servers, one male and two female. The waiter seated us near the bar and gave us menus to look over. I was facing the rear of the restaurant; M. was facing the window.
That is when we started noticing that something was off about this restaurant.
When I tell people in North America that I have been to Vietnam, they often ask if I went to Saigon. I then have to explain that Saigon is gone: how the former capital of South Vietnam was swallowed up into communist Vietnam after the war and how it was transformed into Ho Chi Minh City.
The Vietnam War is better known as the American War in Vietnam. Visiting the museums and memorials in Ho Chi Minh City tells a very different story about this conflict than the one I was taught in history classes across the ocean, a powerful illustration of how perspective and propaganda can distort facts to serve political agendas.