40 years on, where are the young ones in VN headed?
On 30th April 1975 the young men of America came home from war. Forty years on, in the Little Saigon’s of America, the end of that war is still commemorated as a day of mourning. And in that place across the vast ocean, where the blood of other young men and their fathers and old women and their daughters, has longed turned to rust, old men continue to make self congratulatory speeches about the great unification.
I was not there, in that country, 40 years ago. All I remember of that time is Peter, Paul and Mary’s anti-war ballad – “where have all the flowers gone … “
Forty years on, this is what I know: There are flowers now. In Dalat, my favourite part of Vietnam, celebratory flowers line the thoroughfare up to the market every New Year for the Flower festival. Further out in the high valleys where young men waited with guns for each other, container loads of flowers are being grown under plastic greenhouses to meet the needs of city-dwellers as far away as Holland. This is peace. This is global capitalization. It means profits for the agribusinesses who lease the land. It means jobs and full stomachs for the hill farmers. But also displacement for the hill tribes and a gradual warming of the high valleys from the reflective plastic. Is this better than the killing? Until the land becomes salted over with fertilizers and the forests die, the answer’s yes, I suppose..
As for the young girls? I look around at my nieces and grand-nieces. Yes, almost all have gone for husbands. But oh, how far they’ve gone! One went to Taiwan as a matchmaking agency bride, one to Australia after hooking up with friend of a second cousin, another two have married Vietnamese-Americans whom they met while studying there. Only one remains in Vietnam. I see other young girls, those on the budget flights in and out of the country. There they are with their babies and the elderly low-income Singaporean and Taiwanese husbands who can provide a better life for them than the young men from their villages. And there are the other ones, the girls who take the budge flights out to stand on street corners to make more in one night at their trade than in a year slaving in a factory in one of the new industrial zones. Even in peace time, it seems there’s a better future out of the country than in.
What about the young men who would have gone to be soldiers? Hair tinted red, shades on, some are revving their motorbikes through the town, dealing in a bit of this and some of that. Others, with thin faces and plastic glasses are worrying about the grades they might not score because they can’t afford the gifts richer students ply their teachers with while yet others, sleek from their cuts of this and that, party the nights away. And then there are the ones in the over-crowded Buddhist temples and Catholic seminaries, the ones looking for something beyond. The guns are silenced, I can imagine one of them telling me, how else can they fight the good fight for truth, beauty and justice in such times, forty years on?
Yes, I’d like to say to the young monks and priest, perhaps your embrace of spirit is what will move your country beyond what it is now, towards something brighter and purer. I’d point to the graveyards going to flowers again forty years on. That would be my hope, I’d tell them.