Anthony Bourdain on the Spirit of Vietnam

This passage made me miss my parents. Everything Anthony Bourdain said about dedication, pride, family, struggle are the qualities my parents embody and have modeled to me. Maybe one day I will share a bit of my parents’ story about their journey over here. About their life pre and post Vietnam. It has a lot of food, memories, pride, multiple wars, heartbreak, struggle, and romance. Makings of a good story.

It’s something I’m seeing everywhere in Vietnam; what makes its food so good, its people so endearing and impressive: pride. It’s everywhere. From top to bottom, everyone seems to be doing the absolute best they can with what they have, improvising, repairing, innovating. It’s a spirit revealed in every noodle stall, every leaky sampan, every swept and combed dirt porch and green rice paddy. You see it in the mud-packed dikes and levees of their centuries-old irrigation system, every monkey bridge, restored shoe, tire turned sandal, litterless urban street, patched roof, and swaddled baby in brightly colored hand-knit cap. Think what you want about Vietnam and about communism and about whatever it was that really happened there all those years ago. Ignore, if you care to, the obvious – that the country is, and was always, primarily about family, village, province, and then country – that ideology is a luxury few can afford. You cannot help but be impressed and blown away by the hard work, the attention to detail, the care taken in every facet of daily life, no matter how mundane, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Spend some time in the Mekong Delta and you’ll understand how a nation of farmers could beat the largest and most powerful military presence on the planet. Just watch the women in the rice paddies, bent at the waist for eight, ten hours a day, yanking bundles of rice from knee-deep water, then moving them, replanting them. Take awhile to examine the intricate interlocked system of Stone Age irrigation, unchanged for hundreds and hundreds of years, the level of cooperation necessary among neighbors simply to scratch out a living, and you’ll get the idea.

These people survived bombing, strafing, patrols. They outwitted the CIA, the NSA, satellites, AWACS, blacked-out C-130 cargo planes that had been tricked out with sensors and Gatling guns, staffed by whole teams of airborne intelligence analysts searching the ground below on winking monitors, B-52 strikes, hired killers, special units of ‘counterterror’ teams, regime after regime of clannish leaders who cared nothing for them. They survived The Beverly Hillbillies and Bob Hope and the worst that America’s lusts and America’s culture had to offer. They beat the French. They beat the Chinese. They beat the Khmer Rouge. And they’ll survive communism, too. A hundred years from now, the Commies will be gone – like us, another footnote in Vietnam’s long and tragic history of struggle – and the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, this market, and this river will look much as they look now, as they looked a hundred years ago.

I like it here. I like it a lot.

Quoted from Cook’s Tour page 134. Amazon affiliate link below.