Haunted memories

Other than our short daily drive to work, I didn’t get to see much of the city. In the tourist brochures I saw pictures of all the beautiful things I could or should have seen – I suppose it requires going here as a tourist. I also learned, a little late, that I had pronounced the name of the capital all wrong. It sounds more Chinese than French (wiet chan).

The one tourist stop I did see was the COPE museum of the Vietnam War’s sad legacy of unexploded ordinance (UXO) and mines. The museum receives a constant stream of tourists which we saw passing by our training room, located in a large complex dedicated to people with disabilities. The rehabilitation center also receives a constant stream of requests for artificial limbs and wheelchairs for people who were mostly (or currently are) innocent bystanders of this devastating war.

One of our participants is from the northern part of the country, from the Hmong tribe which is present in a wide band below China. Thousands of Hmong were recruited by the CIA to fight the communists in Indochina during its ‘Secret War.’ As a result they were persecuted and many fled to Thailand and other places further away, like Minnesota. Anne Fadiman wrote a beautiful book (and intensely sad) about the latter group and the resulting culture clashes between two medical world views.

The young gentleman told me that his father recounted to him the horror stories, experienced while he (the father) was still a child. That generation was severely traumatized by memories of bombs falling, killing squads in the jungle and the dangerous Mekong crossing. His grandfather didn’t survive. He does have relatives in Minnesota and his uncle wrote a book about crossing the river. When I googled this I came across more nightmare memories. The Vietnam War is still very much alive here.


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