The day begin in layers of sound. First it’s the rooster crowing, which technically started in the around 3 am, well before sunrise, and no one other than me and possibly other tourists who are holed up next to this thing hear it, because it doesn’t stop. Nothing comes of the crowing. I’m not perturbed by this crowing, although if it were going on in my own neighborhood it would have been addressed in a litigious way long ago, but here I’m wondering how the hell the myth of the rooster crowing at dawn holds any water?
Around 6 am the purring of motorcycles echo up from some narrow passageways that even google maps has a difficulty locating, hence the sidetracking, literally sideways last night, to locate Hoang Yen Guesthouse. Phuc made four passes before seeing the little jetty away from the chaos (hỗn loạn) of bui vien street (Dướng bui vien) and he lives here.
Then the honking. There’s an intersection somewhere. They are higher pitched than back home and sort of sound whiny.
Vietnam is a country that starts the day early. I remember that from my first trip here a few years ago, with my father. Rush hour began at 7 am and with a vengeance. He was sleeping late at the time, he was yet to be diagnosed with liver cancer, and there was no hurry in that trip. The preface had been very similar to this trip with my siblings, equally a script for a bad indie film. My first trip to Vietnam was when I was 30. He had returned almost annually since the 90s, but we weren’t on speaking terms in that period, nor most the period after that period, nor even much of the period during which we did converse. It came about in a rather hurried way: I was giving a lecture at a museum in Seattle and he was in the audience. Literally, I had not spoken with him on principle for more than seven years and broke that silence with a simple note saying I was present in Seattle and if he were interested we could have dinner during my visit. After the reception he mentioned he was traveling to Vietnam in a few weeks and wanted to know if I wanted to come. It wasn’t clear whether he was saying that as a sincere invitation or in passing, or whether he framed it as ambiguous out of fear of being sincerely rejected, but I accepted without much hesitation. The invitation was formally extended to my brother and sister, but Ethan was in cynicism of his divorce and my sister was wrought with the principle of her own pledge to silence, being always the last among us to give up. So my estranged father and I, or the prodigal son and he, as he liked to call it, spent a month without hurry in a country that wakes up to crowing roosters.
The sounds exist in layers and the voice of man comes to try to dominate the sounds. A loud speaker. The message repeats. It’s either a traffic signal or a flash sale.
A few liberated song birds flutter between soundtracks. I see them cooped up on a balcony. A freed partner dances on the outside of the cage. I watch across the archipelago of balconies as a young man undressing the cages of his birds. Each one he methodically takes down, places on the balcony and then unwrap the fabric. His army of birds. And on both sides of the caged birds’ perch, those free flutter to the next cage before ejecting the scene.
Phúc, the son of my aunt’s child, meets up with us in the afternoon. Last night he told me about his life in Ho Chi Minh city. He lives in District 4 and is a dj of live music karaoke. He studied computer programming and wants to make online applications. In a direct question to me he asked if I thought that the Vietnamese hated the Americans. I answered ’no,’ it’s the past, right?, basing my answer on the impression I had got from Hương, my Vietnamese language tutor, about the burgeoning U.S./Vietnamese relations. He said I was right and that actually the Vietnamese now hate the Chinese, or more precisely, the Chinese government. According to the New York Time’s article about Obama’s visit, Phúc information is reliable and his situation isn’t unique. About 50% of the country is under 30 years old and increasingly ambition to have a global experience and inclusion.
The welcome of American support and collaboration reignites the post-World War II reality of global superpowers. Russia and the U.S. and now China. Vietnam now befriending the U.S. is a call not only for economic development but a hope that the tensions over the Spratley Island and South Asian Sea can be quelled, as China has laid claim to them recently.
Thành Phố Hồ Chị Mình (Ho Chi Minh City) was Sài Gòn until the Communist revolt against the French and later U.S. as the biggest city and economic engine of the country, it’s southern location makes its namesake sensitive. The city was the seat of southern resistance to the northern communist powers. The conquest of Saigon by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) makes the renaming a bit of a symbolic gesture. Both Phúc who’s a resident and Hương say that the city is still Saì Gòn.
The dynastic tradition of renaming or relocating the administrative capital, such as from Huế moving to Hà Nộ, isn’t new. It’s a tool, like a sculptor’s blade, that can excise or recess a characteristic to emphasize one plane to overshadow another.
“As Obama heads to Vietnam, Current Events overshadow History,“http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/world/asia/as-obama-heads-to-vietnam-current-events-overshadow-history.html?_r=1