living history

In 1997 we flew to Japan with friends for a holiday to visit Japanese friends and during the 10 hour flight we talked a lot with the Japanese couple sitting next to us. At one stage I was idly leafing through a copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to Japan and looking at photos of Japanese people in traditional costumes performing strange Eastern ceremonies with musical instruments. There were images of ancient looking architecture and other views of Japan from earlier times.

The Japanese lady enquired of me whether that is what I expected to see on this my first trip to her country and I wasn’t sure exactly how to answer. I guess that I did expect to see something in the way of traditional ancient Japan but I hadn’t really given it all that much thought. This lady warned me that no longer was Japan the land of paper walled houses and white faced Geisha and she hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed with what I got to see. I wasn’t disappointed and obviously I realised that Japan has been a modern and dynamic country for a long time now.

What brought the above anecdote to mind was when I realised the other day that with Viet Nam and also Cambodia and Laos, what you picture in your minds eye and the images that you see in your tourist guides are what you are confronted with when you get here. If you have seen images of women in conical hats rowing hand made timber boats with eyes painted on the prows full of bunches of bananas for sale, you will still see it here. If you have seen photographs of young women wearing traditional Vietnamese dress pedalling bicycles along boulevards shaded by large trees and lined with buildings designed and built in the French colonial era, that is what you will see here and you won’t have to go to a contrived tourist area it still happens as a matter of course.

Sadly this will not always be the case as Viet Nam loses its naivety and modernises as a part of the world economy. But it’s here now and as I have mentioned before, being here is like living amid history that is alive and well. Just one of the marvellous things about this place.