“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam - that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.” ― Graham Greene, The Quiet American
This will be a different trip back. For the most part, it is both work and pleasure. I travel now to answer some internal questions that were brought up from that first Fulbright Hays GPA trip. Since my last trip, Thailand effectively had a coup and now has a military based government. Vietnam has effectively been in a constant state of conflict with China in regards to the territories in the South China Sea.
Thailand is also experiencing major international problems with the issue of "slavery" in the fishing industry.
Reports by The Guardian hasn't helped Thailand too much. The Eurozone basically now boycotts the Thai fishing industry until it gets cleaned up. However, it was always known that Burmese labor has been everywhere in Thailand. If you look at most construction sites, they are largely being built by Burmese labor.
So, why am I going back to Vietnam and Thailand? Much of it is personal. In time, when I retire, my intent is to retire in this part of the world. For this to happen, much groundwork has to be set up. I'm also researching the nature of the Thai education system. Why is their general knowledge profile so horrible.
I've seen this first hand. I've seen T-Shirts in Thailand with Hitler in 2013. Only now has it gotten higher on the radar. Part of it is the education system. With ASEAN trying to standardize the higher education system in this part of the world, it is striking how Thai Higher Education could fail so miserably in this case. The other thing that I will be looking at is the economic progress of Vietnam. Last time, it looked like major construction was going on. Hanoi's airport was undergoing renovations It is a small airport, and when I go back, it will be new.
I like some elements of Vietnam, but I am not tied to it like Anthony Bourdain. The food is good. The traffic is insane. The people are generally nice, but there is this undercurrent of capitalist desperation to make a buck, or dong as that is their currency. Yeah, that word for currency sounds weird.
I agree with Anthony Bourdain; it is an amazing country, but also a work in progress. Vietnam's infrastructure is a work in progress. The highways are hit and miss. Things shut down in Hanoi exactly at Midnight per government rules. Consumerism is crazy. Name brands are in high demand. In some ways, it is a bit crazy. Thailand is different. It is more laid back. Hence the concept of mai ben rai.
I don't know if I will be in Chiang Mai. But, I will be in Bangkok visiting a professor of psychology at a Thai University, and my high school friend. He also works for the UNHCR, so I will get first hand knowledge on what is happening with the various refugee problems in that part of the world. Last time in 2013, I saw Somali refugees housed in one apartment complex.
Thailand is unique in that once you arrive, there is this sense of spirituality that is difficult to contain in the written word. Everything is spiritual to a certain extent. Thais generally are Buddhist, but there are elements of animism in their culture. One aspect that is really different is the spirit house. This gives you an insight into the role of Buddhism and spirituality influences all of Thai life.
It is not just Vietnam that is intense. It is the entire region. If I retire and move, it will probably be to Thailand. The hospitals are better. When you think of retirement, you are aging, so hospitals are important. Traffic sucks. But you can get around. So it will begin in a few days.