I’m not a big fan of starting blog posts with an apology for not having been more attentive since the last post. Nothing sets my eyes rolling like some hack with a readership in the middling double-digits who starts off with a pretentious mea culpa about having been away for a few days. Who gives a shit? Do real authors apologize when they take three years to write a new book? No, they just put out the book and keep their traps shut. Bloggers as a species take themselves way too seriously. But who am I kidding? That’s why they’re blogging to begin with.
So while I recoil at the preposterous idea of apologizing for not having stuck my head in the door here since August 22, a small part of me feels obliged to, seeing as a snarky post about a child molester has been the only greeting to anyone who stopped by for more than a week. Please accept my condolences in the unlikely event that you lost sleep over any of this. But you need to toughen up.
While the Americans among you are almost all tucked into bed at the moment, sleeping off the exhausting patriotic fervor of a mid-campaign Labor Day, I’m well into one of Vietnam’s biggest national holidays, the generically-named National Day which seems to be mostly a celebration of this country’s ability to manufacture balloons in the shape of pigs with little folding paper feet they can bounce up and down upon. Cute, I agree, but hardly reason to stage a national holiday.
Unlike Labor Day, and all similarly strategized American holidays, National Day falls on a Tuesday here. I couldn’t figure why this was until I had the presence of mind to do what we in the journalistic field call “research.” Using advanced, highly technical journalistic research methods that involve Boolean variables and the world’s largest internet search engine, I discovered that National Day does not always fall on a Tuesday but on September 2. It’s a celebration of Vietnam’s declaration of independence on that date in 1945, when, standing in Hanoi, which at the time was essentially a French spa, Ho Chi Minh read his declaration and set into motion the chain of events that eventually led to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the independence of the sovereign communist nation of Vietnam, and the entry of the words ‘Swift Boat’ into the English lexicon as a verb .
The business that National Day commemorates is also the reason why all museum displays in this country refer to U.S. soldiers in the long conflict known here as the American War as “the capitalist invaders” or “the American attackers.” History, as they say, is written by the conquerors. Or at least the winners by default. Draw your own conclusions about how Iraqi museum displays will read in 30 years.
In its overall aesthetic, Vietnam’s independence day celebration seems a lot like that of our own. Streetlights thoughout the city are hung with festive banners, crowds gather in public parks, and shouting kids swing from the arms of sweating parents like lanterns. The details are a little different – the festive red banners are emblazoned with the hammer and sickle, for instance, and the statues in the parks are of Vladmir Lenin and Ho Chi Minh. Also, nobody’s barbecuing here today, probably because many of these people spend their day-to-day livelihoods cooking fish and meat and snails over actual coal-burning brick stoves on the side of the street. Maybe the irony’s just a little too much for them.
There’s certainly no shortage of beer here. The preferred brands are Tiger, Saigon, 333, and the freshly brewed draft known as bia hoi. If you really want to send a message that you’re an epicure of taste and refinement with money to burn in your cookstove, you drink Heineken. By far, the most widespread activity in the city today seems to be sitting in a plastic chair on the sidewalk, drinking beer and smoking unfiltered cigarettes while watching traffic for hours on end. Of course, this seems to be the primary occupation of most Vietnamese people seven days a week, year-round, so that sort of dampens the sense of patriotic zeal.
As for this capitalist invader, I’m going to get out there and do some Nationalist Day celebrating of my own. I’ll drink a bia hoi, buy a pig-shaped balloon, and offer up a toast to Uncle Ho. Without apologies.