I was a bit shocked by the looks of the border checkpoint officers, who dressed in green military uniforms, in the Chinese style of the 1980s, with red stars stenciled on the shoulders that conjured up images of revolution, battles and communism. Perhaps that was because I was more familiar with the dressing style of border check staff in western country. But soon I felt it quite normal–military uniform could reflect the aesthetic taste of a certain era, embody a nation’s politics, military and economy. Wasn’t that one of the Vietnamese characteristics as a socialist country?
On my way to Nha Trang, I looked out into the blue sky with white clouds, as if I were back in my hometown 30 years ago.
Vehicles were coming and going on the coastal highway of Nha Trang. On one side, you could find storefront shops and stalls that sold fruits and grilled lobsters or offered services of spas or foot massages. It looked extraordinarily bustling filled with sounds of peddling, bargaining and laughter. Especially when darkness fell and the neon lights were on, the street was filled with surging crowds of different races and colors speaking in different languages, from Vietnamese to Russian, Chinese, English or languages you could not even distinguish. You may wonder was it a seaside city of southeast Asia that attracted a large number of tourists from Europe, or conversely, a European market place that attracted Asians. What attracted them to come here? On the other side of the highway, you would be greeted by blue sea with sparkling lights, stretching beach planted with swaying coconut trees, as well as bars, cold drinks shops and open-air swimming pools. It seemed that visitors could not wait to get tanned and indulge in a sunbath. People were found lying or standing hand in hand on the beach or bathing in the sea, turning the long silver beach into a flesh forest. Besides, hotel rooms were all accessible to BBC, CNN, NHK, YouTube, Google, Facebook… I couldn’t help wondering if I was in a communist country.
Around 11 pm (about 12 o’clock in the morning in Beijing time), in Ho Chi Minh City, our bus traveled across the road in the dim light of night when it was drizzling. I looked out from the window. All kinds of neon lights and light boxes glimmered with Latin letters in Vietnamese or English, delicately interwoven with western-style graffiti at the street corners. A fanciful world was then unveiled on a rainy night outside the window. I suddenly felt like I was put in the space-time dislocation. Latin letters, graffiti, the “G” sign of the ground floor of elevator, tipping of the waiter at the hotel… all these seemed so typical in a western country. Could I imagine where I stood was Vietnam if I had suddenly airborne landed here.
In Vietnam, except for a few Chinese restaurants with signboards written in Chinese language, you could not find Chinese signs anywhere else, even in tourist attractions, which was quite different from that of Japan and Korea, who try to cater to Chinese tourists.
Like a younger bother, following behind China for years, now we turn around and barely recognize Vietnam.
But after all, we are used to going along the history river for more than 1,000 years, and people here still know Chinese traditions well, like eating rice dumplings (zongzi), pasting Spring Festival couplets, celebrating the Tomb Sweeping Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and the Double Ninth Festival. Here the four great Chinese classical novels are also well-known to every household. Although Vietnamese characters have been changed into Latin letters, many of them have similar pronunciations with Chinese. There are twelve zodiac signs, as well, except that the cat is listed as one of the twelve animals.
Vietnam is just like a child who has been adopted for years, a child in foster-parent’s western-style clothes, but deeply, can’nt remove the genes from his biological parents.