When I hear Vietnam, I think of war.
It has been at war for decades after all. First it had to fight with the Japanese during World War 2, then Vietnam fought for independence from the French for 11 years, only to be given a few days peace from foreigners before the Americans landed in their shores and war began again that would last for the next 16 years. The Vietnam war flattened the countryside of Vietnam. Millions died.
Imagine our awe when we saw how far Vietnam has come when we had the chance to visit last summer.
The city center of Ho Chi Minh looked and felt like Makati City. Luxury brand stores dotted the shopping districts which is symbolic of the wealth of the people in the cities. The roads are paved, smooth and free of potholes. There is still a long way to go in terms of progress but progress is visible everywhere we looked. Construction projects abound. The roads are filled with busy people travelling to and from their business in their scooters, still a primary source of transportation for most Vietnamese locals.
Remnants of the war are still present in the heart of the city in their war museums. Photos of the horrors of war during the heat of the battle were displayed in the museum, a product of the efforts of brave journalists who covered the war. A section of the museum is dedicated to the after-effects of chemical warfare used during the war that resulted not only in the destruction of forests and farms but also in the escalated number of severe birth defects in children for decades to come.
However, the most telling remnant of the horror of the years of war came in the voice of our tour guide. While talking about the history of his country, his voice almost broke with emotion multiple times.
What touched me the most, of everything I learned during our short sojourn in Vietnam, was why Vietnam was able to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of war, proudly boasting of being one of the top exporters of agricultural products in the world. I am sure their country is far from perfect but how far they have come is inspiring nonetheless.
The tour guide summed up the mantra of the Vietnamese people rather eloquently: “We cannot change our past, but we CAN change our future. So we believe there is no point in crying about our past. We’ll just focus on building our future.”
Any nation, or person for that matter, can benefit from taking a page from this Vietnamese belief in the future. We need to decide to shape our future towards the way we want it to be and constantly move towards that goal. No excuses.
God knows whining gets us nowhere.