Blog

"I'll find my way home while exploring the galaxy"

Day 190: Mission Freedom in Vietnam: Hoi An, Hue & Hanoi

Buddhism teaches us not to try and run away from suffering. You have to confront suffering. You have to look deeply into the nature of suffering in order to recognize its cause, the making of the suffering
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Running on a former Ho Chi Minh (war) trail that's been converted into a modern highway

Running on a former Ho Chi Minh (war) trail that's been converted into a modern highway

I am on a mission to come to peace with the uncertainty of the world we live in. It feels impossibly hard. But what's the alternative? I know I'm not alone in this confusion. Being in this part of the world freaks me out. The war energy is real. Are all the Vietnamese people I interact six degrees of separation away from those who lost their lives to war that devoured millions just so the U.S. could fulfill its own anti-communist agenda? To get a real sense of what our betrayal looked like in the last days of occupying south Vietnam, check out this film, Last Days in Vietnam.

The Vu Chi tunnels of Hue brought me right there, to that visceral place of suffering no great war movie or museum or book can do justice to. Imagine living life (if you can even call it that) for six years underground in man-made tunnels -- 28 out of the 114 which collapsed. In these tunnels, life in the North continued on per 'usual': babies were born, children were given an education, maps were drawn of the extensive tunnel network, wells of water were sourced, art performances were held. All this happened during the war? Somehow it did. Creativity thrived for survival and life went on as best it could in rock bottom circumstances.

Now I'm sitting in front of the one pillar pagoda built in the 1000s by Vietnam's first emperor, in one of Hanoi's beautiful parks. This remarkable piece of architecture symbolizes peace and purity amidst the world of sorrow, a sentiment that couldn't be any more defining than our present moment. It makes sense that Ho Chi Minh's palace, stilt house, mausoleum and museum in his honor surround this preserved relic of Vietnam’s history.

What comes to mind? The fact that Vietnam gained independence and its first president almost 200 years after our country did. In essentially the time Wylie has been alive, Vietnam has emerged from the destruction of war to rebuild its very foundational essence, spirit and people; persevering as a nation deserving of life and abundance just as much as anyone else. If you strip away the jargon of "communism," can't you argue that Vietnam was simply fighting for its freedom all along? Communist or not, these were people who deserved independence in the same way every imperialist country enjoys theirs. 

To be here now is to see the very real parallels of Vietnam's war past and the imminent threat of danger (and dare I say, world war) that looms over our world, especially with what just went down in Syria. To be here now is to tap into the unimaginable worst in humanity and shed light on our potential to completely annihilate the human race, and essentially turn our backs on life itself. To be here now is to also reflect on how strong the will power is of the Vietnamese people, from the canals of old port city Hoi An to the pagodas of Hue (including the original Buddhist temple that Thich Nat Hanh entered at age 16), and ten hours by bus all the way up to the cosmopolitan bustle of the nation’s capital, Hanoi, also the land of Ho Chi Minh himself.

Vietnam has given me pause to open up the dark demonic door of greed, self-serving economic agendas, shadow government shadiness and all that other stuff that the media would never dare broadcast. Being out here in the world outside the comforts of New York has for the first time gotten real, and scary. But like I said in the beginning, I am on a mission to find peace from understanding and compassion, confronting reality as it is and activating the wisdom that arises only by asking questions and patiently allowing the clarity of answers to come with time. 

Darkness and light are two sides of the same coin, and in that spirit, lies the beauty and ever growing freedom of the country as it stands today...

Lotus flower in bloom at what once was Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery

Lotus flower in bloom at what once was Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery

Hoi An was honored the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999. Beautiful yellow washed city of lanterns and architecture influenced by French/Japanese/Chinese blends reveal a bygone era of an old port city.

Hoi An was honored the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999. Beautiful yellow washed city of lanterns and architecture influenced by French/Japanese/Chinese blends reveal a bygone era of an old port city.

If you want to be showered in the most beautiful orchids in Hoi An, go to Hoi An Orchid Garden Villa - they might even cook you a delicious FREE dinner just because they're lovely like that.

If you want to be showered in the most beautiful orchids in Hoi An, go to Hoi An Orchid Garden Villa - they might even cook you a delicious FREE dinner just because they're lovely like that.

What's a cute boutique shop without a free-standing palm frond for you to cool off with?

What's a cute boutique shop without a free-standing palm frond for you to cool off with?

Choco-pies are the main attraction of altars, who knew??

Choco-pies are the main attraction of altars, who knew??

Incense hanging from the ceiling of a historical Chinese Assembly Hall. Kinda looks like the conical hats Vietnamese locals wear, no? See photo above.

Incense hanging from the ceiling of a historical Chinese Assembly Hall. Kinda looks like the conical hats Vietnamese locals wear, no? See photo above.

Everything is just so damn lovely in Hoi An

Everything is just so damn lovely in Hoi An

Old Quarter of Hoi An, lighting up the night 

Old Quarter of Hoi An, lighting up the night 

Lantern charm 

Lantern charm 

Famous Japanese bridge with a built-in Buddhist temple 

Famous Japanese bridge with a built-in Buddhist temple 

Goodbye Hoi An! En route to Hue on the most comfortable bus I've ever laid my back on. Wylie's face = look of serious satisfaction 

Goodbye Hoi An! En route to Hue on the most comfortable bus I've ever laid my back on. Wylie's face = look of serious satisfaction 

In Hue (heavily bombed part of Central Vietnam), there is no shortage of Buddhist pagodas 

In Hue (heavily bombed part of Central Vietnam), there is no shortage of Buddhist pagodas 

We experienced a surprise Vietnamese Buddhist ceremony of chanting and prayer. Didn't have the Tascam on me,  but it was the most beautiful sound I've heard in all of Vietnam yet.

We experienced a surprise Vietnamese Buddhist ceremony of chanting and prayer. Didn't have the Tascam on me,  but it was the most beautiful sound I've heard in all of Vietnam yet.

Typical sidewalk action in Hue - little chairs set up for newspaper reading, snacking and traffic watching

Typical sidewalk action in Hue - little chairs set up for newspaper reading, snacking and traffic watching

All that food for $4-5?? 

All that food for $4-5?? 

Imperial City in Hue was once occupied by Emperor Nyugen's dynasty - not sure what this sign says, but it look like stylized Chinese writing 

Imperial City in Hue was once occupied by Emperor Nyugen's dynasty - not sure what this sign says, but it look like stylized Chinese writing 

Took a DMZ tour about 2 hours north of Hue, a part of Vietnam heavily bombed during the war. DMZ was actually a title given by President Johnson to describe an intense war zone north and south of the 17th parallel dividing the country, not necessarily the DMZ that comes to mind when you think of a real "de-militarized" North-South Korea.

Took a DMZ tour about 2 hours north of Hue, a part of Vietnam heavily bombed during the war. DMZ was actually a title given by President Johnson to describe an intense war zone north and south of the 17th parallel dividing the country, not necessarily the DMZ that comes to mind when you think of a real "de-militarized" North-South Korea.

Recreated bunkers 

Recreated bunkers 

Here we go, inside the Vu Chi Tunnels...

Here we go, inside the Vu Chi Tunnels...

Photos of the babies born inside the Vu Chi tunnels of Hue - imagine, women didn't have the proper medical facilities or anesthesia to give birth, but they powered through it like the real warriors they were.

Photos of the babies born inside the Vu Chi tunnels of Hue - imagine, women didn't have the proper medical facilities or anesthesia to give birth, but they powered through it like the real warriors they were.

Recreations of men eating meals together inside the tunnels. It pays to be short!

Recreations of men eating meals together inside the tunnels. It pays to be short!

Tiffany Wen