WHAT would I carry for more than 1,400 miles?
A book, a letter, I guess. In Hanoi, we packed mementoes for family and friends. The lone souvenir that could not fit in our bags was a Mu Coi, the Vietnam pith helmet.
Copied from French colonizers by the Viet Minh and still worn by civilians, the hat, covered in jungle-green cloth, just lacks replica brain matter and bone to complete the kitsch.
Virtually the last thing I would carry for even a mile, the Mu Coi I cradled from the Nội Bài International Airport to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
In lounges, I placed the package on its own seat. It seemed that a head, not a hat, was outlined against the flimsy plastic.
In Singapore, the hat slid out of sight in the overhead bin. The plane steward leaped out of my way when I yelped and rushed back to retrieve it.
When the hat finally reached our friend, he admitted he wanted only a baseball cap with the red star, a souvenir that blankets the sidewalks of Hanoi in the thousands.
One of the oldest in Southeast Asia, the 4,000-year-old Vietnamese culture is diverse, complex and fascinating. Paradoxically, war seems to be at the center.
Colleagues—rational and skeptical—remembered crying at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
On April 30, 1975, when Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell to or was liberated by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the Vietnam War left about 58,000 American soldiers dead and 304,000 injured.
The Vietnam War is said to be the “only war the Americans lost”. The South Vietnamese, allies of the U.S., took the brunt of the Americans’ defeat: about four million dead or wounded, including 1.3 million civilians, in South Vietnam alone.
Even in the face of ignorance, historical amnesia, or the ashes of Cold War polarities, the relatively less macabre Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi is a remembrance of the human cost of aggression, whatever the cause.
Hanoi today is a far cry from war-time Vietnam, which, covered by at least 21 million bomb craters, looked like the moon. As Bella sautéed cat fish caught from the once “bomb-saturated” Red River—historians estimate American war planes dropped twice as many bombs in Vietnam as they did during World War II—she told us about her grandmother’s collection of frying pans.
Interrupting her automotive engineering studies overseas to take care of an ailing elder, Bella learned to cook from her mother, who learned from her own mother. Her grandmother’s generation made durable cooking implements from the planes that crashed in the countryside, she said.
Our family, who enjoyed Bella’s dinner, agreed that the only response to destruction is creation.
(mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ firstname.lastname@example.org/ 09173226131)
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s April 23, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”