Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
January 30, 2005
Hello everyone! It's Sunday afternoon (January 30th) in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the temperature is a balmy 85 degrees. It's actually quite cooler today than it was the past three days when temperatures got into the upper 90's. The humidity is up a bit but not too bad. I've worked up quite a sweat being outdoors and walking around Angkor so you can all feel sorry for me as I know the weather has been beautiful in most of the places people live who read my blog :-).
The last few days have been spent "templing". It's amazing the number of nouns that can be made into verbs! The temples and palaces of Angkor Wat have lived up to their hype and description as one of the Wonders of the World. This area is simply amazing and spectacular and grand. I'll look forward to writing the blog entry and posting some of the hundreds of pictures I've taken.
As I am in Cambodia, technology hasn't fully caught up here. I found an Internet Cafe with DSL (I think it's the only one in Siem Reap) but it doesn't allow USB connections thus no uploading of pictures. I wouldn't even want to try uploading pictures at some of the other Internet joints I've seen here!!
This is a general blog entry giving some information and history of Vietnam and will not include pictures. I am hoping that my next stop (Phnom Penh) will have better Internet but who knows?
Vietnam is a fascinating country and I didn't spend enough time there. I only went to Hanoi and Saigon and missed everything in the middle. I do plan on doing separate blog entries for both Hanoi and Saigon and, as usual, I am behind on my writing and need to catch up!!
Vietnam is a large country and home to over 80 million people making it the 13th most populous country on earth (versus the population of the U.S. at approximately 300 million) and is one of the poorest countries in Asia with an estimated average per capital income of just over $300. Think about that, the average Vietnamese makes only $25 US dollars PER MONTH!
The country has a young population, approximately 65% of the people are under the age of 30. Life expectancy is 66 years (high by Asian standards) and an infant mortality rate of 48 per 1,000 births (scary high!)
Most of the population lives outside cities and depends on agriculture and hunting and gathering for their livelihoods. Hanoi has a population of 3.5 - 4.0 million and Saigon has about 8.0 million people. There are a number of other cities in central Vietnam but none over a hundred thousand in population. The remainder live in small villages throughout the vast expanse of the country.
The currency is the Dong and the conversion ratio to the U.S. Dollar is about 15,700 dong = $1 dollar. This odd amount makes it a bit difficult to figure out what things cost there in dollars and the huge numbers of dong involved in each transaction is staggering but kinda fun. It's always neat to be carrying around a million of the countries currency. In the south many places also price goods and services in U.S. Dollars as well as dong but when paying in dollars you seem to get a little ripped off on the conversion (you end up paying more) although the difference is usually just a few cents.
It's funny, I find myself getting a bit warped when looking at prices and bargaining for goods and services. In Laos the exchange rate was 10,000 kip - $1, Vietnam was 15,700 dong = $1 and here in Cambodia it's 4,000 riel to $1. It's hard to keep track of what things are really worth when dealing in these large numbers and sometimes I just step back and pay the extra 1,000 dong/kip/riel because it really doesn't matter to me but it really does matter to them. I enjoy thinking and working with these odd numbers and different currencies, maybe it's the finance guy in me but it is fun, entertaining and a new and different experience with each country I visit.
Vietnam is now a communist country. North Vietnam gained its independence from French colonial rule in 1955 (after being occupied by the Japanese during WWII and fighting the French beginning in 1946) and at that time South Vietnam became a separate country under a military dictatorship with heavy support from the U.S.
As most people know Vietnam and most of Indo-China became a battleground in the Cold War and a place the U.S. felt it had to be involved in order to stop the spread of communism throughout the world. The domino-theory prevailed within successive Presidential Administrations from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson through Nixon. They all thought that the fall of South Vietnam to the communists would faciltate a fall of many other nearby, teetering countries to this evil.
History books, novels, movies and television shows have all documented the Vietnam War (or the American War from the Vietnamese perspective). This period of war actually lasted from around 1946 through 1979 for the Vietnamese while America's involvement was heaviest from the mid 1960's through the pull out after the Paris Peace Treaty was signed in 1974. Prior to heavy American involvement the Vietnamese fought to French to gain independence then the split between the North and South resulted in constant fighting between these two sides leading up to the Americans siding with the South and Russia and China aiding the North (primarily through military hardware and the presence of "advisors").
After the American departure in 1974 the U.S. government greatly decreased it's monetary and miltary support of the regime in South Vietnam (breaking many commitments due to constant pressure from the general US population and the Congress). The North and the South remained at war and in 1975 the North overran Saigon and won the war. This led to reunification of the country and the renaming of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City.
North Vietnam won the war and Vietnam became a communist country. Many former South Vietnamese government officials and military officers were either killed or sent to "re-education" camps as the communists attempted to force their way of thinking and living upon a part of the country that was more free-thinking and entrprenurial than the North.
While Vietnam was trying to consolidate their new country and rebuild after the devastation of the war the country was being harrassed by the Khmer Rouge controlled government of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge held power in Cambodia between 1975-1979 and were one of the most repressive and evil governments in the history of the world (this will be the topic of an upcoming blog entry). While the Khmer Rouge were systematically killing every educated person in Cambodia they were also militarily active on the Vietnam-Cambodia border.
This pissed of the Vietnamese and on December 25, 1978 they attacked Cambodia and drove the Khmer Rouge out of power (where they would subsequently be active as a guerilla movement up to 1999) and installed a puppet regime in Phnom Penh. The international community did not realize it at the time but the Vietnamese did Cambodia a huge favor by over throwing the evil regime of the Khmer Rouge. They saved many, many lives and this allowed Cambodia to spend the last 25 years moving forward to grow and stabilize a country that had been in turmoil for many, many years. It is doubtful that the Vietnamese had such altruistic motives for taking over Cambodia but the end result was a very positive one for the world.
As Vietnam took over Cambodia, the Chinese got upset. China had been a supporter of the evil Khmer Rouge government (and thus bear a great deal of responsibility for the genocide that occured) so in early 1979 they attacked Vietnam across the border the two countries share. There they fought a brief war lasting 17 days after which the Chinese withdrew. Vietnam has mostly been at peace since.
The American War still looms large in the Vietnamese minds despite it ending over 30 years ago. There are many monumnets and musuems dedicated to this war and their interpretation of it (to the victors go the right to interpret history - revisionism!). As the population who fought in the war ages and dies off the war will fall further from the minds and hearts of the people and their government - the same as in the U.S.
Some facts (from American sources) about the war. 3.14 million Americans served in Vietnam (including 7,200 women). The number of Americans dead or MIA was 58,183 (twice as many as in the Korean War). 3,700 airplanes were lost and almost 5,000 helicopters were lost. the U.S. military expended 15 million tons of ammunition and spent $165 Billion on the war effort. There are still over 2,000 Americans officially listed as Missing in Action.
It is estimated that over 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed and while no reliable statistics exist, over 1 million North Vietnamese soldiers died. Worst of all, over 4 million Vietnamese civilians were killed or injured (10% of the population at the time).
The price of war and its consequences were ghastly and huge for Vietnam and I understand why it is still foremost in many minds as they move forward and build a strong country and growing economy.
Often the American view is that we "lost" the war. In reality, although the U.S. did not achieve its objective of a non-communist Vietnam and lost over 58,000 lives, the loser in the war was Vietnam and it's people who lost a couple of generations fighting to keep their country free of foreign involvement.
I personally don't agree with their form of goverment or the way the run their economy and treat dissenters but I respect their right to run their country how they see fit and I respect and admire the recent steps the country has undertaken to loosen economic controls and internationalize policies and laws so that the country, its economy and people can raise the standard of living and be a worthwhile contributor to the world. This country has much to gain and the world has much to gain from the gradual opening up of Vietnam. The people, the culture and the beautiful country are all assets that Vietnam is now sharing with the world and I feel fortunate to have seen and experienced the small part of Vietnam that I did.
That's it for now. Again, sorry for the lack of pictures but I do have many for subsequent blog entries.
Many of you may have strong feelings about the Vietnam War and its outcome and effect of American culture, people, goverment and history and I would be very interested in hearing them. Please post a message with your thoughts or e-mail me.
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on January 30, 2005 02:04 AM
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