Anonynmity in Hoi An

This is one of my favourite photos of me. Mostly because I don’t really look like that. And it’s such a well composed picture, don’t you think?


Taken at the delightful Mango Cafe in Hoi An town. There are chyrsanthemums in the foreground, the window is painted in bright blue, a palm tree and Hoi An’s main river just outside.

I had a splitting headache but loved the town. My sisters wanted to do more shopping but I wanted to watch the world go by. I’m just not into haggling when a little woodpecker is jabbering away behind my right ear.

I sat outside for a bit and chatted to three male tourists at the opposite table. The Accountant took this photo while I wasn’t paying any attention.

I smile a lot – happens when you grow up and your mother is telling you always to smile. The three men were nice enough and I told them a little of my history. They were a ragtag bunch of travellers – little in common except that they were on the same tour. The youngest was Greek and had been in Australia a few months prior, the two older were from the UK and America. They were intrigued by the fact that my sisters and I spoke a mish-mash of English and Vietnamese.

After I told them we had been Viet refugees and were now Australians, the American delighted in wanting to know if I was going to visit My Lai.

I was short with my response. No, I said. Why not? He said.

I stared at him.

I don’t think it is appropriate, I said primly.

He stared at me. It’s your history, he said.

I looked at him quizzically, my ire growing. I could not really articulate why I did not want to see, and that it had never occurred to me to visit, My Lai. I had been shocked by his asking. Although an important part of the American War, and an iconic turning point in the rest of the world’s understanding of who was really being hurt in that war, I could not bring myself to contemplate visiting a place where so much horror and agony had occurred. I can’t imagine making it a place to visit, on a tour of a country. Just like, though it is not part of my culture’s pain, I would never vist Auschwitz.

It was difficult enough to contemplate reconciling myself to the Viet Nam of today, let alone the Viet Nam of 1976. And what about my history beyond the war that got Viet Nam to the notice of the rest of the world? Just because the Viet Nam / American war and the My Lai massacre might be part of this man’s guilt and understanding of Viet Nam – it wasn’t mine. I didn’t quite know, and don’t know still, what is my understanding of Viet Nam. (My guilt is more explicable.) But there’s more to it than the War.

I don’t recall my answer after that. Some muttered politeness and we left.

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