Monday, March 11, 2013

Forgiveness in Vietnam

When you're traveling, most days are pretty eventful and exciting. Today was not one of those days; I had several errands I needed to get done, which included getting some visa photos taken. While I was waiting for them to get printed I sat down next to an old Vietnamese man, to whom I said hello. He promptly asked me (in French) if I was French, to which I replied that no, I'm from Canada but I can speak French. He excitedly began to tell me about how he knew that some of Canada was French speaking and some was English speaking. From there he went on to explain how Vietnam had been oppressed by the French, as well as by the Chinese and of course the Americans. He told me he had fought in both wars (against the French and the Americans) and how the country was still in the process of being rebuilt after so much of it had been destroyed during wartime.

Although he didn't sound bitter, I was curious if he felt any hatred towards the people of these foreign nations who had tried to control his country for so long. Being that he was born in 1925 he wouldn't have experienced living in an independent Vietnam until well into adulthood; who wouldn't feel some resentment? Many people who have been through one war seem to, and he had been through two. So I asked him. He admitted that while he used to hate the Chinese, the French and the Americans, all such feelings have long since been forgotten. We need to move on, he said, and explained that now he loves meeting and talking with all kinds of foreigners.

Considering the atrocities this country has gone through over the years, I was incredibly touched by his answer. Since arriving in Vietnam I've made an effort to inform myself about the hardships the people here have had to deal with by visiting the War Museum in HCMC, the Demilitarized Zone near Hue and an old prison here in Hanoi, and what I've learned at these various sites has been pretty horrific. Vietnam and its people have not had any easy or pleasant past, and a lot of what they've been through is still affecting their present/future.

Today there are still are numerous wars and conflicts that continue to be waged throughout the world and at times it feels like hatred is rampant. But it seems to me if someone like the old man I met today can manage to move past what's happened and adopt a positive attitude towards those who have so negatively impacted him and his country, more people should be able to do the same. Why do we hold grudges and prejudices towards entire populations when we could instead choose to forgive and move on? I think more of us need to take a leaf out of 89 year old Vu Hung's book and be more forgiving and open-minded.

Since I was only supposed to be doing errands today I didn't bring my camera out with me (which I'm now kicking myself for) so unfortunately I have no pictures of Vu Hung. But his positive outlook has definitely made a lasting impression on me and speaks volumes about the character of Vietnamese people.

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