Vietnam a century ago was occupied by the French but still retained many of its former traditions.
The Dan Nguyet or “Moon Guitar” was a popular instrument played in Vietnam before guitars were introduced in the 20th century.
Moon guitars can still be seen today in Vietnam hanging on the back walls of antique stores like a memory of a distant time.
I came to Vietnam with my dear friend Tinh Mahoney, who is an amazing musician and film maker, to learn more about his life and about the amazing people who live here, to travel among them, to soak in the beauty of the countryside, write some musical sketches and perhaps to even introduce the harp guitar to the Vietnamese in the 21st century.
When I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City under the light of a full moon I saw a youthful and vigorous people zipping about on mopeds.
Not only did everything look exotic to me on the neon lit streets, there were smells in the air that seemed distinctly Vietnamese!
Upon waking the next morning to the sounds of busy streets, honking horns, and mopeds accelerating past, I could not resist yelling out “GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!”
During our cab ride into the city I rolled down the window and took this photo of a couple on a moped right next to us. With a great sense of humor and a welcoming glance they smiled for the camera.
I felt like I was in a flow of humanity that was whizzing past on motor bikes with all sorts of strapped-on cargo from brief cases to thousand year old vases.
Once out of the cab it became apparent to me that all available parking was crammed with mopeds for as far as the eye could see.
Downtown, while walking through a park, the city seemed so alive with its people busy with the important activities of life.
If they weren’t primping to attract a would-be-suitor some were having photos taken for their wedding.
Tinh was my guide into the culture of Vietnam. He encouraged me to strike up a conversation with a group of young students who might like an opportunity to speak English.
Young people around the city welcomed me and my request to take their picture. They were all smiles, filled with laughter and an unabashed hopefulness for peace in the world. What a difference 40 years can make. How much easier is it to share a smile than a sad memory.
On one street a model was posing for a photo shoot.
I don’t know what came over me when I asked if I could pose with the model myself. I think she thought I was a big time movie producer, fashion agent, or famous musician and that I might be her ticket to fame. I told her I would do what I could to promote her and so I included her here in my blog post (I am embarrassed to say that I forgot to get her card).
Vietnamese are incredibly resourceful and entrepreneurial. This lady skidded into this parking spot and within one minute was open for business.
Vietnamese aren’t necessarily waiting for someone to give them a job. They appear to create their own jobs and set up shop most anywhere. This lady is selling lotus pods on the street and does all her accounting on her iPod.
Life here can be a balancing act making sure to not sell too much from one basket alone but a little from each.
The Former President of South Vietnam lived in this Palace situated in the center of the city. From here he conducted the war against the north …
… until this tank bulldozed through the main gate ending the war in 1975.
While talking about this era with Tinh it was clear that events around the Vietnam war were not merely facts, dates, and place names to him but were dramatic chapters in his own life. He has recorded some of his soulful music on “Vietnamese Suite” and “Acoustic Rain” that reflects upon his time having grown up in war torn Vietnam. It is not just music of pain and loss but of hope and reconciliation.
Massive board rooms and conference halls and an escape helicopter were not part of his experience then (except for the helicopter as he was air lifted out of Saigon a day before the North took over the country).
Back into the city we encountered everything from architecture that was colorful, incredible and moving ….
…. to fresh food for sale on the street that was colorful, edible and moving.
After experiencing Ho Chi Minh City Deirdra and I were excited to visit our last stop of the tour: Phan Thiet – Tinh’s current and childhood home.
When I said I was looking forward to the bus trip to get there he began to laugh uncontrollably. His laughter got his friend Tam, Deirdra and I laughing as well. Little did we know what was in store for us on this six plus hour bus ride through congested streets, back roads, and to infrequent rest stops!
Look for Part V: John Doan’s Southeast Asia Tour to Phan Thiet – From Dragon Fruit to a Dragon Festival Parade, a Secret Concert and Secret Beaches, Tea houses to sleeping in a restaurant and other Adventures on Buses and Motorcycles.
Thanks so much for sharing your trip with all of us. You make it sound fun and exciting. It’s good to know that music can be found in all corners of the world.
Safe travels to you and your wife.
Your friend and fellow picker,
Bella Vista, AR
Thanks for writing and for your kind thoughts. Music is a common language we all can enjoy!
All the best,
What a wonderful adventure in a beautiful country!
It has been fun to share it with you and others. Keep making your incredible art. It takes me into other worlds! http://lulumoonart.wordpress.com/
Thank you for your kind word. I happen to be one of your biggest fans. Truth be told, it is you who is FABULOUS! Your singing, your bass playing, your arranging, etc. I was proud to be a New Christy Minstrel on stage with you.
John, Thanks for sharing the stories about your trip. I spent time in Vietnam 42 years ago. It was a very different place back then but there was music. I had a guitar and was learning to play when I wasn’t busy being a member of the war machine. You are a good steward. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for writing and for going through the war and serving your country in spite of the war’s unpopularity and sad losses. I can’t imagine the challenges you faced but I think I share with others a gratefulness that you and others did a difficult job and I am happy you made it through the ordeal. Yes, Vietnam is a different place now and you would be moved to see how open and friendly the people are.