“The Vietnamese must be the most forgiving people in the world,” writes Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice. “Even as we’ve become more familiar with this country, the kind nature of these people is still baffling to us.
“We first came to Vietnam in 2005, after spending a month in China. We crossed the border into Lao Cai and took a minivan into Sapa, a pretty town in Vietnam’s mountainous northwest. A young woman attempted to entice us into her restaurant.
“‘Where you from?’ she asked us.
“The moment of truth was at hand. We wondered whether to lie and say that we were Canadians. Nervously, though, I replied honestly, ‘America,’ not knowing how she would react to us. After all, around 20 million Vietnamese died in the war that had ended only 30 years earlier.
“‘America!’ Her face transformed into a huge smile, eyes twinkling joyfully. ‘Power to the People!’ she replied.
“Not what we had been expecting.
“Later that day, a vendor asked us the same question: ‘Where you from?’ Again, we tentatively offered, ‘America.’ Her smile was even larger than the first lady’s. ‘Beel Cleenton! Awwlright!’
“We are in Vietnam again now, and the reception has been just as welcoming this time. Here in Nha Trang, we looked at an apartment for rent. The elderly gentleman asked us, ‘Where you from?’
“We told him. He shook our hands firmly and asked us where we were in 1975. Too young for that war, we told him.
“‘I was translator for Americans’ he explained. ‘I am so honored to meet you!’
“Wherever we go in this country, being from the United States seems to open doors and to pave the way for friendships. A Christmas gift from the owner of the guesthouse where we stayed in Da Lat. A pound of deliciously strong Vietnamese coffee from the owners of our favorite coffee shop. In Nha Trang, in our search for rentals, doors seem to open wider when people hear that we are American.
“Sometimes, not sharing a common language presents real challenges. Once, we were with a Vietnamese police officer, who insisted that we share a glass of rice wine with him. He held up his glass for a toast. We waited politely and again surprised.
“‘Ho Chi Minh George Washington!’ he proclaimed. The two cultures briefly touched, further language unnecessary.
“We suspect that this would be true if you said that you were from France, Australia, Russia, or even from Mars. The Vietnamese might be the most gracious hosts in the world. They are proud of their country and curious about yours.
“In Vietnam, nothing is ever as it seems, and little is ever as you would expect. People show generosity and curiosity about us in ways that can be almost embarrassing.
“This is just one of the reasons we have come to love this country and her people…and just one of the reasons why we believe this place could make an ideal retirement choice…”