An American journalist's low-key but affectionate account of her extended visits to Vietnam, beginning in the early 1990s, that reflect more personal than political reactions to a country recovering from its war-torn past and tentatively embracing western culture.
Sachs first visited Vietnam in 1989, when Americans were finally allowed to enter as tourists. Born in 1962, Sachs had only dim memories of the war, and her brief visit was the start of a love affair with the country. Back in the US, she set about learning Vietnamese and in 1992 returned for an extended stay. In Hanoi she rented rooms on Dream Street from a young family who soon became dear friends. Although not one of those fearless women who cross deserts on a camel, the author gradually did adapt to the cultural differences—being always recognizable as a foreigner was the hardest adjustment for her to make—and learned how to negotiate the crowded streets on her bicycle. As her Vietnamese improved, she was able to talk to people and was impressed by their willingness to forgive and forget. Vietnam had been at war (with different enemies) for centuries—and their greatest enmity seems reserved not for the Americans but the Chinese, whom they still fear. Sachs fell in love with Phai, a mechanic, but when she returned to the US she realized there were too many educational and cultural differences between them, and she ended up marrying an American instead. On her next visit, instead of teaching English, she worked as a journalist and associated more with the local intelligentsia than with the neighborhood street merchants. Warmed by the friendships she made, she later returned once more with husband and young son for what was, in fact, a joyous family reunion.
Vividly detailed vignettes of living with a remarkably generous people who are determined to move on.