Since arriving in Vietnam, I have felt happy and welcomed, mainly due to the kindness of the people I have met here. But underneath that happiness, there is a sense of unease I haven’t quite been able to put into words.
It might be that the way we are being treated, as deserving of such hospitality and kindness, seems to undermine the sense that I too am gaining from the experience. Yes, I am here to help, to ‘make a difference’. But at the same time, I am learning so much about the Vietnamese culture and people for my book, and I also have that wonderful sense of altruism which I feel has been missing in my life in Australia. I have been offered a wonderful window on a culture by the people who live here and that is priceless. My cynical brain wants to rationalise this kindness away, as if the only way I can understand this purity of kindness is to try to pick it apart. But perhaps they are just kind people. They let us into their lives because they want us there, and there is nothing to stop then. It is so refreshing and humbling.
I have heard this kind of thing spoken about before, but I have never experienced it. Moving to Australia, people were friendly and welcoming, but here, there is no trouble too big. They throw open their homes and their tables, and they are happy to have us there. They don’t understand when I ask if they are sure it is okay. They just smile and say ‘Make yourself home.’
I have been wondering why Western people seem more reserved in this way. I wonder if it is about fear. That these people who come into our lives may not be good people, may damage us and our families. If everything in our lives stays the same, we will be safe from harm. For a people who have seen much hardship, especially from outsiders, the Vietnamese are amazingly open and it is very admirable. They are able to let go of the past, something we in the West struggle with. Who knows whether deep down the resentment is still there, or if it is misdirected?
Perhaps we are right to fear things which might never happen. But I also think there is something to be said to opening yourself up to let things in, whether they are good or bad. If we only take the good, we will never learn from the bad. And we will not appreciate the good.