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Full Circle

Day 78: Hanoi

Michael Palin - Full CircleIt is Teacher's Day in Hanoi. To show their gratitude and respect, children bring gifts, or cook something for their teachers, parties are held and shows put on. I call on an English teacher called Mr Hung at the English for Special Purposes Department of Hanoi Foreign Institute. Like many Vietnamese it is impossible to tell Mr Hung's age from his face. His skin is smooth and un-lined and yet I know that he fought in the Vietnam war. He speaks quietly but with authority and clarity. Like other Vietnamese I have spoken to he harbours few grudges against today's Americans.

'Let bygones be bygones,' he says. 'We have no quarrel with the American people, only their leaders at the time.'

When you consider the casualty figures - 444,000 North Vietnamese killed, 58,000 Americans - this spirit of reconciliation is remarkable. (There is a street in Hanoi called Dwong Thien Thang B52 - Avenue of the Victories over The B-52s - but this is the exception rather than the rule.)

Most of all, Mr Hung feels let down by Russia and China.

'From 1975 to 1986 we looked to them as our models.'

But when he came to London and Paris to study in 1979 he came across books like George Orwell's Animal Farm, for the first time, which, he says, made him reconsider the behaviour of heroes like Stalin and Mao Tse Tung.

His fellow teacher, Mr Fang, young and intense, proudly shows me their English library - Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, copies of the New Yorker and Scientific American and a range of language tapes with titles like 'English For Secretary', 'English For International Banking', 'Scottish English' and even 'French English'.

In the evening we leave Hanoi on the Re-Unification Express bound for Saigon, following the fifteen hundred mile Pacific coast of Vietnam that curls like a sea horse from the Red River delta to the mouth of the Mekong. It's a two-day journey at an average speed of twenty-five miles an hour.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 78
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hanoi
  • Book page no: 114

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