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Hanoi On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

David Lamb

Hanoi On Assignment

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From Photographer

David Alan Harvey

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Sandy Northrop (top) and David Alan Harvey



Field Notes From Author
David Lamb

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    This assignment gave me a chance to again enjoy the simple pleasures of Hanoi—a cup of coffee on the patio of Au Lac Café, an early morning walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, discovering teeming little streets and alleyways I'd never seen before, renewing old friendships, and making new ones. It was those simple pleasures that I cherished most during my four years (1997-2001) as the Hanoi bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. (It was a one-man bureau: me.)
    The first person I called when I returned was Nguyen Ngoc Hung, a college professor who had been a great friend and mentor in helping me unwrap the mysteries of Hanoi when I lived there. "So, you couldn't stay away?" he joked. We spent the night catching up over bountiful dishes of Vietnamese food at a new restaurant, The Emperor. Hung had been the first North Vietnamese ex-soldier to go to the United States on a mission of reconciliation in the early 1990s, and he had good news: His family had located the remains of his brother, a soldier, who had been listed as MIA for nearly 30 years.

     The time difference between Hanoi and my home outside Washington, D.C., is 12 hours. A few minutes after nine one evening, a waiter hurried over to my table in the Press Club and said, "You better turn on CNN." The date was September 11, 2001. A group of us, Vietnamese and Americans, watched the live broadcast of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Confusion and shock filled me. Should I head home immediately, especially because I live only three miles (five kilometers) from the Pentagon? I tried to call my wife but couldn't reach her. I tried to call friends, but circuits were overloaded. The next morning many Hanoians stopped me on the street, offering condolences to both the American people and me. It was an amazing response considering that a generation earlier U.S. planes were bombing Hanoi.

   In terms of crime, Hanoi is probably one of the safest cities I've ever visited. Crime against foreigners is almost nonexistent. To be able to travel around and stay out late without any fear really changes your whole psyche. That may come as a surprise to some because Vietnam is a country that has experienced so much violence.
    It had an absolutely different feel to it when I was a correspondent during the war. Everyone in Saigon had guns, and if civilians got angry at each other, they were apt to start blasting away. So it's to the government's credit that guns are off the streets and Vietnam is a safer place. I wish the same would happen in the United States.


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