This extended period of time alone during the pandemic has aroused my memories of Vietnam. As regular readers of this blog know, between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than in the U.S. I had two multiyear tours there and so many shorter trips, usually four to six months, that I lost count. During those thirteen years, I lived, breathed, smelled, and ingested Vietnam.
Of the seven languages I have worked in, I am most competent in Vietnamese. I spoke it constantly for many years. Early on, I learned to think in Vietnamese. In the process, I became inculcated with the Asian way of thinking inherent in the language. I saw the world from a new perspective.
I learned to feel at home in a tropical climate. Like the people around me, I wore minimal clothing. My skin became deeply tanned. Eventually, I developed skin cancer from too much exposure to the sun, a disorder the native Vietnamese were immune to. I ate the food of Vietnam and even learned to savor nước mắm, the fish sauce famous for its acrid smell.
My dreams came to me in Vietnamese. The language narrated scenes of barbarous combat, of men killing each other, of grisly wounds and bodies torn apart. Bloody war became part of the language.
My time in combat and my escape under fire as Saigon still stay with me. They always will. I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). The nightmares that malady brings with it have a sound track in Vietnamese.
So these lonely days, with time on my hands and no contacts with other human beings, memories of Vietnam come roaring home. I hear the language, feel the languid heat, smell nước mắm and jungle rot. The magnificent beauty of the country and the bestiality of war are with me still. They always will be.