Really, Joel Brinkley? I didn’t get the impression the Vietnamese are barbaric.

I want beef pho for breakfast tomorrow. I wanted it today and yesterday, too. I want to add garlic and chili marinated in rice vinegar, slurp unwieldy noodles and drink the hot broth. It’s funny because it took months for me to begin craving hot soup for breakfast on a hot day when I moved to Vietnam. Now, I believe there is no better breakfast.

Last week, I had the misfortune to stumble across Joel Brinkley’s column on Vietnam. It was inspired by his recent trip to the country. He later defended the column.

The column had all the nuance of a third-grade book report. It had the accuracy of a book report written without reading the book. Here’s the opening paragraph:

You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk.

Mr. Brinkley, did you walk around Vietnam with your eyes closed and earplugs in? I admit, I was not the keenest observer of wild bird life in Vietnam, but it’s there. Read up: Birding in Vietnam.

Rats deserve their own paragraph. A rat ran through my Christmas party! An expat friend of mine used to trap them in his house (his roommate would drown them). Driving home late at night, rats scavenged the alleys for tasty tidbits. In fact, there are so many rats in Hanoi that expats debate whether rats or cockroaches are worse. (The latter, hands down).

As for dogs, yes, people eat them. There was a dog vendor in my local market; I drove past it every day. Every time I went to Lenin Park, there were fluffy Pekinese out for an evening stroll. My students had pets.

I could have ignored those idiotic comments but Brinkley goes on to write, “Vietnam has always been an aggressive country.” I’m sorry, what? Is it aggressive to defend your country when, for a thousand years, superpowers–China, France, Japan, the USA–kept invading it?

To react by saying, “All Vietnamese are nice!” or “Vietnamese are so peaceful!” would be a generalization as naive as Brinkley’s. Anyone who has traveled, lived abroad or otherwise forced themselves outside their comfort zone knows that people everywhere have good days and bad. Mostly, if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice back.There are some 87 million people living in Vietnam. That’s 87 million personalities. Eighty-seven million stories.

I only lived in Vietnam for a year. I’m not an expert on the culture. I came home after a year–I initially planned to stay for two–because a close family member is battling a severe illness; I was too anxious living so far away from her. Even though I try to have adventures everywhere I go, I miss Vietnam. I miss the independence of driving my motorbike, the monsoon rain pounding the pavement, the curiosity of people in my neighborhood asking, “Where you from? How old are you? You married?”

Don’t read Joel Brinkley on Vietnam. I debated not linking to his article but doing so gave this rant more credibility. If you read his article, read the comments, particularly the one from Ginger Davis.

You can also read my love letter, Steve Jackson’s blog, Lonely Girl Travels, Sticky Rice or countless other blogs based out of Vietnam.


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