Archive for August 26th, 2008

Mary in Vietnam, statue at Notre-Dame Basilica in Saigon (was
said to have shed tears during my last visit in October 2005),
all photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I remember one particular moment during a trip to Cuba in 1992. I was talking to a Cuban professor at the national university. We were all over the map—Clinton’s relaxing the embargo, Brazilian investment in Havana, the rationing of electricity that caused “lights out” in our hostel the night before and prevented us from having coffee that morning. I was midstream in a sentence when suddenly he stopped me.

“Please, woman, don’t use (familiar ‘you’ form) with me!”

I was dumbfounded. What did he mean? Had I overstepped my bounds?

We’d been talking for 30 minutes, gesturing with arms and hands, laughing, hitting it off. He wanted me to refer to him as usted? That’s what you called strangers and elders and higher-ups.

“You’re the enemy,” he went on, seeing the confusion on my face. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think you’re my friend.”

Thomas Friedman says the world is flat, and to find myself in this lovely hotel with internet hook-up, my daughters’ clear voices on the other end of the receiver, and the Democratic Convention on television, it’s easy to believe that the world is not only flat; it is teensy-weensy. It’s also easy to forget, like I did in Cuba, that there are fundamental differences not so much in the way we are as humans but in what we can and can not do.

It took me two days and some not terribly sophisticated finagling of code to access wordpress.com from Vietnam. Vietnamese government censors the internet and has used firewalls to block content “opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, disturbing security, economy, social order… and undermining the nation’s fine tradition and custom.”

Bloggers are persistent and creative creatures, though, and they seem to have managed to exercise their voices in spite of the government. And thank goodness. Vietnamese bloggers have a lot to share, I imagine, just as any citizen of the world might.

I remember back in 1992, when the internet was still a baby, we talked a lot in Cuba about what would happen if people got access to the rest of the world via the web. “There will be change,” was the consensus.

What that change is exactly and how fast it happens…well, that’s yet to be fully understood.

For now, all I can say is, change is good. Here’s to change—positive change—in the U.S. (Yes, we can), in this unbelievable fast-moving Ho Chi Minh City (named after the revolutionary who once brought a different kind of freedom), in countries all over the world whose citizens are ready to join the world in speaking up about everything, from Doesn’t James Carville drive you crazy? to My anxiety is doing quite well considering to You gotta see the fruit here.

You really do gotta see the fruit here. And on that note, I think I’ll run down to the cafe to get some.

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