Exploring the Wonders of Vietnam

January 9, 2006
Leaving Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'll be flying to Viet Nam. It will take more than a day to get there by plane-flying east via Frankfurt and Singapore-but in a way, it's taken me a lifetime. I was a young teenager when I first started to consider Viet Nam-and then mostly in the context of my own future. To be going there eagerly and by choice more than 40 years later seems almost wrong to me. Yet the war that consumed the country in my teens and 20s is long over. Now, I am more than ready to meet a people and see a country that has been so important in my consciousness-and that of many other Americans-for much of my life.

For too many Americans, Viet Nam (properly translated as two words and spelled here as such) is a war and an era, not a country. "Where were you during Viet Nam?" a contemporary might say. Or, to signal that he's a veteran, he'll drop the "Viet." Thanks to Swarthmore College, my employer for more than 15 years, I'm about to go beyond this odd conflation of a nation with a war. I'm going to a real place, an independent nation, the home of a proud and ancient people.

Nearly 40 Swarthmore alumni, spouses, and friends-and Associate Professor of Religion Steven Hopkins-will be my traveling companions. In the days to come, I will be reporting at this site on what we are learning about Viet Nam's spiritual, cultural, and historical legacy and about the vibrant life of contemporary Viet Nam-a country that is, like China, trying to find its way as a socialist society in a decidedly capitalist world.

When I first heard about this year's Swarthmore Alumni College Abroad, something deep inside said to me I had to go. For an American of my generation, Viet Nam is where a lot of things started. Political passion, a changed worldview, and a constantly questioning approach to modern history are among the results of our complex relationship to a country that most of us have never visited. Now I have my chance.

I invite you to go to Viet Nam (and on a brief visit to Cambodia) with me. I'll be posting short essays and photos to this site every day or two until Jan. 26. Your comments and feedback are welcome.

~ Jeff

About This Site

In January 2006, a 40-person contingent of Swarthmoreans is traveling to Vietnam as members of the Alumni College Abroad. The trip, led by Associate Professor of Religion Steven Hopkins, will focus on the history, religion, and the vibrant culture of contemporary Vietnam. A smaller contingent will accompany Hopkins to Cambodia, including a tour of the famous temples of Angkor Wat.

Jeffrey Lott, editor of the Swarthmore College Bulletin, has joined the trip to write about it for the magazine. This site is a series of reports filed by Jeff from Vietnam and Cambodia during the trip. Your responses are invited.

Vietnam 2006 Itinerary

List of Travelers

Respond to these posts

Blog Entries

Leaving Tomorrow: Jan 9, 2006
From 35,000 feet: Jan 11, 2006
Ho Chi Minh City: Jan 12, 2006
Museums of Vietnam: Jan 14, 2006
Temples and Tunnels: Jan 16, 2006
Stories and a Poem: Jan 17, 2006
Skipping School: Jan 18, 2006
Dateline Hanoi: Jan 19, 2006
Three Days in Hanoi: Jan 20, 2006
Winding Down: Jan 26, 2006
Poor Phnom Penh: Jan 27, 2006
Chuc Mung Nam Moi: Jan 29, 2006