My mother helped to instill a love of travel in me. She was determined to have us, "see the USA in our Chevrolet" and reached her goal to take the family to every contiguous state during my childhood. Albeit, some states were simply pass throughs on the way to a destination, but every one had some point of interest or lesson that piqued our curiosity. As a primary school teacher, mom was on the lookout for ways to introduce a new word into our vocabulary or cite a lesson from the passing geography or geology. The word "meandering" was introduced on one trip as a description of a stream within our view shed and also the course of our travels on some days. When I was old enough to travel independently, I took to the highways with two girlfriends for several weeks of camping in the Rockies. Two overwhelming impressions from that first trip remain with me to this day: Humans as a whole share many of the same qualities yet every individual is unique; People are basically good and generous. Subsequent travel throughout North America and overseas have solidified those impressions and added more: You get back what you put out (corollary to people are basically good and generous); Stepping into the unknown in faith and trust builds those qualities and often brings about delightful experiences and outcomes.
The latter impression is never more evident for me than when traveling in Asia. The western mind is boggled by the seeming lack of logic to traffic patterns, time tables, and efficiency models in the east. Yet, that is precisely one reason that draws me back there. The environment gives you the choice, relax and surrender the mind's control, or be upset and frustrated much of the time. With approximately 12 million people and 7 million motorbikes, crossing the street in Saigon (or Bangkok, New Delhi, Siem Reap) requires all of the qualities of meditation. Be fully alert to everything around you, set your intention, stay focused, step out in faith and stay on track no matter what obstacles arise in your path, BREATHE. If you hesitate, get distracted or make any sudden moves your experience may be truncated. Often, in India, I would align with a local cow as my crossing guard in navigating traffic, talk about unflustered! Bicycles, rickshaws, trucks with horns blaring could not deter the sacred beast from its unwavering path and it always delivered me safely.
Coming to Viet Nam for the international yoga retreat this year brought home more life and history lessons. The Viet Nam war defined much about my generations' outlook on life and country. In Viet Nam they refer to it as "The American War". Just as many Americans, questioned why we were there, it turns out, so did many of the Vietnamese we spoke to. No one we talked to seemed to really know what we were doing there. And of course in the end, they were successful in driving the US out. Although the first Yama or commandment of Yoga is non-violince, yoga does not believe that war is always unjustified, the Bhagavad Gita being one illustration. Daya Mata (deceased president of Self Realization Fellowship) says, "When there is a snake in the room and it is doing no harm, let it be. But if it is hurting someone, you can defend them against it. War should only be engaged if there is a truly honorable need to defend against an aggressor, but should never be instigated aggressively." From what I saw and heard, there was no real aggressor that the US was defending against in Vietnam, just an ideology that the US government at the time, disagreed with. Unfortunately too many of our brave service people and countless soldiers and civilians in Vietnam paid the price for government's aggressive actions. President Obama was recently quoted as saying that war should never be glorified or entered into lightly.
Although there is still recovery work going on to clear UXO (unexploded ordinance) and mitigate effects of Agent Orange on people and the environment, Viet Nam has moved on. Saigon is a thriving, exciting, clean and vibrant city. The beaches of Nha Trang and Danang are beautiful. Very soon a newly accessible natural wonder of the world, Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world will burst upon the adventure traveler's blogs. The Vietnamese people are very welcoming to Americans. Most of the ex-pat American vets we know are married to lovely Vietnamese women. As the world becomes smaller, my prayer is that our consciousness becomes bigger, our vision clearer, that we see all nations "under God" and all of humanity as family.