That Time I… Had a Communist Tour Guide

Sam H. '18, Reporter

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This past summer I traveled to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam with a high school travel group program called Rustic Pathways. In each of the four countries, we received a guide to teach us about the culture and people of each country. The guide from Thailand was an older man who had competed in Muay Thai (a form of boxing that is very popular in Thailand), as a young man. The guide from Laos had a nickname which was “Paradon,” like the soccer player. The two guides from Cambodia grew up in the period following the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodia genocide, so they both spoke of rebuilding the country post the traumatic events of 1970s.

But in Vietnam, our guide was a member of the Communist party. I guess who else would be the best to lead you through a communist country, than a communist himself. Our guide told us his Vietnamese name, but then quickly told us to call him, Tim (pronounced Teem). The first thing he explained was that becoming a member of the communist party was very difficult. A person must have three generations worth of previous communist party members to even be able to apply. By this, he meant that every person who wished to apply to the party must have had at least three previous family members as active participants within the party.
On our first day in Hanoi, Vietnam we visited the Hanoi Hilton, which is the most prominent prison for Vietnamese people who went against French Colonialism alone with American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, or as our guide informed us, “The war of American aggression.”

While visiting the Museum, it started pouring outside. As some of the museum was outside, it quickly started flooding in the areas around the street and in between the buildings. As we were running between buildings to avoid the rain, Tim made sure to inform us that, “We weren’t experiencing half of what the Vietnamese patriots (the Vietnamese people who were against French Colonialism) faced during their imprisonments.” Tim was painting a picture of the challenges the Vietnamese people faced during their time in the Hanoi Hilton. He even showed us videos of Americans enjoying their time in the prison playing volleyball and other sports during wartime.

After we got back on the bus after visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (a large building to hold a body or bodies), Tim told us that Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Vietnamese nationalist movement for three decades, did not have a family. Now in America, we have to access to information about Ho Chi Minh’s family like the fact that he had a wife. But Tim had been taught that Ho Chi Minh did not create a family for himself, instead, he was loyally married to his country. It is odd to think about that Tim did not know that Ho Chi Minh had a family. He actually argued with us for nearly thirty minutes about the fact that Ho Chi Minh was not married.

Overall, the experience was one I will not forget. I learned a lot about Vietnam, the people within it, and the political culture of the country. Tim was an interesting guy, to say the least, but I enjoyed having him as our guide for the country.

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