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66

APRIL 2015

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Forty-five years after serving there, one veteran FSO encounters the new Vietnam.

BY PARKER W. BORG

Parker W. Borg is also the author of “Mobilizing for South Vietnam’s

Last Days” in this issue. See p. 33 for his biographical information. All

photos are courtesy of Parker Borg.

T

he dry season’s dusty,

smoky haze; the blend

of cooking smells with

more putrid street

odors; the seeming

indifference about

trash; the friendly faces

becoming even more

so when we identi-

fied ourselves as Americans; the apparent joy in

trying to speak English; the preference for dollars

(currently $1 is worth 21,000 dong); and the con-

stant noise from honking horns, cackling voices

and background music (in restaurants and bars,

American pop hits of the 1960s like “Yesterday”

and “Like a Rolling Stone” were common) were

all familiar. In so many ways, it seemed little had

changed since I left Vietnam 45 years ago; but I

quickly realized these superficial similarities were

only a small part of the story.

I had returned to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh

City) in 1999, but this was my first visit to the

towns of central Vietnam—Quinhon, Pleiku,

Kontum and Nha Trang, where I'd lived and worked from 1968

to 1970 and again in 1973. This January trip would be a chance to

show my wife, Anna, my old haunts for the first time.

Return to Vietnam:

Observations in 2015

FOCUS

ON THE FOREIGN SERVICE IN VIETNAM

Ho Chi Minh City has become the city Saigon always wanted

to be. Free of barbed wire and signs of strife, its broad avenues

(frequently renamed for political correctness) were still clogged

with traffic, but now they were lined with freshly painted build-

ings and elegant shopping malls, small shops and more than

a few skyscrapers. Vietnamese entrepreneurs seemed to be

continuously transforming the economy. One could buy just

Parker Borg with five students from Hoa Sen University, a private university in Ho

Chi Minh City, in February. The students stopped him on the street and asked to

interview him in English about his reactions to the city, explaining that it was an

assignment for their English class. Then they requested that he pose with them

for this photo. Their friendliness was typical of the reaction Borg and his wife

found everywhere in Vietnam.