An interview with local Aspiring Photographer, Stella Nguyen, IG @JpegbyStella,  coming soon! 
“The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask.” 
~ Rich Ridgeway
I’ve been extremely grateful and impressed with Vietnam and how they have handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Things are just about back to normal and businesses are hustling and the people are back in the streets. I see fewer and fewer people venturing out with masks on. So much so, that I often forget to grab mine before leaving my hotel.

But the one thing that remains empty in the streets are tourists. Hanoi is still devoid of tourists. Am I the last remaining tourist here? I don’t know. I haven’t seen any immigration stats that prove or disprove that, but it damn sure feels like it. I have seen non-Vietnamese people from all over, but they live here. And I did meet a really great guy who arrived here about the same time I did, Char Bel from Lebanon. He’s been traveling the world much like myself, but he just recently left Hanoi.

Char Bel introduced me to some of his peeps. He invited me to a comedy club where comedians excoriated the US. I couldn’t say shit because everything they said was true and funny. That, and my dumb ass had to shout out something when a guy on stage said something about Texas. Now everybody knew where the US guy was and they always checked out to see how I was handling the latest joke. We’ve certainly giving them enough material to work with between the riots, the protests, how we’re handling the pandemic, and of course everything tweeted from the White House.

Hanging out with some great peeps at Hanoi Social Club
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” 
~ Lawrence Block

I am the trifecta here. A black tourist from the US. Everybody wants a perspective on what is going on in the United States. Did your president really mean that? Are your people really fighting over toilet paper? Is the police really killing black people? Why do the white people hate you so much? I do my best to be an ambassador for my country. I’ve been questioned like this EVERY where I go. I’ve ALWAYS had some sort of answer or explanation that either comforts or better informs. “Do you actually believe, us Canadians, are a National Security threat to the US?” That was in 2018 in Colombia speaking to Canadian tourists in a cooking class I photographed for promotional work for a restaurant.

Recently, however, I was put to shame by a question a young lady asked me, for which I had not answer. There was nothing I could say to comfort and nothing I could say that informed her of any worthwhile reasoning that she simply wasn’t privy to. There was no media misinterpretations and nothing was taken out of context.

The young woman could not understand the US. She asked me how the people of Vietnam has treated me. I have been applauding the treatment I’ve received since I’ve been here. She went on to tell me that even despite the War, Vietnamese people are very nice and kind and we do not mistreat foreigners. I agreed with her. I have heard of no reports of that sort of mistreatment. Then she asked why Asian people in the US could not expect the same sort of treatment.

I was stunned into silence. I knew what she was referring to. She alluded to all the instances of racial attacks on Asian-Americans, regardless of exactly where they come from, as responsible for Covid-19.

Authorities in New York City and Los Angeles say that hate incidents against people of Asian descent have increased, while a reporting centre run by advocacy groups and San Francisco State University says it received over 1,700 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination from at least 45 US states since it launched in March.
“Coronavirus: What attacks on Asians reveal about American identity” by Helier Cheung & Zhaoyin Feng & Boer Deng, BBC News 27 May 2020

Hate crimes, Anti-Asian assaults, prejudices, and xenophobia rose significantly over the last few months and the title of that article raises a good question. What does this reveal about the American identity? What are we really? All I could say to the young lady was, “I’m sorry. I am so friggin’ sorry…” I suddenly felt like I did not belong in this country or deserve to be here. Vietnam has been one of, if not the BEST country to be in, if you want to sit out the Coronavirus. I’ve been fortunate to be here and have been treated with the utmost respect and professionalism.

It was a heart-breaking experience and this was not long before the policemen murdered George Floyd. Can you feel me? It’s like I come to your house and you give me your best room and feed me well. But when you come to my house, my people treat you with mistrust and try to run you down in the road.

I don’t know everything there is to know about Vietnam. I only know what I see and what I learn from these great people here who tell me what they think about their country. Everyday, I remember Muhammad Ali when he refused the draft citing he had no quarrel with the Vietnamese people as they have never called him a nigga. My 2020 motto so far… as I find myself often saying has simply been, “Thanks, Vietnam”.

I’ve been extended until August here and am grateful for it. Yet, I am in no hurry to leave. I am not trying to live here, but I would sincerely like to stay for another year, traveling the country and taking pictures. One good year, moving from one end to the other, traveling as slow as I want, stopping where I want, and just taking my time photographing the beauty of Vietnam. I’m doing an online photography landscape course and I want the Vietnam landscape to be the culmination of my study. No clue on how to qualify for either a year-long tourist Visa or a Business Visa. I hope to find out soon and be like the other foreigners who have figured out how to stay.