HANAM, Vietnam--Once you've been gone for so long, the place you come from no longer exists.
The place in question is my birthplace of Nhan Dao, a small village of about 4,700 residents in Hanam province, some 60 miles south of Hanoi. To put things in perspective, when I was growing up here in the '80s and early '90s, a trip to the capital of Hanoi would take eight hours one way. There was no paved road, no electricity, and no running water. For those reasons, until about 10 or 15 years ago, most people in Nhan Dao spent their whole lives within about a 20-mile radius of the village.
During that time, the only piece of modern technology I knew of was the lone loudspeaker, positioned in the middle of the village, which broadcast Radio the Voice of Vietnam from 5 in the morning to 10 at night. For years, it was what I woke up to and went to bed with, and it was the voice of one of the VoV newscasters that inspired me to become a journalist.
Life in the village was calm and simple then, and, for the most part, happy, despite the lack of wealth or connections to the outside world. Everybody, apart from working hard day in and day out in the rice fields, always looked forward to holidays, especially Tet, the traditional Vietnamese new year, when relatives and friends visit, children get lucky money, and celebrants feast on dishes including steamed square cakes made of sticky rice, pork, and green beans and wrapped in leaves. In the simplest terms, Tet in Vietnam is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all rolled into one.
After being in the States for so long and especially after several long days immersed in gadgets at CES 2011, I wanted to go back and experience Tet again for the first time in 10 years. I wanted to try to stay away from technology and the Internet for a while and find glimpses of the simple life I had once known.
That was not to be. I discovered that while Tet is still here, most of the simple life I remember has gone for good.… Read more