5. The Past without the Pain
The Manufacture of Nostalgia
in Vietnam's Tourism Industry
Laurel B. Kennedy and Mary Rose Williams
A remarkable journey occurred in 1996 when a group of ten American veterans of the war in Vietnam returned to the country they had first known as soldiers. Riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, whose distinctive bass rumble is so loud and overwhelming it is sometimes referred to as “Rolling Thunder,” the vets spent eighteen days traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. It is not difficult to imagine that these riders took Vietnam by storm. Even the busiest and noisiest roadways of Vietnam, a quiet country, would have come to a halt as bicyclists, bus drivers, and pedestrians watched the spectacle of American steel, chrome, and leather roaring past. One can wonder why those veterans chose to tour Vietnam on these loudest and most American of motorcycles, and one can wonder what Vietnamese onlookers thought about as the commonplace was disrupted for a few minutes by the American cavalcade. It is not difficult to discern, however, that for the riding veterans, as tourists if not as soldiers twentyfive years earlier, Vietnam was theirs, reclaimed from history and transformed in memory.
Central to this volume is the question of how the past is remembered in Vietnam, and how disparate memories of that past are reconciled, if indeed they can be. While other chapters consider the work of the state in creating an official history, and of oppositional voices in contesting that sanctioned memory, we consider here the operations of the tourist industry, which offers its own narratives of Vietnam. These are often starkly different from those evident in the funerary rituals, the films and
At first glance, it would appear that the state has just as much control over tourism's imagemaking as it has over other elements of public memory. After all, tourist development must be approved by the state, and international interests involved in that development are required to work with Vietnamese partners. Yet the narratives used in “selling” Vietnam to potential tourists suggest that the state largely delegated authority for its self-representation to commercial, and usually international, image-makers.
At least in part, the strategy of inviting foreign development of the tourist industry reflected the perception that Vietnam might be a “hard sell” among Western travelers. The belief that the country must be rescripted in the popular consciousness was reinforced in a market analysis of Vietnam's nascent tourism industry, published in 1990 for use by travel industry professionals:
Vietnam's current travel status (low visitor arrival count and a poor to nonexistent image with potential travelers) is such that even small improvements canrepresentsubstantialgrowth. … Vietnamisacountry that conjures up many—often contradictory—images. Perhaps the most vivid of these is the overwhelmingly negative picture of the Vietnam War … notsomuchasa result of the communist victory, but rather because the United States was so torn by its defeat. … However, the memories and mood of the international community have since softened.
Thus the tourist industry needed to tell a new story of Vietnam to potential travelers. A number of narratives could have been written: Vietnam as a nation of quaint and quiet rural villages; as a nation growing beyond the wounds of conflict; as a nation moving rapidly toward modernity and industrialization.
The construction of Vietnam chosen by the international tourist industry has been of a nation of colonial pleasures, of elephant rides, 1930s Citroens, and afternoon drinks in the shade of the veranda. Evoking the days before the troubles began, the narrative creates a memory in the imagination of a Vietnam wherein there was not hostile resistance to external control, and where today there is neither conflict nor animosity toward former enemies. This Vietnam offers to travelers its Asian exoticism and its mystique, as well as a muted and angerless history.
Package tour providers rely on a linkage between tourism and nostalgic longing for the feelings—often the greater simplicity—of a past that exists in one's imagination. This brand of nostalgia has produced Williamsburg in the United States, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and the son et lumière displays on the twilit walls of French chaˆteaux. Yet in each of these cases, nostalgia can be seen to be a commodity manufactured for sale to tourists. Indeed, a tourist's impressions of the experiences travel will provide are primarily mediated by the tourism industry. The manufacture of nostalgia, then, is a process in which the tourist's memory itself is mediated. As Lowenthal writes, such nostalgia offers “memory with the pain removed.”
But the nostalgic memories inscribed in tourist sites are not merely commodities that await purchase by targeted consumers. These narratives interact with and alter the composition of personal memory, of the larger public memory, and of official history. Martha Norkunas describes the development of tourist “attractions” as a process in which social value is conferred to particular reconstructions of both the past and the present, which may or may not correspond to those sanctioned by the state. The process of value conferral—Dean MacCannell calls this “sight sacralization”—occurs through tour organizers'selection of sites, the construction and reconstruction of those sites to meet tourists'(preformed) expectations, through the markers that designate the sites, by the locals who contribute their apparent authenticity, and by the tourists who, by their very attention, confer importance on certain articulations of history. These sites also legitimize the relations of power implicit within them. Other constructions are rendered questionable or in need of correction. This process flattens and suppresses—of necessity, in the eyes of tour organizers—the complexity of history into a “simplified … [and] digestible” reconstruction: “Opposed events and ideologies are collapsed into strong statements about the forward movement and rightness of history.”
Tourism's narratives interact not only with official history but also with personal memory. Maurice Halbwachs's On Collective Memory asserted that individual memory is not permanent and complete, but socially produced, formed and reformed in interaction with others'conceptions of the past. Thus, as John Urry writes, “Identity almost
The strands of official history, of public memory, and of personal memory thus tangle, making true and longlasting distinctions between them difficult at best. What is perhaps most problematic—and interesting—when considering tourism's narratives among those offered by the state is that while the state is a visible authority whose political objectives are at least usually apparent, the tourist industry's hand is often invisible in the creation of its narratives. Norkunas writes that “the public would accept as ‘true'history that is written, exhibited, or otherwise publicly sanctioned.” Yet observers may bring at least a little skepticism to reconstructions of the past offered by the (identifiable) state, while accepting more readily narratives whose anonymous authorship does not alert their critical faculties. This makes consideration of tourism's narratives all the more important.
The analysis that follows considers some of the primary narratives offered by the tourist industry in Vietnam, examining both their origins and their thematic nature. The first part of the analysis describes the political economic catalysts to the formation of the Vietnam tourism industry. Because the shape of the industry is determined at least in part by the motives of those involved in the development of tourism, this discussion is concluded with a review of the three participants in the tourist enterprise: the Vietnamese “hosts” who service both tourists and tour operators, the travel industry professionals whose expertise informs the construction of the narratives we are studying, and the tourists most targeted by the industry. It is out of the needs of these three groups that a particular “story” of Vietnam arises. That story is told through two types of tourist “texts,” which are analyzed in the following sections of the chapter: the sites being developed for use by tourists, and the travel literature that informs tourists' expectations and, hence, their experience of visiting Vietnam. These texts represent Vietnam in ways that affect contemporary understanding of the nation, its history, and its political relations to the West not just for Western visitors but potentially for the Vietnamese themselves.
The rapid development of a tourist industry in Vietnam has occurred through a concerted official effort since the late 1980s. Until 1986, visitors
Few forms of international trade produce such classic economic dependency as tourism. As has been discovered by Cuba, Haiti, and others, natural disasters, political change (or even its threat), or a single season of inclement weather can cause tourist interest to vanish and the economic activity surrounding it to collapse. In assessing the impact of tourism in Vietnam, then, it is useful to consider the motivations that could lead a determinedly socialist nation to recreate itself, within a decade, as an international tourist destination, complete with five-star hotels and golf resorts. The timing of the move suggests that development of a tourist industry was a response to Vietnam's failed economic policies and its increasing economic isolation in the 1980s.
Efforts by the United States to constrict Vietnam's international trade linkages had been initiated in the 1950s, through a trade embargo against North Vietnam under the Trading with the Enemies Act. In 1978, the United States extended the embargo to the whole country following Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. Until this point, Vietnam had stressed the role of multinational corporations in developing exportoriented industry and had established an attractive international investment climate amid promises of multilateral loans and bilateral aid from
By the late 1980s, Vietnam found itself with few foreign markets open for the sale of its products, and thus a dire need to generate foreign exchange within its own national borders. These conditions emerged at the same time the number of Asiabound travelers was beginning to rise, and when Thailand, despite rapid industrialization, was earning the largest share of its foreign exchange through tourism. Further, Southeast Asian entrepreneurs, unbound by the embargo, were interested in and willing to finance the refurbishing of hotels and urban transportation to jumpstart the industry. A lowtechnology industry with comparatively little market research needed to inform planning, tourism offered Vietnam a relatively cheap and easy industry to enter, with the promise of quick foreign exchange earnings.
Given the immediate and financially tangible response to the opening of its borders to tourists, Vietnamese officials moved quickly in the early 1990s to establish the domestic bureaucratic structures and the international liaisons that would encourage rapid development in the industry. With its experience in this industry limited to serving a few thousand Soviet-bloctravelers per year, it is not surprising that Vietnam's emergent tourism administration was characterized by complexity and inefficiency, with three different groups working sometimes in cooperation and sometimes in competition with one another.
In official terms, control over development of the tourist industry lies with the first of these groups, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT). Reporting to the Council of Ministers, this body is charged with coordinating the development of the nation's tourist industry, including research and planning activities, training of personnel to work in the industry, and approval of contracts involving foreign investors (in coordination with the State Committee for Cooperation and Investment). A special unit of VNAT, Vietnamtourism, is responsible for promoting travel to the country and offering actual tours.
VNAT's policies and plans are implemented by some thirty local
The third group of important players in Vietnam are the People's Committees and the various ministries, which own hotels, control vast amounts of property, and have their own access to official power structures. Acting, like the others, as tour operators, the People's Committees and ministries are also centrally important as potential joint-venture partners for the international tourist industry, or as liaisons between international partners and entrepreneurs in Vietnam's private sector.
While certain aspects of servicing the tourist trade could be handled by Vietnamese “ground operators,” the government understood early on that it had neither the investment funds nor the knowhow to develop the amenities sought by well-heeled Western tourists. A 1991 government publication, Vietnam: Investment and Tourism in Prospect, invited the expertise of international travel agencies. The document noted that the government-operated Saigon Tour had “such relations [with international tourism professionals], but more attention should be paid to attract investment and to attain managerial and professional expertise.” Inexperienced but hoping not to be naive, the government required that all tourist developments be approved by the state, and that virtually all major foreign financial investments in the industry be undertaken through domestic-international partnerships. Local partners thus become essential to the international agencies, handling the bureaucratic aspects of operating in the market, arranging local contracts, and facilitating incountry negotiations, albeit generally on the terms set by the tour operators. They also provide other essential components, such as property, local knowledge of exploitable resources, Vietnamese currency, and materials or services needed for the venture. While local, usually quasi-governmental, firms may also play a role in serving tourists, they generally do not compete with their international partners, better endowed as those firms are with both knowledge and financial resources.
For their part, international investors provide foreign currency, certain forms of technical know-how, expertise on the interests and expectations of the tourists being courted, and, perhaps most essential to success, inclusion in the expensive package tours that bring travelers to
Development of the tourist industry necessitates more than just providing services, however. The business of attracting and actually delivering tourists—and the right tourists—is difficult. Passengers on cruises, for example, are usually wealthy, but they stay only a short time, and most of their food and lodging is provided on the cruise ship. The wealthy tourists who arrive on elite package tours, or expensive, individualized tours arranged by upscale travel agents, stay longer, spend more, and patronize hotels and local establishments. But attracting these most desirable tourists involves both knowledge of their expectations and of their motives for travel, and the ability to design the right packages—the right narratives—to assure the fulfillment of those expectations.
APPEALING TO TOURISTS
While each traveler's journey is designed with unique motivations in mind, common reasons for travel and types of travelers are known; these inform package tour providers'efforts to attract clients to the destinations they package into tours. Not all types of travelers are likely to voyage to Vietnam: tourists who seek merely a change of venue or a quick getaway would find the very expense and distance of traveling to Vietnam preemptive. And not all types of travelers are desirable clients for the package tours offered by the international tourism agencies discussed here; young Australian backpackers and European “hippie travelers” on shoestring budgets—what Erik Cohen calls “noninstitutionalized” tourists—are significant in Vietnam's visitor population but contribute minimally to the tourist economy.
For others, however, it is precisely because Vietnam is costly to visit and relatively unknown as an elite tourist destination that they are attracted. For such travelers, tourism enhances social status by displaying the availability of leisure time and expendable income. For these travelers, the more exoticthe destination, the greater the effect—although exoticism need not imply uncomfortable travel conditions. Lenz included Vietnam among the remote and putatively unknown locations
Still others travel to find an “authentic” experience that stands in contradistinction to the modern. Such travelers undertake “pilgrimages” that are not explicitly religious but that nonetheless involve a conversion of the self, or at least the hope that such a transformation will occur. These tourists “seek to see life as it really is, to get in touch with the natives, to enter the intimate space of the other in order to have an experience of real life, an authentic experience.” They wish to leave behind the superficiality of modern life as they know it at home; one travel writer who toured Vietnam by train (because “flying seemed entirely too abrupt and antiseptic”) described Vietnam as “a place beyond the reach of dollars and the American Express Card”—although both are, of course, very much in circulation. For many in this group, Vietnam's ancient pagodas and temples and the ethnic minorities of the northern highlands provide the requisite mystic exoticism.
For those who once served in Vietnam or for their families, travel to Vietnam also may be about a pilgrimage, but into the past. Not unlike the pilgrimages undertaken after World War I to the battlefields at Flanders and the Menin Gate of Ypres described by George Mosse, such journeys are centered on healing and renewal. Reporter Neil Sheehan worked in Vietnam during the war years and vowed to return to witness it under conditions of peace. Others return to relive that period of their own lives, or the lives of a relative who served in the war. Another group of “pilgrims,” albeit with a rather different relationship to Vietnam and its recent history, are the Viet Kieu, or overseas Vietnamese, who represented about onefifth of Vietnam's travelers between 1993and 1995. Pilgrimage into Vietnam's most recent war history is also undertaken by those without a personal connection to the period, but with a curiosity about what happened and an expectation that travel in Vietnam will tell them. A large number of study tours of Vietnam have been organized by universities, for example, either for current students or for alumni who seek a combination of leisure and education.
Still other travelers are less interested in the search for “authenticity” or what MacCannell calls the “nonmodern,” instead seeking culturally anonymous destinations: beaches and golf resorts and dutyfree shopping. Japanese tourists to the beaches of Thailand and Hawaii are often included among this group, and they represent an important
Obtaining these upscale tourists requires the enthusiasm of international travel agents and charter airlines. Travel organizations must invest a great deal of time and money to add new destinations to their existing tour programs, and so must be convinced of the potential of new sites to be both appealing for the clients and profitable for the agencies. Further, there is a great deal of competition for these tourists, particularly in the fastgrowing tourist market in Asia. Thus a new destination like Vietnam, attempting to develop a market out of thin air in the early 1990s, had a formidable task before it, and one in which success depended principally upon the international agencies. It is hardly surprising, then, that Vietnam was willing to delegate to these agencies so much authority over the imagery and narratives to be used in luring tourists.
THE FACE OF THE “NEW VIETNAM”:
AMENITIES AND ATTRACTIONS
The expertise of the tourism firms lies in their ability to coordinate the logistical aspects of their clients'international journeys, but that can only occur after those travelers have been enticed to the destination by the promise of some desirable experience. As Mowlana notes, it is the task of the tour organizers to “create the experience and image that sells and then proceed to make that the reality for the tourist.” Thus tour operators pay close attention both to the sites that potential travelers might visit and to the literature that will familiarize them with those sites in advance. These can be understood, then, as the negotiated product of the needs and interests of the tourism industry, its clients, and the government that signs contracts to facilitate the industry's success. Because the establishment of Vietnam as a tourist destination for Westerners has occurred within a short period of time and through a rather concerted effort, there is some transparency to tourism's development efforts: they can be viewed as explicitly intended to recreate Vietnam to meet the needs and expectations of potential travelers. It is clear that industry planners seek the attention of business travelers and upscale tourists, particularly those on charter packages from Europe, the United States, or Japan. Development has emphasized historical sites that might appeal to these tourists, the refurbishing or new construction of luxury
The industry anticipated that many of the tourists traveling to the country would be French or American veterans of the war that ended in 1975, returning perhaps to experience Vietnam's beauty in peacetime, to heal the hidden wounds of the war, or to relive certain aspects of that encounter. As one journalist remarked, “Since the end of the Vietnam war, many American films and books have agonized over the meaning of it all. The Vietnamese, who suffered much heavier casualties, … take a more practical approach. They are intent on turning the war into a tourist attraction.”
Indeed, a considerable amount of energy has been invested in constructing monuments around sites that foreign war veterans might want to revisit, and much of that energy has come from domestic sources. These can be differentiated from sites created for ideological purposes by the Vietnamese Communist Party or local cadres for Vietnamese observers, such as the museum-shrine for Ton Duc Thang described in this volume by Christoph Giebel. Sites prepared for foreign tourists were constructed (or reconstructed) later, usually after the official efforts to develop tourism began, suggesting their rather explicit goal of attracting foreign tourists. Further, they are highly commercialized, with souvenir stands and food stalls. And, unlike monuments and shrines used for political and/or ritual purposes of war commemoration by the families of Vietnamese veterans or organized school groups, these sites do not so much bear witness to the war as “trivialize” it, in the sense that George Mosse used that term, “cutting war down to size so that it would become commonplace instead of awesome and frightening … [and] by making it familiar, that which was in one's power to choose and to dominate.”
Turning the war into a tourist attraction means retelling, for profit, the story of Vietnam's victory. Since the profit must come from those who lost the war, aspects of the story must be muted and key roles recast to make the story more palatable. In some instances, the actions taken to mediate and moderate history have been unmistakable. There were, for example, attempts to close the American Rooms of the War Crimes
In other cases, historical reconstruction has been more subtle. Perhaps the best-known of the war sites now opened to tourists are the tunnels at Cu Chi, a network of about 125 miles of underground passageways, built as hideouts, meeting places, bomb shelters, and secret travel routes in southern Vietnam. These tunnels were well-known to U.S. soldiers during the war because of the many dangers associated with them: devoid of light, nearly airless with only the occasional tiny ventilation hole, and built narrow and low to make passage difficult for those with large frames, the tunnels were dreaded by many of those ordered to infiltrate them in search of Viet Cong guerrillas. Today the passages have been enlarged to accommodate Western tourists, and at their entrance a lecture hall, video displays, publicrest rooms, and a souvenir stand have been built (figs. 5.1 and 5.2). In exchange for a few greenbacks, visitors can purchase miniature Huey gunships fashioned out of American soda cans or engraved Zippo lighters like those used to torch entire villages, or they can pick up an M-16 (or an AK-47) and shoot off a round or two of ammunition without fear of return fire. Operated by the Vietnamese army, the tunnels in 1995 attracted up to five hundred visitors a day, served by female guides in black pajamas and rubber sandals— costumes evocative of the Viet Cong. The peculiar reversal of roles between defeater and defeated is unmistakable.
Tan Bien is another reconstructed war site, but it is its former elusiveness rather than familiarity upon which its developers hoped to capitalize. Known by the U.S. Pentagon as COSVN, this secret headquarters of the Viet Cong persistently defied American efforts at destruction. Now, as tourists, Americans are invited back, their hard currency a compelling incentive to disclosure of the secret site. In 1992, work began on
Figure 5.1. Sign at the entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnel complex, Ho Chi Minh City. Photograph by Hue-Tam Ho Tai.
Figure 5.2. War Time Souvenir Shop, Cu Chi Tunnel, Ho Chi Minh City. Photograph by Hue-Tam Ho Tai.
Similar efforts were undertaken to restore the remains of the “MacNamara Line,” an electronic wall of mines once used to keep Communists from entering South Vietnam. The U.S.$2 million project included reconstruction of the blockhouses and bunkers, the observation towers, and the barbed wire, electronic alarms, and odor detectors used to guard the installation. Undertaken by the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense, the site is actually a monument to American technology, complete with literature describing the history and equipment used at the installation, provided at the courtesy of the U.S. government.
Part of the work of the tourism industry is also, however, to encapsulate the wars of 1945–75 as a single historical moment in the nation's long history and to move tourists'attention along to other images and narratives; hence the slogan “Vietnam: A Country, Not a War.” Another significant period in the development of tourism is the French imperialist era, beginning in the middle 1800s. The legacy of French colonial domination is evident in the Impressionist artwork found in Vietnamese museums, in the highland villas built as retreats for colonial officers, and in the architecture of churches, government buildings, and—where tourists would most likely encounter it—in hotels.
In 1990, which was dubbed “Visit Vietnam Year,” one of the notable shortcomings of the industry was the lack of hotel accommodations. Ho Chi Minh City had only thirteen hundred international standard beds, and Hanoi had only eight hundred, about half the number needed to meet the national goal for visitors that year. In both cities, however, work had already begun on noteworthy ventures by hoteliers. In Hanoi, a French hotelier began the restoration and renovation of the Reunification (Thong Nhat) Hotel, which during the French colonial era had been the Hotel Me´tropole. Restoration included not only the classical French colonial architectural motifs of the building and its guest rooms but also the reinstatement of the French name, Hotel Sofitel Me´tropole, in lieu of the Vietnamese. Once work was completed, an advertisement placed in an English-language publication showed a 1930s-era postcard of the hotel and promised “Charme du Passe´ … Aujourd'hui.”
The story of the Reunification Hotel was soon repeated throughout Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, for example, foreign investors renovated
Figure 5.3. The restoration of the Hotel Continental in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City celebrates Vietnam's colonial legacy. Photograph by Laurel Kennedy.
For many wealthy travelers to Vietnam, from both the East and the West, the delight of colonial decadence may itself be a somewhat foreign experience. Many travelers seek more explicitly modern, although culturally anonymous, comforts for their travel experiences: airconditioned suites overlooking expanses of beach, state-of-the-art golf courses and marinas, and the opportunity to shop for souvenirs or duty-free goods. In Ho Chi Minh City, what had formerly been the Four Seasons Hotel on the Australian Great Barrier Reef was relocated by a
The most significant financial investments, however, were in the resort hotels—no more organicto Vietnam than the new discotheques. Outside of Da Nang, in what is once again being called “China Beach,” 536 acres of beachfront and a Soviet-built hotel were purchased by an American firm for U.S.$280 million, for development into a tourist complex of hotels, residential housing for expatriates, a shopping “village,” and a golf course—one of the scores of anonymous resort hotels that continue to be built. In Hue, a Vietnamese-Malaysian joint venture invested U.S.$408 million in new resorts, the renovation of an older hotel, and a tourist center in the middle of the city. By the mid-1990s, a South Korean company was planning a U.S.$290 million resort complex on the Con Dao Islands, once the site of a French colonial prison; five Singaporean partners were considering a U.S.$300 million tourist complex in Da Lat; and Club Med was negotiating to build a resort near Cam Ranh Bay. These developments and others by the Radisson, Marriott, and Choice hotel chains begged the question of whether Vietnam would soon be actually oversupplied with hotel accommodations, particularly the fourand five-star luxury units intended for the wealthiest tourists.
PACKAGING VIETNAM: THE NARRATIVE
OF VIETNAM TRAVEL LITERATURE
With these tourist amenities in place, tourism agencies must still lure visitors to Vietnam, a task complicated by the necessity of creating a new image of the country in the minds of Western travelers. The tourism literature describing travel packages to Indochina is one of the most significant venues in which a representation of Vietnam is offered. While potential travelers to Vietnam can obtain information about the
It is the task of these tourist organizations to create, through travel guides and brochures, a narrative encouraging a potential tourist public to visit Vietnam. Travel brochures, by their very nature, tell the stories of the places tourists will enter into and experience through their various expeditions. These brochures, as narratives, are configurations of “symbolic actions—words and/or deeds—that have consequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them.” Thus, the essential human behavior of storytelling serves the rhetorical function of “adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas.” The stories in brochures, then, mediate tourists'travel experience even before it has begun.
The narrative analysis of tourism literature for Vietnam that follows is based on catalogs, most of them from 1996, supplied by upscale packagetour providers. The catalogs were richly designed guides with heavy, embossed, fullcolor covers, artful photographs, and painstakingly worded text. We also examined a guidebook prepared by the travel industry for its own members: Vietnam: A Travel Agent's Guide, published in 1994 by the Pacific Asia Travel News. These catalogs and guide use words and images to introduce the “new” Vietnam through a narrative replete with ancient mystery and colonial charm.
The travel brochures employ five tactics to frame Vietnam for the targeted publicof wealthy “pioneer” tourists: the establishment of a Europeanized identity; ambiguity in describing the events of the 1945–75 conflicts; depiction of those wars as provincial events; portrayal of U.S. involvement as a social activity; and historical minimization. Through these tactics, wouldbe tourists who remember the Vietnamese as enemies are provided with representations of Vietnam, which suggest new constructs for remembering the country without its nemesis status. The represented landscapes offer Western tourists memories of a past that stabilize and authenticate not the past so much as the tourist's position within it. As Dickinson suggests, memories are “utilized in these sites to create intriguing spaces for [tourists'] consumption.”
The tactic of establishing a Europeanized identity permeates the
The French character of Ho Chi Minh City is highlighted as well. Indeed, the same publication that described Hanoi as the “Paris of the North” notes that “during the French occupation, Ho Chi Minh City was known as the ‘Paris of the East.’” In the course of its nineteen-day tour of Vietnam, Geographic Expeditions promises “a beautiful overnight at the hill resort of Dalat, redolent with touches of the French colonial past.” So as not to completely exclude American travelers from this colonialist experience, InnerAsia Expeditions'brochure describes Dalat's charms as an “old artdecoey French resort favored by Teddy Roosevelt in his post-Presidential hunting days.” By establishing identification with France through their tourism literature, the agencies present Vietnam as an ally rather than a former enemy.
A second persuasive tactic employed in the tourist literature to facilitate a different view of Vietnam by Westerners is the ambiguity of references to the wars of the twentieth century. The brochures give little information, for instance, to identify the opponents in the conflict, the length of military engagement, or its final consequences. In the sixty-five-page Travel Agent's Guide, for example, the war is not mentioned until nearly halfway through the brochure, and then only briefly, in a description of the Marble Mountains of Danang. The first visual image of the U.S. military presence in the country is presented on page 40 of this brochure. A photograph of an American helicopter is placed next to a paragraph listing the “Old Battlefields” in Ho Chi Minh City that tourists can visit. Weeds and deep grass have grown around the helicopter, suggesting that the Vietnamese give little attention to the remnants
Many well-known battlefields and locations of the US army are found here, including Da Spring; Tay Ninh, Chon Thanh, Iron Triangle; D Marquis; Hamburger Hill; Khe Sanh Base; Carol; Rockpile Caps; Con Tien; Doc Mieu; Que Son; An Hoa; Bo Bop; Nui Thanh; and Chu Lai.
Unlike the other descriptions on this page, the list of old battlefields contains no discourse that would associate the Vietnamese people and culture with the sites of war. Like the lone helicopter, American military battlefields appear to be dismissed by today's Vietnamese. Abercrombie and Kent offers similar reassurance, opening the description of its “Images of Indochina” tour by noting, “The turbulence of the recent past has faded.”
Conspicuously absent from the tourist literature are photographs of males who would have been of military age to fight either with or against Westerners. The majority of the pictures included in the brochures are scenic views of landscapes, shrines and other architectural points of interest, and food. Photos with discernible individuals are unusual and exclusively portray young women and children. With fair, flawless skin, the women are models of loveliness who characterize the Western concept of Asian beauty and pose no threat to Westerners. The children who appear in the photographs seem to be calm and well behaved, and surely too young to remember the hostilities; the TBI Tours brochure includes only one photograph, of a gaggle of schoolchildren giggling and waving to the camera, captioned “A Warm Welcome in Vietnam.”
Through an apparent inattention to warrelated incidents, areas, and people, this second tactic creates a present-day Vietnam that is distanced from the past both chronologically and conceptually. The recent war history that most Americans would associate with Vietnam is shown to
Unable to ignore completely the conflict between the United States and Vietnam, the tourism literature employs a third persuasive tactic: depiction of the war as a localized and isolated provincial event. References made to Vietnamese soldiers imply that the fighting involved neither cohesive, organized battalions nor, apparently, any identifiable foreign aggressors. In the Marble Mountains of Danang, for instance, “during the Vietnam War, [the] caves were used by local guerrillas as field hospitals and shelters.” Similarly,
The Cu Chi District, a well-known part of “The Iron Triangle,” features the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground network of tunnels constructed by the local guerrillas and militia in 1945 and then expanded during the Vietnam War. Cu Chi is often called an “underground village” because of its labyrinth of interlaced tunnels used by the guerrillas during the Vietnam War. At certain locations, the tunnels'three floors contained rooms large enough for a commando training center, surgical operation, and army supply stations. It was also the birth place of the historic Ho Chi Minh campaign.
In Abercrombie and Kent's description of events occurring on day 10of an Indochina tour, Cu Chi is offered as “one of the most intriguing battlefields of the Vietnamese War.” The copy goes on to explain that “during the height of the conflict, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces dug an extensive network of tunnels which served as hiding places, storage halls, medical center and dormitory.” In these examples, there is no mention of the enemy against whom the local guerrillas fought. Shaun Malarney notes elsewhere in this volume that Vietnamese historians have generally presented war as sacrificial defense of the motherland against foreign aggressors. In these brochures, those aggressors are rendered not merely anonymous but invisible and unknowable.
Further displacing foreigners from the site of wars in Vietnam is the photograph of the Cu Chi Tunnels that accompanies the copy in the Travel Agent's Guide. In this picture, two men squat in front of a shelter that covers the opening to one of the tunnels. One man appears to be a Westerner, perhaps fifty years old. He is dressed in casual clothes and is
A final depiction of the war as being “localized” to factions within Vietnam occurs in the description of Vung Tau. In addition to beaches, colonial villas, cafe´s, religious sites, and other outstanding views, “one can also see some of the spectacular antinaval guns, a reminder of Vietnam's lengthy territorial struggles.” To whom these guns belonged, or the targets at which they were aimed, remains ambiguous, as is the reference to the unspecified “territorial struggles” in which Vietnam has been involved. Foreign tourists may thus exclude themselves from specific military actions that occurred in the region.
On rare occasions when the U.S. military presence is mentioned in these brochures, it is portrayed as part of a fun, social activity—the fourth tactic. In descriptions of Ho Chi Minh City, the Rex Hotel is often said to have served as the U.S. Army's “bachelor officers'quarters.” To those without a military background, this allusion conjures images of swinging singles and a life of parties rather than living within a state of war. Further emphasizing the social aspects of the country is a featured attraction, China Beach, “the site where American soldiers used to relax.”
The final persuasive tactic that appears in the tourist literature on Vietnam is historical minimization. Interactions between Vietnam, France, and the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are all but lost in the grand expanse of Vietnam's history, from the ancient to the modern. In this way, even if the contemporary travelers recognize the previous antagonism of the countries, it is presented as a historical moment of comparatively little significance in the context of Vietnam's long and culturally rich past.
Historical minimization is achieved in the tourism literature in two ways: by skipping over details of events during the years the U.S. military was active in Vietnam, and by focusing on the distant past of the culture and country. Few references are made to events in Vietnam between 1945 and 1975. In an article documenting the fortyyear history of Vietnam Airlines in the Travel Agent's Guide, for instance, there is commentary about its beginnings in 1956; then the chronology of the airline skips to 1975, when unification “brought a boom in air services due to the dramatic increase in economic, political, cultural and social activities.” The intervening years simply are not mentioned.
Steeped in romance and history, the ruins of the city of Hue (“City of Romance”) receive a two-page color spread in one travel brochure, followed by a third page of photographs and copy. Only time seems to have affected this city that, according to the Travel Agent's Guide, was “considered the most splendid royal capital in Vietnam from the 1700s to the 1940s.” King Khai Dinh's Tomb, built between 1920 and 1930, and the Thien Mu Pagoda, which dates back to 1601, are located near Hue, off the Perfume River. In Danang, My Son Sanctuary, “once the capital of the Kingdom of Champa (from the 5th to the 12th century), was graced with 68 magnificent palaces and temples.” Remnants of the temples were excavated earlier this century. With visible ruins a thousand years old or more, Vietnam is promoted as a country whose importance to the world extends far beyond a comparatively insignificant war of the twentieth century.
Through the strategies of establishment of a Europeanized identity, ambiguity in references to the 1945–75 conflict, depiction of that war as a provincial event, portrayal of U.S. involvement as a social activity, and historical minimization, the tourist industry writes a narrative of Vietnam as welcoming, nonthreatening, and steeped in a history that transcends recent animosities.
CONCLUSION: RECOLONIZING THE PAST
Any explanation made by an individual or a group about events of the past or the future is constructed as a story that, as noted earlier, “adjusts”
The meaning of a narrative comes in part from its form. Dichotomies of fact/value, intellect/imagination, and reason/emotion merge in a narrative: “Stories are the enactment of the whole mind in concert with itself.” But a narrative also includes, in addition to essential facts, the value system according to which the facts may be evaluated; a narrative tells a story within an ideological and moral construct. Both intellectual and imaginative processes are engaged because the facts are presented in a framework that seems plausible, possible, and imaginable to the participants in the storytelling activity. Providing us with “a way of ordering and presenting a view of the world through a description of a situation involving characters, actions, and settings that changes over time,” narratives become crucially important to how we understand our present—and how we remember our past.
Our analysis of the narratives provided in both tourist sites and certain types of tour brochures suggests that Vietnam's tourist industry sees its commercial success as resting on its ability to transform Vietnam in the minds of the travelers who will visit the country. Over a billion dollars has already been invested in the representation of Vietnam. This process, which it is hoped will be rewarded handsomely by the tourists themselves, provides those tourists with an experience of the country very distant from the experience of the people of Vietnam. It is instead a construction of Vietnam—its history, its culture, its people—designed for Westerners, through their own eyes.
The ideological work done by the tourist sites, the local “hosts” who staff them, the literature that sells them, and the travelers who seek them out is an act of complicity. In a sense, there is a clash of the motives brought by each of these participants, which is resolved through the formulation of a historical narrative that appeases those who hold power. In the case of Vietnam, the objectives of many local people to honor their countrymen in victory and in death and to enlighten foreigners about the Vietnamese experience clash with their even greater need to extract from those foreigners the cash that the travelers will turn over only if the experience makes them feel better. So, rather than an
This reordering is evident in the contradictions that exist between the tourist narratives and those offered in Vietnam's official history. A common theme of the tourist industry is its invitation to travelers to view Vietnam through colonial eyes. The refurbishing and renaming of colonialera hotels, the revival of the excesses of imperialism, and the formulation of Vietnam's identity around the French referent all work to reposition Vietnam in relationship to its own past. Wealthy travelers are invited to assume the position of colonial conqueror, enjoying the fruits offered by the lesser, the conquered. In doing so, the power of Vietnamese resistance to colonialism and its oppression is erased from publicmemory and substituted with docile submission.
The tourist industry is, in fact, organized around Vietnamese supplication. Offering up their history, their culture, their art to the gaze of the Westerner, the people of Vietnam can be witnessed by tourists as living in the service of foreign visitors. There is no attention, either in the tourist literature or among the sites developed for tourist visits, to the success of Vietnam's industrialization efforts. The very concept of the modern, of a nation building an independent future, is overlooked by the tourist industry—aside from the foreign-built hotels that serve the tourist trade. On the contrary, the tremendous strength and forbearance which permitted the Vietnamese to overcome efforts at foreign domination and to set their own course are largely hidden from view.
While Vietnam's long history is recognized, it is not its history as defender of independence. Rather, it is Vietnam's ancient religious traditions—inaccurately separated from the country's political history— that are celebrated at the temples and pagodas to which tour buses swarm. Treks to the environs of the ethnic minority hill tribes render the traditions of a lost era another type of tourist attraction. With a population that is more young than old, it is venerability and the constancy of enduring religious convictions that are emphasized. There is a double irony in this, for religious freedom and tolerance for ethnic diversity would not be considered hallmarks of the Vietnamese experience, with tens of thousands of Buddhist monks only recently released from reeducation camps to return to those admired pagodas,  and a history of charges against the Vietnamese government of human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
If there is a group whose imagery in the travel literature is particularly
By foregrounding the delights of colonial decadence and backgrounding both the war years and any evidence of modernity; by foregrounding antiquity and backgrounding the vitality of youth; and by foregrounding women and backgrounding men, there is a constancy of effort to minimize the war's significance and to present it as finished business, now available for amusement. Tourists may witness the war in Vietnam with the same detached curiosity as the picnickers who attend reenactments of Civil War battles in the United States. By recreating as amusement the experiences of the war—the bars, the M-16s, the “R&R” retreats— by showing American military equipment resting in peace, forgotten among the weeds, by offering tranquil French colonial retreats as refuge from the rigors of tourism, the wars with the French and the Americans are shown as resolved, no longer a matter of concern or anxiety. Yet this again belies the experience of some Vietnamese, for whom the divisions between North and South persist.
Far from promoting understanding of the Vietnamese people, their valorous history, their culture and way of life, the tourist industry invites foreigners to experience Vietnam from the position of dominance and control that Westerners appeared to lose forever at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and in Saigon in 1975. The implications of the tourist industry's representation may extend as well, however, to Vietnam's own political memory and the formulation of its political agenda in the post-Soviet period.
Finally, tourism must be understood as a means of integrating a country into new global systems of power and politics, which must in turn influence the balance of power in a nation's domestic, as well as international, political affairs. Few planned economies have emphasized tourism as a means of generating revenue. As Vietnam continues its novel efforts to develop as a socialist polity with a market-oriented economy, fragile political relations are likely to be strained, and the relative power of private entrepreneurs and the state will surely undergo renegotiation. In international relations, Vietnam's representation offers to the world a warmer and friendlier Vietnam, which may have benefits in a range of political-economic venues. The inherent danger, however, is that the price paid for this nostalgic retelling of quaint colonialism may be a return to it.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the comments of John Kirby, Tammy Lewis, and Hue-Tam Ho Tai on early drafts of this chapter.
1. Murray Bailey, Travel and Tourism Opportunities in Vietnam: A Blue-print for Development (Hong Kong: Business International Asia-Pacific, 1990). [BACK]
2. David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 8. [BACK]
3. Martha K. Norkunas, The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History, and Ethnicity in Monterey, California (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993). [BACK]
4. Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Schocken Books, 1989), 44–45. [BACK]
5. Norkunas, The Politics of Public Memory, 36. [BACK]
6. Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, ed. and trans. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). [BACK]
7. John Urry, Consuming Places (New York: Routledge, 1995), 165; see also Marie-Franc¸oise Lanfant, John B. Allcock, and Edward M. Bruner, eds., International Tourism: Identity and Change (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1995). [BACK]
8. This point is the subject of debate between those who see history as continuously reconstructed in the present to serve current needs and those who see history as often resistant to such reconstruction. Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997). [BACK]
9. Norkunas, The Politics of Public Memory, 5. [BACK]
10. Bailey, Travel and Tourism Opportunities in Vietnam. [BACK]
11. Estimates of tourists entering Vietnam should be understood as approx-imations rather than precise figures. These statistics sometimes represent travelers entering the country on organized tours, visitors entering through the international airports, or categories including tourists, business travelers, and those visiting friends and relatives. Figures shown here, for example, are the official statistics published by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, but they differ from those provided by VNAT to the World Tourism Organization. [BACK]
12. Among other provisions, the 1988 Foreign Investment Law imposed few requirements on foreign investors, permitted up to 100 percent foreign ownership, permitted imports under joint venture enterprises to be free of duties, and eased repatriation of profits. [BACK]
13. Murray Hiebert, “Wish You Were Here,” Far Eastern Economic Review, January 18, 1990, 44–45. [BACK]
14. Carlyle Thayer, “Dilemmas of Development in Vietnam,” Current History, December 1978, 221–25. [BACK]
15. Bailey, Travel and Tourism Opportunities in Vietnam. [BACK]
16. Tre, Vietnam: Investment and Tourism in Prospect (Hanoi: Nguyen Minh Hoang Printing House, 1991), 63. [BACK]
17. For example, Vietnamtourism, the governmentrun tour agency, provides tours, such as a sixteen-day “Veteran's Tour,” as well as side trips that can be used to supplement packaged tours, like the “Humanitarian Side-Trips,” which take visitors to a drug rehabilitation center, an orphanage, and a maternity hospital. [BACK]
18. See, for example, Erik Cohen, “Toward a Sociology of International Tourism,” Social Research 39 (1972): 164–82; Nelson H. H. Graburn,
19. Cohen, “Toward a Sociology of International Tourism.” [BACK]
20. Ralph Lenz, “On Resurrecting Tourism in Vietnam,” Focus, 43 no.3(fall 1993): 1–6. [BACK]
21. Dean MacCannell, “Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings,” American Journal of Sociology 79 (1973): 589–603. [BACK]
22. Norkunas, The Politics of Public Memory, 2. [BACK]
23. David Margolick, “To Hanoi by Train, a Journey of 1, 000 Miles,” New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1997, 18, 32. [BACK]
24. George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). See also Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974). [BACK]
25. Neil Sheehan, After the War Was Over (New York: Random House, 1991). [BACK]
26. Many American veterans of the war in Vietnam have described their travels back to the country either in the mainstream media or, less professionally presented, as postings to the World Wide Web. These travelogues, which often grapple in highly personal terms with the experience of revisiting sites replete with memory and emotion, could be considered a new genre within the literature of the Vietnam-American war. See, for example, Sheehan, After the War Was Over; Paul Martin, “Land of the Descending Dragon,” National Geographic Traveler, May/June 1996, 60–75; Philip Milio, “My Return to Vietnam” (http://grunt.space.swri.edu/pmilio.html, 1996); and Robert Bowley, “Vietnam Visited and Revisited” (http://www.goodnet.com/~rbowley/vietnamstory.html, 1995). [BACK]
28. MacCannell, “Staged Authenticity,” 2. [BACK]
29. Hamid Mowlana, Global Information and World Communication (New York: Longman, 1986), 126. [BACK]
30. “The Profit Hunters,” The Economist, June 11, 1994, 31. [BACK]
31. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers, 126–27. [BACK]
32. The Chinese Rooms of the War Crimes Museum were closed after China and Vietnam renewed diplomatic relations. See Steven Erlanger, “Saigon in Transition and in a Hurry,” New York Times Magazine Sophisticated Traveler, May 17, 1992, 18–19. [BACK]
33. Completion of the new construction was delayed following efforts by historical preservationists to include a small commemorative museum in the design of the new Hanoi Towers. I thank Hue-Tam Ho Tai for information on the Towers'marketing slogan. [BACK]
34. Robert S. Greenberger, “Buy Those Zippos, Catch Some Waves, Visit a War Museum,” Wall Street Journal, January 25, 1993, A8. [BACK]
35. “War Sites to Bring in Tourist Bucks” Vietnews 3, no. 6 (1995): 35–36. [BACK]
36. Philip Shenon, “Hanoi to Show Tourists Hideout That Eluded US,” New York Times, December 11, 1992, A4. [BACK]
37. “War Sites to Bring in Tourist Bucks,” 35–36. [BACK]
38. Murray Hiebert, “Wish You Were Here,” Far Eastern Economic Review, January 18, 1990, 44–45. [BACK]
39. Walter Fisher, “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument,” Communication Monographs 51 (March 1984): 2. [BACK]
40. Donald C. Bryant, “Rhetoric: Its Function and Its Scope,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 39 (December 1953): 413. [BACK]
41. We examined the following brochures: Abercrombie and Kent, “The Orient, China and India” (Oak Brook, Ill., 1996); Geographic Expeditions, “Geographic Expeditions” (San Francisco, 1996); InnerAsia Expeditions, “Expeditions” (San Francisco, 1996); TBI Tours, “Orient Spectacular” (New York, 1994–95). [BACK]
42. Greg Dickinson, “Memories for Sale: Nostalgia and the Construction of Identity in Old Pasadena,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83 (1977): 1–27. [BACK]
43. Pacific-Asia Travel News, Vietnam: A Travel Agent's Guide (Phoenix, Ariz.: Americas Publishing, 1994), 14–17. [BACK]
44. Ibid., 38. [BACK]
45. Ibid., 30, 42. [BACK]
46. Ibid., 47. [BACK]
47. Fisher, “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm,” 10. [BACK]
48. Gloria E. Blumanhourst, “Coherence: A Narrative Criticism of Two Accounts of Herstory” (master's thesis, Colorado State University, 1986). [BACK]
49. Sonja K. Foss, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1989), 229. [BACK]
50. “Faith in Hanoi” Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1995, A12. [BACK]
51. Marie-Franc¸oise Lanfant, “International Tourism, Internationalization and the Challenge to Identity,” in International Tourism: Identity and Change, 33. [BACK]