I AM NOT the greatest fan of the obligatory cultural tours that are increasingly anchored in the program of international conferences. In Vienna it would be to a Weinstube; in Durban a Zulu village; in Bergen perhaps a Viking museum. This time, in Hanoi, the choices include a local temple and a silk village. I have travelled in Asia extensively – enough to be wary of temples riddled with friendly locals continually offering their goods or services as guides at the expense of peaceful immersion in an ancient spiritual atmosphere (which may have been a bit of an ask in the first place, given the company of a busload of colleagues). I know the silk village tour will take me along cages with silk worms in various stages of growth feasting on mulberry leaves, followed by boiling cauldrons, dying casks and spinning wheels where the cocoons are processed into strong and beautiful thread to be turned into garments, little bags and cute toys which I am certain to encounter in the factory shop at the end of the tour. Many of us have cupboards filled with such mementos, or have imposed them on innocent acquaintances in whose garages they now reside. This time, I am quite determined to avoid such patterns in a country that seems to have so much more to offer.
During the morning coffee break, I turn to a group of three young staff from the conservatorium hosting the conference. During the presentations and discussions, they have been sitting almost motionless on chairs against the wall, strikingly quiet while their superiors were present. However, during short conversations between sessions, I delight in their insightful comments on specific presentations and the idiosyncrasies of various participants – including myself. Behind their demure manner hides a resolve to do things their way once their time comes. I sense the promise of a major generational shift from old-style communism to a new Vietnam which, as in many other places in the world, I believe is likely to be led by bright young women.
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