We had not been in Vietnam before, but took the opportunity on our way to a medical meeting in China because it has been recommended by many of our friends. We had only a few days, mainly in the largest city, Hanoi, so our impressions are selective and superficial, but certainly positive. The country is obviously on the move, developing fast in a market economy introduced (as in China) by a communist regime. The people we met were universally cheerful, with no apparent resentment for the traumas of the “American war” (which we call the “Vietnam war”). There is evidence of the time France occupied Indo-china, not least in our superb hotel the Metropole, and the cuisine.
I was able to give a lecture at the University hospital, which was well attended, but probably marginally understood, since the planned interpreter failed to arrive, and the “volunteer” was somewhat challenged.
We took the well traveled tourist path to Halong bay, an UNESCO world heritage site, which exposed us to 3 hours of the rural countryside and small towns seething with motorcycles and small shops, many selling varieties of Pho, the local noodle dish. We stayed overnight on a rather special boat, and enjoyed Tai Chi on deck at sunrise amongst extraordinary mountains.
Sadly, we did not have time to go south to the ancient cities of Hue and Ho Che Minh.
From Hanoi we flew to speak at a medical conference at a place called Sanya on Hainan Island. This is the southernmost place in China and is likened (appropriately) to Hawaii. It is apparently a favorite tourist destination for “leaders” and Russians. The hotel was amazing, huge, beautiful and very efficient. Indeed it did feel like Hawaii, on steroids. Close by was a spacious and equally impressive new hospital, a satellite of the PLA Hospital in Beijing (which had issued our invitation). Hainan island is reputed to be a great golf destination, but we did not have time to explore that. We did do some touring in the local mountains, with beautiful flowers, especially orchids. The hospitality was outstanding, and the variety and quality of the food are difficult to describe adequately.
Then onto Beijing, the capital of China. I first visited Beijing in 1978, just after the cultural revolution. The changes since then have been truly astonishing. The road from the airport then had just 2 lanes, and meandered between fields. Now it is a huge highway, and believe if or not, Beijing has 6 major ring roads. Most of the old low buildings are gone, replaced by attractive modern offices and apartments, and the bicycles have morphed into Mercedes. People talk about Beijing being crowded and polluted, but our impressions were much more positive. It is an attractive and cultivated modern city, which has not lost any of its charm or the people their innate courtesy. The hospitality was superb, and the banquets impossible to resist.
My main host, Professor Yungsen Yang, is Chief of the Gastroenterology section at the PLA hospital, where I remember doing procedure demonstrations some 20 years ago, then in rather basic facilities. Now they have a state of the art department, with all modern equipment and expert endoscopists, as we saw in some demonstrations transmitted to a modern conference hall. It was good to meet again with several luminaries of Chinese medicine, not least Dr William Chao, from Hong Kong, President-elect of the World Organization of Endoscopy.
We were very impressed with modern China, and grateful to our generous hosts, but, as always, glad to get home.