Maybe I have been sold a bill of goods, as they say, or need a lesson in what the journey is really about.
It can take two motorcycle rides to get to B52 Lake from Hoan Kiem Lake, still, in 2017, the heart of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. The original name, Luc Thuy or Green Water, was changed in the 15th Century to commemorate the Emperor’s success at fighting off the Chinese and now means The Lake of the Returned Sword. I am not unmindful that my departing point and destination site are related chapters in one country’s war narrative, a five-century separation between sword and plane.
I show one motorcycle-for-hire after another the address for the B52 Lake or Ho Huu Tiep, the correct name, yet no one seems to recognize it. One driver questions various bystanders, appears to get an answer, and gestures for me to hop on, which I do leaving skepticism standing by the sword lake.
We zigzag swiftly, not to say magically, through the crowded streets somehow avoiding contact with fellow humans until we reach several small bodies of green water marked off by white stone bridges, and we stop. After I pay, he disappears before I can look around and there is no B52 in sight. But there is in sight another driver in a smart leather jacket casually smoking and leaning against his motorcycle and watching me. No one seems to need a ride here, and it’s not a place to recruit passengers; maybe I have been sold a bill of goods, as they say, or need a lesson in what the journey is really about. I show him the address, and minutes later, we arrive at similar green water and white bridges, and there it is—a plane in the water. Two rides for the cost of four, no doubt, but worth every Vietnamese Dong, and I, for one, want to pay the price.
Frozen in time since 1972, the American fighter jet has found its resting place in a quiet North Vietnamese neighborhood. It attracts few visitors now; the Viet Nam Vets and Boomer war buffs are thinner on the ground this year. One day a lost American tourist will not know the moral or the story. The B52 is ignored by the bustling street scene that surrounds it. It must be relieved that some of it is underwater, hiding from no one’s gaze even as it forever faces the Vietnamese flag hanging boldly from a building nearby.
The local sights are ever-changing. People buy, they sell, they talk. They sit on little square benches eating pho, disregarding the stilted tableau that is either not worth their attention or has become invisible to them. For 45 years the plane watches, half-submerged in the green water, looking for all time a bit shameful and out-of-place, yet prepared to remind the next visitors, if they will listen, what the history lesson was all about.
One day a lost American tourist will not know the moral or the story. The B52 is ignored by the bustling street scene that surrounds it.