Vietnam is celebrating tonight. For the first time in sixty years the men’s team won the gold medal in the South East Asian Games. The fact that the women’s team won gold, again, seems a mere afterthought to the raucous celebrations going on throughout the city.
The last time I was in Vietnam during the SEA Games the men’s team made it to the finals only to lose to, I believe, Singapore. That was ten years ago and my memory is rusty, not to mention booze addled from a period in my life lost to drugs and mental illness. But tonight the men won, and for a good ten minutes at the restaurant where I watched the game the crowd was screaming Việt Nam vô địch, or Vietnam Invincible.
I don’t follow sports, but to be in a country that I love, after so many challenges and obstacles, when they win something so important to them is a memory I will long cherish.
I will also cherish the memory of watching Park Hang-seo, Vietnam’s coach, screaming at the ref after getting a red card and being ejected from the game with thirteen minutes left in regulation. I don’t know why he went off the hook, but it was fun to watch and I felt a camaraderie with my fellow spectators while watching such a beloved figure sacrifice himself for his team.
The game was straightforward. Indonesia seemed to dominate during the first few minutes but were unable to convert their field position into any points. Then Vietnam woke up and took over the game. They scored their first goal about the mid point of the first half, then two more goals in the second half to bring the score to 3-0, Vietnam.
I had the opportunity to attend the game with members from my previous law firm, Indochine Counsel, who I have gotten to know over the last ten years, and to watch them celebrate such an obvious victory was something I haven’t enjoyed as much as when Boise State won the Fiesta Bowl, the first time.
While I may seem the farthest from Vietnamese, it has grown to take a place in my heart. The fact that I live here, helps, but it’s not just that. I love the people, and the food, and the place. It’s a majestic country full of history and heritage. Unfortunately, I come from a country still mired in the politics of a failed attempt to occupy and maintain a fictitious government in the southern part of that country. I won’t go further into that morass, but the mistake of Vietnam has gone a long way towards ruining a great country.
And Vietnam has recovered and is prospering. From the economic windfall of Trump’s China Trade War to the digital economy that will soon rival even Singapore, Vietnam is doing well. The people seem comfortable with the government, for the most part, and except for a vocal minority who exist in any country, the government seems to do well by the people.
There are problems, yes, from human trafficking to pollution to political prisoners, but by and large Vietnam has jumped from the swelter of a post-war Communist cesspool into a thriving Socialist economy with a technological base that will serve it well moving into the future.
So congratulations Vietnam. You won the SEA Games men’s, and women’s, football gold medals. You also won a place in my heart by your long association and your patience with all my foibles. May you continue to thrive and be ever victorious in your pursuits.