It must seem very random that I would end up learning Vietnamese and planing on moving to Vietnam. But Vietnam has actually played an essential part in my life over the last few years, both academically as well as personally.
The first time I started focusing on Vietnam was on my search for a topic for my thesis. At the time I wanted to focus on military history and my thesis adviser recommended I read about the Vietnam War. After reading a number of books on the subject, I found that a couple of things really bothered me. First, everything was written from the American perspective and second, I had no idea if I was pronouncing all the Vietnamese names correctly. So I set the goals of learning more about Vietnam and learning at least the basic pronunciation of Vietnamese.
The only way I can describe the effect these new studies had on me is to say that I fell in love. I fell in love with Vietnamese culture and history. In my mind Vietnam became a larger than life, exotic and romantic far off land. I started to dream about someday going to visit a country that only a few months before would never have been on my radar.
At the advice of a professor, I called the Vietnamese Embassy in Tel Aviv in an attempt to find someone that could teach me Vietnamese. I was put in touch with an embassy's staff man's son, a guy by the name of Long. Long became my tutor and we met several times a week to study. In a short period of time we became good friends. His family often invited me to their home and were very warm and welcoming. It was in that house I also developed a love for Vietnamese food.
This was all happening at the time in my life when I started to realize that I don't believe in Judaism anymore. Since Long and his family are not Jewish, I felt very comfortable being around them at that time. Elsewhere in Israel and with my friends and family, I felt very self conscious about not wearing a kippa (Jewish skull cap) or eating non-Kosher food. There I was safe from judgment.
Long became one of my dearest friends. I am forever thankful for his help and understanding during that difficult time in my life. He also helped Vietnam come alive for me. He had real stories about his life there and about his family's history. I was able to put faces and names to what I had been reading about. This added personal connection to the country fueled my passion and desire to go visit.
This is not the whole story of my connection to Vietnam, but it is the start. There are still failed trips and successful trip to talk about (and I will also eventually explain what "rice queen" means since so many I've my readers have asked me that question). But those are stories for another day and another post :)