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Viet Nam past and present in the eyes of foreign correspondents

Update: April, 30/2015 - 17:15

Viet Nam News reporter Van Dat talked to six foreign correspondents who were present in HCM City on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the liberation of South Việt Nam and national reunification. All of them have traveled to Viet Nam on various occasions. Among them, four were war reporters during the war in Viet Nam. They all would like to share their own stories about the war time and about the current development of Viet Nam that they got chance to witness.

James Pringle, Reuters correspondent during the war in Viet Nam

James Pringle.

I was based in Viet Nam between 1966 and 1968 after the Tet Offensive, and I came again in 1970 and 1971. I did not stay back in Sai Gon in 1975 because I had joined Newsweek magazine. I remember my first trip to the field. I went to Cu Chi with American soldiers in 1966. Like other journalists, I did not carry weapons. We had to be careful. I wore an American soldier's uniform but without badges so people thought I was from the CIA.

The battle was fierce in 1968. I remember the street was really quiet. I told Pham Xuan An, who worked at the Time magazine office near my office at 15 Han Thuyen, that something would happen that night. I asked him to keep off the streets.

The celebration has created a good opportunity for war correspondents to meet again, some people I did not know during the war. Several died during the war and later.

Since the war I have come back to this city every five years. I have seen a lot of improvement. The infrastructure has definitely got better, but I think old buildings should be preserved.

Ishikawa Bunyo, who came in 1964 as a photojournalist for Asahi Shinbun

Ishikawa Bunyo.

I arrived in Viet Nam to take photos in 1964. However, I was not able to witness the moment the city was liberated. I heard about the event on April 30, 1975, in Japan. I read in the newspapers that the war had ended in Viet Nam.

A month after that I made a trip to Viet Nam. I travelled to Ha Noi, Hue, and Sai Gon to take pictures of Viet Nam after war. I took many photos about the consequences of the war in the country.

Since then once or twice every year I come back Viet Nam to take photos, trace the development of the country. The country was poor. Now, 40 years after the war ended, I see that Viet Nam has developed greatly with many high-rise buildings. Ten years from now the country will develop much more, I guess.

Sarah Errington, AP photojournalist based in Viet Nam before 1975

I was here in Sai Gon on April 30, 1975. I remember that day, when I was developing my photos at the AP office, I heard the noise of sandals running towards me. No AP staff was there at that time. Later I found out that they were two liberation soldiers. I knew that the Sai Gon administration had fallen and the war had ended, and I took photographs.

I left Viet Nam in September 1975, five months after the city was liberated. And this is my first visit to Viet Nam in 40 years. There are so many changes in HCM City. The infrastructure has developed and I cannot recognise the places I was in during the time I was working in the city. There are several buildings with big shops.

John Giannini, freelancer for New York Times and Gamma Photo Agency during the war

John Giannini.

I was not in Sai Gon on April 30, 1975, because I left Viet Nam in 1975 and could not get back. I was in New York. Actually, before that I had been living in Paris. And I covered the Paris Peace Accord. I was expecting the war would end more quickly. Since I was wounded twice in Cambodia in 1973 and 1974, I became tired of the war. The war was very intense.

I have been to Viet Nam many times since the war. When I was back in Viet Nam in 1988, I travelled from north to south. There was no clean water. There was beer but no ice at that time. National Highway No.1 was very poor.

However, over the years, I have seen improvements in the country. I can barely recognise the places where I used to be. Now I am totally lost because several street names have been changed. HCM City has developed very fast. Now the city looks much like Hong Kong.

Photographer Catherine Karnow

Catherine Karnow.

When I arrived in Viet Nam in the summer of 1990 everything seemed bleak and colourless. There was something missing, and I soon realised that it was the lack of advertising: no billboards, no signs, no printed images, none of those cheerful, colorful temptations that surround us elsewhere. There was a quiet that was not altogether comfortable. The country was so poor. You could sense and see hardship everywhere.

In Ha Long Bay, I spent days with a fisherman who had to row his heavy boat by hand out to waters where the fish were plentiful. I met a music teacher who lived in a tiny one-room house. He had no students and so sat alone and played ballads on his one-string guitar. One day as I walked down a narrow street with my overseas Vietnamese friend, we saw a large crowd gather outside an open house. They were straining to watch a tiny video way up front. My friend said, "they are starved for entertainment." It was true; in 1990 you never saw a TV.

The door to the rest of the world seemed to be ajar and Viet Nam was like a shy young girl peeking out. A foreigner was rare. Not counting the Russians, I doubt there were more than two dozen visitors in the whole of Viet Nam at that time.

During recent visits to Viet Nam, I feel it is like a country zooming into the future as fast as possible. There are new skyscrapers, highways, a metro under construction, a brand new tunnel under the Saigon River. And for the first time, I am noticing elegance and taste.

Murayama Yasufumi, freelance photojournalist

Murayama Yasufumi. Photos Van Dat

When I came to Viet Nam for the first time in 1998, the country was dirty. There were a lot of beggars, drug addicts, prostitutes. Now there are several new urban areas with new buildings. The number of poor people is reduced and people's awareness has improved. In the past I saw that Vietnamese would not keep their word, but now the young generation can improve that since the country is integrating with the world.

I travelled a lot to Ha Noi, HCM City, Da Nang. There is much development there. I dare not say whether Viet Nam is now good or bad, but there has been much change in the country in 20 years. I have recorded the changes in Viet Nam. I think all the improvement is thanks to the efforts of all Vietnamese and the country has developed well and will develop further. — VNS


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