I have not posted for a month because I have been travelling on a family holiday to Vietnam, with some side trips to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the beach in Northern New South Wales. The trip itself was a rite of passage, marking the end of childhood as both our children have now finished school. It may also mark a new phase of life with more travel since I am already contemplating another trip to Portugal and Prague. Until now I have always believed, after Rilke, that the greatest journey is within, but now perhaps I see that as an envious song of innocence.
Along the way I read John Darwin’s great histories of the rise and fall of empires, After Tamerlane and Unfinished Empire: the global expansion of Britain, and a fair slice of the magnum opus by Jurgen Osterhammel, The transformation of the world: a global history of the nineteenth century. Together with my encounters with the ruins of wonders and the retelling of Vietnam’s history through museums and tour guides, in a strangled jejune marxist-nationalism that was surprisingly dull, these musings have seeded many more posts for the weeks to come. Since I will shortly resume my day job, we will see what kind of posting schedule I can maintain when back full-time in the office. I hope two to three times per week.
The one book I was unable to read was Nguyen Du’s Tale of Kieu (1820). I set off on this journey planning to read it, and I searched the few foreign language bookshops in Hanoi that I found my way to for a copy. But it was only at the last station as I was leaving Ho Chi Minh airport that I presented to one of the stalls a googled copy of the wikipedia entry. The shopkeeper was sure she had one, but it turned out to be a french-vietnamese bilingual edition only.
So my journey to Vietnam will need to continue to the public libraries and shops of Melbourne to uncover this Shakespeare of Vietnamese, and the sad tale of a scholar-bureaucrat who must make decisions about whether to serve a regime that is not true to his heart.