English professors I would meet the next day at the Hanoi University for Teachers of Foreign Languages, where I’d come to lecture on American English through a program at the University of Wisconsin, confided in me when in private that their salaries amounted to the equivalent of a meager US$12 a month.
When I arrived at the university the next morning, for the first day of what would be a three week stay still vivid in my memory, I was shown the library. A library with books that appeared undusted since NVA tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in downtown Saigon on April 30th, 1975. A day revered by northerners and despised by South Vietnamese Việt Kiều (Overseas Vietnamese).
When asked if there was a book I’d like to see, to be polite, I asked for a book about General Vo Nguyen Giap, mastermind of the battles at Dien Bien Phu against the French and the 1968 Tet Offensive, against us. A dusty copy of his biography was produced, but my two years of Vietnamese language studies at UCLA were too rudimentary for me to even attempt to read it. I thanked the professor who handed it to me, apologized for my inability, and handed it back to him.