Country of Highlands and Rainforests, Mountains and Primeval Forests

By Liz Goldner


While the Vietnam War ended more than 30 years ago, that war’s presence continues to be infused into in our textbooks and mainstream media.

Yet, Vietnam today has a thriving economy, culture, as well as illustrious history. In addition, the hundreds of thousands of residents of Vietnamese background living in the United States influence our art, music, food and many other aspects of our culture.

Vietnam has great natural beauty and tranquil village life. The country features highlands and rainforest regions, filled with exotic wildlife, as well as many islands and magnificent beaches. It is a lush region of soaring mountains, fertile deltas, and primeval forests with exotic fauna, winding rivers, fascinating caves, rock formations and waterfalls.

Seventy five million people inhabit Vietnam. Eighty percent of these are ethnic Vietnamese. Among the many languages spoken there are Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, and Russian. The word for peace in Vietnamese is “Hoa-Binh.”

Vietnam stretches the length of the Indochinese Peninsula, covering 128,000 square miles, roughly the size of Italy. China lies to the north, Laos and Cambodia are to the west, and the South China Sea is to the east.

The country has three areas: north, central, and south. The north is known for its alpine peaks, the Red River Delta, the plains of Cao Bang and Vinh Yen, Halong Bay and Hanoi. Central Vietnam has high temperate plateaus rich in volcanic soil, spectacular beaches, dunes, and lagoons, as well as the ancient imperial city of Hue. The southern part of the country is known for its modern life in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and for its fertile alluvial delta of the Mekong River. Vietnam is also known for a large continental shelf and thousands of archipelagic islands.

While the country is situated entirely within the tropics, its diverse range of altitude, and weather patterns produces enormous climatic variation. North Vietnam has two basic seasons: a cold, humid winter from November to April, and a warm, wet summer when temperatures average around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 22 C), with occasional typhoons. South Vietnam is generally warm, the hottest months being March through May, when temperatures rise into the mid-90's (low-30's C).

The soil collected in this magnificent country for Common Ground 191 was obtained in the central part of Ho Chi Minh City, in an area known as the 1st District, on the grounds of the city’s opera house. Esther Jivcu, a business development associate in Santa Ana, California, arranged for the collection of the soil, which went through a difficult route to make its way to Gary Simpson’s studio in Laguna Beach, CA. While carriers were willing to bring the soil to this country, various government officials were concerned that there were drugs in the soil. However, the soil was finally brought here in early 2007.


The Vietnamese are descendants of nomadic Mongols from China and migrants from Indonesia. According to mythology, the first ruler of Vietnam was Hung Vuong, who founded the nation in 2879 B.C. China ruled the vassal state from 111 B.C. until the 15th century.

A century later, the Portuguese entered the area. France established its influence early in the 19th century, and within 80 years, conquered the country’s three regions. France unified Vietnam in 1887, then created a rail road system, linking the north and south.

Japan took over military bases in Vietnam in 1940, yet a pro-Vichy French administration remained until 1945. Veteran Communist leader Ho Chi Minh organized an independence movement known as the Vietminh to exploit the confusion surrounding France's weakened influence in the region. At the end of the war, Ho's followers seized Hanoi and declared a short-lived republic, which ended with the arrival of French forces in 1946.

Paris proposed a unified government within the French Union under the former Annamite emperor, Bao Dai. Cochin-China and Annam accepted the proposal, and Bao Dai was proclaimed emperor of all Vietnam in 1949. Ho and the Vietminh withheld support, and the revolution in China gave them the outside help needed for a war of resistance against French and Vietnamese troops.

A bitter defeat at Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam on May 5, 195, broke the French military campaign and resulted in the division of Vietnam. Skirmishing grew into a full-scale war. The most savage fighting of the war occurred in early 1968 during the Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet. Although the so-called Tet Offensive ended in a military defeat for the North, its psychological impact changed the course of the war.

U.S. bombing and an invasion of Cambodia in the summer of 1970—an effort to destroy Viet Cong bases in the neighboring state—marked the end of major U.S. participation. Most American ground troops were withdrawn from combat by mid-1971 when the U.S. conducted heavy bombing raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail—a crucial North Vietnamese supply line. A peace settlement was signed in Paris on Jan. 27, 1973.

By April 9, 1975, Hanoi's troops marched within 40 miles of Saigon, the South's capital. South Vietnam's president Thieu resigned on April 21. Gen. Duong Van Minh, the new president, surrendered Saigon on April 30, ending a war that claimed the lives of 1.3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans.

The U.S. lifted a Vietnamese trade embargo in Feb. 1994. Full diplomatic relations were announced between the two countries in July 1995. In April 1997, a pact was signed with the U.S. concerning repayment of the $146 million wartime debt incurred by the South Vietnamese government.

In Nov. 2001, Vietnam's national assembly approved a trade agreement that opened U.S. markets to Vietnam's goods and services. Prime Minister Phan Van Khai visited the United States in June 2005, the first Vietnamese leader to do so since the end of the Vietnam War. He met with President Bush and several business leaders, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. The U.S. is Vietnam's largest trading partner, buying about $7 billion in Vietnamese goods each year. Vietnam became the 150th member of the World Trade Organization in January

Vietnamese Culture

Religious life in Vietnam includes Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Tam Giao, a blend of Taoism, popular Chinese beliefs, and ancient Vietnamese animism.

The most important festival of the year is Tet, a week-long event in late January or early February celebrating the new lunar year and the advent of spring. Celebrations consists of raucous festivities (fireworks, drums, gongs) and quiet meditation. There are about 20 other traditional and religious festivals each year.

Vietnamese architecture includes vast numbers of historic temples, monasteries and pagodas. The pagoda form symbolizes the human desire to bridge the gap between the constraints of earthly existence and the perfection of heavenly forces. The Giac Lam Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City, considered the city's oldest, is notable for its many richly-carved jackwood statues.

Folk art, which flourished before French colonization, has experienced a resurgence with beautiful woodcuts, village painting, and block printing. Vietnamese lacquer art is among the most original and sophisticated in the world. Music, dance, and puppetry are also prolific throughout the country.

The country's cuisine is deeply influenced by the national cuisines of France, China, and Thailand, Vietnamese cooking makes extensive use of fresh herbs, including lemon grass, basil, coriander, parsley, laksa leaf, lime, and chili. Soup is served at almost every meal, and snacks include spring rolls and rice pancakes. The national condiment is nuoc mam, a piquant fermented fish sauce served with every meal. Indigenous tropical fruits include bananas, pineapples, coconuts, lychees, melons, mandarin oranges, grapes and exotic varieties.

The word for peace in Vietnamese is “Hoa-Binh.”







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