For Falmouth man, travel to Vietnam a bridge between cultures, generations
By: Elise R. Hugus
Forty years ago, Andrew J. McIntosh’s voyage to Vietnam would have come under much different circumstances.
Having recently returned to Falmouth from a five-month trip to southeast Asia, the Falmouth native said the four weeks he spent in Saigon getting a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) were among the best memories of his entire journey from west to east.
Not only did Mr. McIntosh make close connections with his fellow teachers and students, he developed a love for the country and its customs.
Some of the “misconceptions” he said he had grown up with about Vietnam and communism were dispelled, he said, by simple things like going out dancing until dawn, the pervasiveness of Buddhism, and the friendliness of the people.
The fact that a generation ago, such an interaction would not have been possible for an American, is not lost on him.
“It was an opportunity people didn’t have during the Vietnam War. Not having lived during that time period, I had a fresh perspective,” Mr. McIntosh said, while taking a break from writing a short story at his favorite Falmouth hangout, Coffee Obsession.
A 1996 graduate of Falmouth High School, Mr. McIntosh majored in film studies and English at Wesleyan University, before returning home to work on a screenplay. After September 11, 2001, he said his focus shifted from screenwriting to “doing something more serious.”
He went to Washington, DC, to work in regulatory policy at the US Environmental Protection Agency. After four years in the executive branch of government, he then went to work for the General Accountability Office (GAO), investigating government fraud, waste, and abuse.
By age 31, Mr. McIntosh had done everything a middle-class kid is supposed to do: he had done well at college, he had worked in a professional setting for eight years, he had traveled in Europe, and had even published magazine articles on one of his passions, film and video. But something was missing.
So last fall, he quit his job and applied to graduate school, earning a full scholarship and a teaching position at The Ohio State University’s creative writing department. Not satisfied with merely changing his career, he bought a one-way plane ticket to India, planning a trip that would hit some of the sights on his “must-see” list: the Taj Mahal, the city of Varanasi, India, and Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
“Southeast Asia is a part of the world with a lot of interest for me. There’s a lot of recent American history in that part of the world, so it’s a natural trip to take to satisfy my curiousities,” he said.
While still young and healthy, and without children to care for, Mr. McIntosh knew the opportunity to take an extended trip halfway across the world would be the chance of a lifetime.
“If I didn’t go now, later in life I will regret not doing it,” he said. “I needed to reconnect with parts of myself that hadn’t been explored.”
After traveling through India to Sri Lanka and Thailand, then through Cambodia, a month’s respite in Vietnam was welcome for Mr. McIntosh, who had applied for the Cambridge University-administered CELTA program before embarking on his journey. He found Ho Chi Minh City, which the locals still refer to as Saigon, to be fascinating, and very welcoming to Western tourists.
While evidence of what he called “the three Indochina wars” still exists, Mr. McIntosh said the country appears to be in transition, with symbols of modernity in the unlikeliest of places. While on a riverboat in the Mekong Delta, for example, he was surprised to find a wifi [wireless Internet] signal when he opened his netbook to take notes.
Visits to the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Saigon Exhibition House of American War Crimes) and the Military Museum led to some revelations about the atrocities of war, and some surprising cultural interactions.
In a travel update from Hanoi that Mr. McIntosh posted on Facebook, he described meeting a young boy in front of an exhibit on a Vietnamese school that had been destroyed by American bombs. When the boy expressed his appreciation for United States, the irony was not lost on Mr. McIntosh, who expressed hope that relations between Vietnamese and Americans continue to improve with the coming generations.
Teaching English to students, from ages 18 to 65, and a variety of backgrounds, proved to be a rewarding experience for the budding writer. After completing graduate school, Mr. McIntosh said he may return to Vietnam to teach while working on his creative writing.
Though he said he can write anywhere, preferably on the floor with a Smith Corona Super Silent typewriter, Mr. McIntosh said that he cannot help but be inspired by his environment. While in Vietnam, he penned several poems, one of which will be included in the Kent State University Wick Poetry Center’s traveling exhibit, “Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings.”
The show, which features artwork by Vietnamese children and poetry by American writers, will open September 16 in Kent, Ohio, before touring the country over the next three years.
Toward the end of his journey, Mr. McIntosh spent a few days at a meditation retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Though unplanned, he said spending three days “trying to think about nothing” was a great way to close his five-month trip.
Having spent the past few weeks with his family in Falmouth, Mr. McIntosh admitted that it feels strange to wake up in the same bed every day. But while he may no longer be living out of a backpack or trying to figure out how to order monkfish with sign language, he said there are always new avenues to explore back home.
“My adventure still continues, just in a different way,” he said.
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.