US President George W. Bush arrived in Vietnam yesterday, but his state visit sparked less interest in Hanoi than that of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who was greeted like a rock star here.
Bush's trip here, which includes the weekend Asia-Pacific summit, is only the second by a US president since the war, but while tens of thousands cheered Clinton in 2000, this time around they were decidedly underwhelmed.
"I think Vietnamese people prefer Bill Clinton," said Nguyen Tran Thang, 65, who lives near the Sheraton Hotel where Bush and his wife Laura are staying, surrounded by a phalanx of security guards.
"That's why many people at that time stayed up late to welcome him," he recalled of the day when a sea of people, many wearing "I Love Clinton" shirts, celebrated the landmark state visit. "Not for Bush, I guess," he said.
The only people on the street when the Bush motorcade pulled into the hotel's back entrance were security officials, who had told the few onlookers to leave, and local shops to move all motorbikes inside and close their doors.
One of those shooed away was a 30-year-old nurse who said she had wanted to wave and "express the hospitality of the Vietnamese people. The police did not allow us to stand and watch. They wanted to ensure maximum security."
Thang said Bush's visit, like Clinton's, was good news for his country because it proved Hanoi's diplomacy was working and that "Vietnam has really said goodbye to the past and is looking to the future."
But the former North Vietnamese soldier, who said he fought the Americans from 1967 to 1975, also said: "Bush is the president who reminds us of our past, because both he and his father are a bit aggressive."
One 32-year-old female state employee walking along the street expressed similar feelings about Bush's visit.
"I wish I could approach the US delegation just to have a look at Bush to see what he looks like," she said. "I like Clinton very, very much, because he was nicer."
But she added that the "Vietnamese will express no hostility toward Bush, although he really is a crazy president."
Nguyen Thi My Hanh, 68, a retired agriculture scientist who now sells drinks outside the luxury hotel, said residents had been ordered by authorities "to maintain social order, not to quarrel and to keep the streets clean."
Asked whether she wanted to get a glimpse of Bush, she said: "I am not curious because I have seen him on TV so many times."
"I experienced the war, so I think Bush is a bit too aggressive, especially on the Iraq issue. But personally, I have no hatred towards him, and I am sure many other Vietnamese will not have any hostile feelings against him when he is here," Hanh said..
"If he brought war to Vietnam, things would be different. But now, in fact, his visit brings some benefits to the country," she continued.
Tran Thi Ngoc Hoa, 28, who sells newspapers near the hotel, said: "I am a bit curious ... maybe I will see Bush's face, but probably not."
She praised the visit for prompting Vietnamese authorities to improve security, but admitted "I don't like Bush that much."
A policeman on duty said: "My job is to ensure security and order. Personally, I think it's good for Vietnam when Bush visits as he is the president of the strongest country in the world. He will see that people here are very nice."