Bùi Minh Quốc left for the border in late 2001. His clandestine trip, which took nearly a month to complete on a 50cc Honda Cub motorcycle, retraced the perimeter of Việt Bắc, the name for the mountainous region that stretches across ten provinces in northeastern Vietnam. Quốc, a poet of considerable repute, documented the highpoints of the ride in verse. But the region’s rugged beauty, which holds a prominent place in official histories of the anti-colonial struggle against the French and those who collaborated with them, was not the real reason for his quest. Nor was the region’s more recent reincarnation as a socialist battleground during the Third Indochina War with the People’s Republic of China, a conflict that killed and wounded an estimated one hundred thousand people in the space of a month. Instead, Quốc’s self-appointed task was to find the current location of “Kilometer Zero” (Cấy số không) along the Sino-Vietnamese border—a difficult proposition since it appears nowhere on official maps of the country. Nonetheless, the toponym is commonly used to refer to the precise spot in Lạng Sơn Province where National Highway 1A, the only paved road to traverse the entire length of Vietnam, begins its long journey south.
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