Published: June 14th 2012June 14th 2012
Well this is my last blog of the trip and I must say it is all been fab! Since I last reported I have visited many places – all so different and unique in their own way and I will write a little about each one below. However, before that, since my work assignment has now finished I should really tell you a little bit about how it has allowed me to get a brief snapshot of autism here in Vietnam. My job spec was quite clear and the academic side of things at the University has been as expected – lots of attentive professors and students being highly respectful. What has been more insightful has been my work with the children and their families at the clinic where many are diagnosed with autism but I would question that diagnosis as many are simply developmentally delayed for a variety of reasons. However, having the ‘label’ of autism seems to satisfy a cultural need to exonerate parents or the system and makes everyone feel happier.
This means that children who are definitely autistic, and interestingly there seems to be no cultural impact on the symptoms with children exhibiting identical behaviours as
would be found in UK or US, their needs are not really being fully understood. I suspect this will change as more up to date research about sensory integration filters into the state education system but for now these children are lost. Families also are lost as there are no specialized personnel such as speech and language or occupational therapists who might improve the situation. Interestingly, resources are plentiful with the latest technological equipment and toys being available but there is a cultural issue whereby acceptance of disability of any sort is a hard pill to swallow for many families. Hopefully, as Vietnam progresses and evolves, as it is already doing at a rapid rate, greater levels of awareness will seep through and there will be recognition that strict disciplinary measures or simply just ignoring a child who cannot communicate verbally may not be the answer to improving the situation of children with autism. Whatever the current situation one thing I can say is that staff at the grass-root level are doing their best and all the kids are adorable! I will definitely be interested to see what is happening in a year or two! Now on to the rest
of the trip!
Several of my destinations have required 60 min plane hops from place to place and this has proved hilarious! The Vietnamese with their emerging economy are starting to use planes to fly around their own country and it is quite clear this is a new and fascinating experience for them. Flights are enjoyed as if they are fun fair rides by all who take them. Children clap and squeal with delight as adults gaze out of windows with awe whilst inspecting tray tables, seat back buttons and in flight magazines with total amazement and wonder. Seat belts are opened and closed whilst children are hurried up to toilets as the plane is landing and a general air of excitement and discovery fills the plane! For those of us who are jaded by air travel it is a nice way to relook at things and see them through new excited eyes and enjoy the child-like anticipation and good fun that characterizes each flight.
My first stop was Hoi An a beautiful old town with enormous Chinese influences and a river running through the middle of it. Here, with its myriads of shops and tailors, you can
get any item of clothing or pair of shoes made to measure in 24 hours – my idea of heaven! The buildings have been preserved beautifully (it’s a World heritage site)and it also has a great beach with white sands. In fact it is next to the infamous China beach where US military came for their R &R during their stay of duty over here so it has certainly seen some action!
I was lucky to be there for the 14th
day of the lunar month when hundreds of lanterns are lit and floated down the river which is quite a spectacular sight. I spent 4 days here shopping and doing my own R & R before moving on to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). This is a bustling, chaotic city which is more sophisticated than Hanoi (which really only opened up to the outside in 1998) with wide boulevards and a definite French influence. One striking feature is that here in the South one is reminded of the US action here in the country with major museums and tourist sites dedicated to raising awareness.
Of great interest in the city itself is the war remnant museum
which houses a collection of US military aircraft and tanks captured by the Viet Cong during the US presence of 1954 -1975. It is a place where nobody speaks as they walk around looking at photos and exhibitions of the devastating effects of Agent Orange and dioxin which still continues to affect people today with genetic abnormalities and disfiguration still common in areas of deforestation. Photos are accompanied by exhibits of bombs, bullets and grenades all of which wreaked unimaginable hell on the population who had no choice but to side with the US in the daytime and the Viet Cong at night in order to simply remain alive.
It is astonishing to see the posters, letters and calls for an end to the war and the use of chemical warfare that came from every country in the world and implored the US to stop their aggression. These posters are counterpoised with the pictures of utter horror and devastation that characterized the war.
In addition to visiting the museum I took a trip 70 km outside of Saigon where I visited the Cu Chi tunnels. These are underground tunnels which the Viet Cong built right under the noses,
literally, of the opposing forces (they were underneath the US military base) – it’s an amazing labyrinth which goes on for miles with tunnels on 3 levels including kitchens and field hospitals.
They have widened a couple of tunnels to accommodate the larger frame of the Westerner (fatter people) and you can squeeze through them although I am glad I am not claustrophobic as they are very dark, small and damp and one is glad to emerge into the sunlight after a couple of minutes exploring them! It is also possible to shoot bullets, using old AK47s or M16s, on a firing range. This is a pleasure I did not partake of as I think enough bullets were fired from these guns during the war. However, it is a reminder of the deafening and scary noise of warfare as the shots resonate around the jungle environment. The ingenuity and fortitude of the Viet Cong was remarkable and once again reminded me of the futility and horribleness of wars and those who create them.
Apart from this immersion into the horrors of its past Ho Chi Minh city has great rooftop bars and markets and I was definitely happier
being in the present and spending my Vietnamese dongs in these spots before moving onto the Mekong Delta.
The Mekong is a rich cradle of fruits, vegetables and 3 rice crops per year and the delta provides life and provisions for many bustling towns and floating markets. It is great fun to move down the river in a boat passing the dozens of small boats taking their wares to market, fishing or simply living on their boat. There is a definite air of hustle and bustle as commodities are bought, sold, swopped and bartered from sunrise to sunset. One cute feature is that depending on what you have to sell you put a tall stick on the front of your boat and attach the article for sale so there are lots of boats with high sticks with sweet potatoes, cabbages and bananas hanging off them which certainly beats the average supermarket marketing techniques! Apart from the wealth of produce there are beautiful birds singing and dragonflies floating over the river as you meander through its tributaries on small rowing boats enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the jungle flora and fauna. Following this interesting trip and prior to my
return to the frenzy of my 'normal' life I felt a few days of sun and sand would round my trip off nicely so set off on yet another exciting 45 min flight to Phu Quoc island my last port of call.
Phu Quoc is a beautiful palm fringed oasis of calm with great seafood, sunsets and gorgeous beaches where I will now relax before heading home and back to reality.
Vietnam is a great destination and I would encourage anyone to come and discover it’s delights for themselves. So as I listen to an excellent Vietnamese quartet blasting out their version of an Adele song and sip a Mojito on the verandah of the hotel whilst luxuriating in the warm sea breeze and swaying palms trees I bid you adios and au revoir. Kath xxx (I've added a few photos below)
There are more photos below