Published: May 28th 2011April 1st 2011
Gooooood morning Vietnam! Sorry that just has to be said. Last time I promise....
So after the frolicking and buckets of Bangkok it was time for serious susan culture seeing in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon. But before we could do that we had to learn how in the name of a dead monkeys armpit you are supposed to cross a bloody road out here?! Gone are the days of worrying about cars, cows and tuk tuk drivers on the streets of Delhi – now its 7 – 10 bloody lanes of crazy ass moped drivers – and mopeds don’t stop. What we eventually worked out after dithering and dathering on the street kurb like a bunch of special people is that you simply have to walk out. There’s no other way – and although it seems terrifying the mopeds are actually pretty apt at driving around you. So you sort of master this walk out where you dodder across at the speed of a dying snail so things have time to see and avoid you and then before you know it you’re back on dry land and feeling rather proud of yourself that you haven’t yet lost a limb or claimed a tourist tag (burn to the leg from moped exhausts). Bam. Mission accomplished.
So road-crossing ability slowly improving, we toddled down to the American War museum to check out what the fuck happened. For any of you that are slightly behind on your history lessons the American war is what the USA refer to as the Vietnam war but obviously they can’t call it that or it would be …well…stupid.
We’d been told to prepare for the museum as they like a good picture, or 500, of massacred and mutilated Vietnamese bomb victims and true to other traveler’s word – they weren’t over exaggerating. There are 3 floors and multiple rooms of picture after picture of horrific images from the war – one in particular seems to be nearly entirely dedicated to children. Don’t get me wrong – some are American people but the majority is focused on the Vietnamese and what all this horrible shit that the USA dropped all over them does to a human body. Not nice. There was this one series of photographs that a Japanese photographer had taken over a 30 year span focusing on one boy–turned man. Basically the photographer had taken his picture outside his home just after America had bombed, sprayed and gassed the area and the boy is about 10 years old in the first picture, which is him standing half naked in what was once woodland and is now just an endless background of burnt trees and desecrated land. The next picture is when the boy is a teenager and the photographer has returned to his home to photograph him. He is deformed and severely disabled from the after affect of the chemicals used on the land. The next shot is in his adult life, photographed with his kids and the next when he is an old man surrounded by family where he is laid down in a long-tail boat unable to really move as they take him to the nearest town for treatment. Some of the pictures also show the same piece of land from the original shot and how that recovered in comparison – not brilliantly, but then compared to the guy in the pictures, the plants were a lot better off. The whole series of photos is just completely moving and both beautiful and tragic at the same time. It’s beautiful because it documents a mans life and is beautifully shot but it’s horrifically tragic because you get to see picture by picture the complete deterioration on this mans body from young boy to debilitated old man from the affect of a war he undoubtedly was too young to understand.
There was also a series dedicated to the war photographers that died in action and a selection of their best shots and then a series of pictures showing the affect on children from the war – people born with deformities that I didn’t even realize were possible. Pretty harrowing stuff. By the time I’d got to the third floor I couldn’t face any more so I decided to go outside for a bit of fresh air mixed with some sanity. It seriously is one depressing day out!
So depressing War Museum day done we decided to go see the more positive side of war – the Viet Kong resistance where they hide out in tunnels and build shitloads of traps to fuck up the Americans. Everyone loves a guerrilla rebel. And my, were they resourceful! Firstly they basically made nearly all of their traps out of bits of the jungle – eg bamboo spike pits and animal poisons and wotnot and they remade most of their weapons from the leftovers that the Americans used to bomb and attack them with. They also made their sandals out of rubber and bits of tire and building them back to front so their footprints appeared backwards in the ground when the US were trying to track them. There’s a mind-fuck for you. The tunnels were also mightily impressive, going on 3 – 5 different levels under the ground and housing whole families, they literally went on for miles. They were teeeeny tiny too – you have to sort of do a hunchback / frog walk through them to be able to fit. Now I know that the Vietnamese tend to be a wee bit smaller than the average westerner but I’m talking teeeeeeeny tiny. You’d without a doubt be suffering from some serious sciatica after spending a few hours down there, let alone a few years! . The whole place was pretty fascinating and really made you appreciate what these people went through and how intelligent and resourceful they actually were. They literally had everything against them and yet somehow , through some careful thinking and a resilient attitude they managed to reduce the biggest superpower at the time into a position of retreat. Viet Kong for the win!
Now you may be wondering what one should bring with them to a historical, educational cultural day like this – a camera maybe? A pen and notepad to write down key facts and statistics if you are really realllly interested…..or how about a rubber chicken? Now I wish I could say this was untrue but we actually had some drugged up dopey American who had clearrrrrly had too much of a good time on the local smoke and opium and decided to turn up with a rubber chicken called ‘Dooky’ that he then insisted and I mean INSISTED be photographed with him and then on its own at EVERY SINGLE stop on the tour. On the tank, in the tank, in the bamboo spike pits, pretending to be blown up by a mine, the classical ‘ooh look I’m a Viet Kong soldier bursting out of the secret tunnel entrance’ . Everything possible - Dooky was in it. To make it even more pathetic, this guy was here with his ex girlfriend who clearly DID NOT like him anymore and seemed entirely embarrassed by every word that fell out of his slow moving, doped up mouth. To be honest I’m completely baffled as to why she thought it was still a good idea to travel around with him. From what I could work out from the brief conversation we had got trapped in with him and from observing her behavior toward him – he was a massive dildo and she was an uptight snob – Christ knows how in god’s ball sack they even started dating in the first place. Now some of you may think I’m being a bit harsh here – but TRUST me this guy was simply an anus. I feel my description doesn’t do him justice because unless you see an American walking round with a rubber chicken and placing it on mines and war weapons and out of the end of tank barrels at a place which is a national war ground against a war with your country, I don’t think you can appreciate just how a) inappropriate and b) completely retarded this guy’s behavior was. Still, I’m glad he was there as he literally brought some proper LOLs to our group not just from watching him but from watching the local Vietnamese peoples reaction when they were trying to get a photo of an important part of their history just to see a doped up American with a rubber chicken pop up in the corner of their shot. Genius. Bet they are soooooo glad they didn’t loose after seeing what the country has bred since. Infact they were probably ashamed theyddn't kick their asses sooner.
So yeh that was Ho Chi Minh. Wicked little city in my humble opinion. Lots of crazy traffic, even crazier electric wiring system (check out the pics) and lots of fascinating if slightly horrifying history. Well worth a visit.
Jasmina Asiapants, over and out.