Published: August 2nd 2010July 31st 2010
7/29/10 to 8/1/10--Saigon
Fasten your seatbelts...It's gonna be a bumpy ride!!
Welcome to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Saigon is like Los Angeles exploded and then got rid of traffic rules. It is a pretty intense place to visit after a relaxing stay on a Japanese island. That being said, I had a great time in the foreign chaos.
My first full day I visited the Mekong Delta, a water-world of rivers, canals, boats and floating villages in the rice production hub of Vietnam. I wanted to see the way of life of the Viet farmers and meet people affected by the Vietnam War (referred to in Vietnam as the American war).
My first stop was one of two lacquer factories I visited that employ people with war-related disabilities. These workers had birth defects due to Dioxin, a chemical used in the herbicide Agent Orange. This was one of many moments I felt the spirit and heartbeat of my mom close to mine. The factory was a part of Workability International--the same program she built and directed in the GGUSD. The workers hand-produce the beautiful lacquer products for which Vietnam is known.
The rest of the
Lacquer Making factory
Hiring people affected byu Agent Orange
time in the Mekong, was spent on larger river boats or smaller, canoe-like paddle-boats; Navigating through the brown water and green reeds. Many of the boat-rowers were older woman who learned this way of life after becoming war widows or orphans.
I visited different villages along the way. One centered around coconut candy production, another honey bees/products. The working families lived in their workplace and provided samples and hospitality to visitors like me. At the final stop, I ate different fruit from the region and was entertained with traditional music and song.
The second day, I visited the Cu Chi (pronounced Coo Chee) tunnels. This elaborate, underground labyrinth was built and used by the Cu Chi locals to fight against foreign invaders, namely the French and the Americans. The narrow passages were so complex and quite ingenious, with breathing holes, underground rooms, hospitals, kitchens, wells and escape routes. The people in the area also mastered guerilla warfare, recycling metals and explosives from American bombs to wage a counter-assault with booby-traps and home-made weapons.
I had the opportunity to talk to my tour guide, Tam, about his experience fighting on the side of the South in the American
War. He was a general who parachuted over 100 times into the region. Tam was constantly in fear for the lives of his wife and four children. By the end of the war, he had fallen quite ill and was unable to leave Vietnam when Saigon fell. He now sees the past as the past and chooses to, "get along with how it is." He also feels the current government is greatly changing, and the Communist power-structure as he has known it is weakening, or at least, changing.
I asked him if the people of Cu Chi were on the side of the communist or just wanted foreigners, with their bombs and destruction, out of their land. He said that from the time of the late 1940s, they favored Communist ideologies and sympathized with the Communist unification of Vietnam.
I ended my tour at the War Remnant Museum, a museum highlighting the atrocities committed by America during the war. This included prisoner torture, civilian killings and damage caused by Agent Orange. Much of these displays were extremely one-sided and wreaked of propaganda. But the one truth that surfaced for me was that war is hell. It brings out
the worst in mankind and leads to suffering and sorrow. It also brings more death and destruction for civilians and soldiers than the governments choosing to wage it.
My favorite part about my third and final full day in Saigon was meeting up with Christine and her husband John. In the past, Christine and I have traveled together throughout Vietnam, Myanmar and Bangkok. They have spent this summer traveling through Sri Lanka and Bali and brought the rain with them to Saigon.
With Leaky umbrella in hand, we spent the day on a self-directed walking tour of the city, dodging motorbikes and drying off with sights, snacks and Tiger Beer stops.
We ended the day by catching a night train to Dalat to visit the mountainous regions of southern Vietnam.
There are more photos below