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Published: September 23rd 2016
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh lays benediction on his people and looks toward the Saigon River.
I can still recall quite vividly being at Teachers College in assembly and wondering what on earth those exec guys were going on about - invading Vietnam - who cares about some Asian place nobody's ever heard of? To my shame I was super ignorant and and scoffing of their calls to protest the war. Well, what can I say apart from that I was young and stupid and ignorant of how the world really worked. Fast forward a few years when the actual reality and horror and futility and lies about America's involvement were becoming common knowledge and I felt rather small. That's a way of introducing my visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, the preserved remains of an underground network of tunnels that were used by the Vietnamese to attack, survive and exist within a war zone dominated by the heavy techno-ordnance and numbers of the USA and its allies.
It was a half day trip, by van for an hour and a half out to Cu Chi with 7 others - 4 Aussies, 2 Brits, an American and me with our guide and a driver. We drove, many close calls with oncoming traffic, through the city initially,
City. Hall behind Uncle Ho
then small disheveled looking hamlets and towns into scrubby farming areas, through rubber tree plantations to the Cu Chi area where there is a thriving tourist industry based on the tunnels and what, for many Westerners, is a fascination with the Vietnam War.
We were told it was the off season so crowds were not bad and after the ticket buying and obligatory walk through he gift shop we were on the trails. Through trees along clay pathways, looking at the concealed trapdoors in the forest floor leading down into the network (none of us saw the trapdoors - they were too well-camouflaged), the cruelly ingenious man-traps of swinging, hinged,tilting concealed doors designed to drop a GI onto needle-sharp bamboo stakes in pits underneath so as to inflict maximum pain and suffering. Awful!.
I went into one of the concealed trapdoor entries. Narrow, almost too narrow for my massive shoulders (which tells you how narrow they really are), into pitch black, once the trap door was replaced over my head. Underneath the shaft lead off into a horizontal narrow tunnel. I didn't like it. Later, we crouched low and scuttled though tunnels led by a guide with a
Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels
Robin emerging from a concealed tunnel shaft.
torch for 60 metres, in my case, and a 100 metres for a couple of the younger brigade. There were static displays of weapons production caves, sleeping quarters caves, kitchens and eating areas, sewing room etc. all set up as they supposedly would have been at the height of the war. Looking at it all you have to admire the energy, resolve and industry of the Vietnamese of that time. To me it all seemed a bit of a glorification of war, in part at least. That was reinforced by the firing range halfway through the tour where one could buy bullets to be fired at a hillside with AK47's, M16"s and the like. It turned me off a bit having just been shown what a God awful, bloody and unforgiving slaughter it had been and here was a "fun" shoot which totally ignored the damage that ammo could do (and did) to human bodies. And I'm not even a pacifist!
The final act was a flickery, gung-ho doco of plucky Vietnamese peasants fighting and killing the rabid American running dog aggressors. Very much a put-down. I wondered how Americans must feel as they sat through it. They shouldn't
Vietnam: Man trap
The trap door gives way; the soldier falls into the pit and the bamboo spikes are placed so as to impale his armpits. Nice.
have been there to fight the stupid war of course. Still, it wasn't hard to feel a lot of sympathy for both sides, the GI's especially, sent across the world to fight in a war most of them had no wish to be part of and could see no justification for. (Donald Trump could probably have seen justification but he was able to get exemption from the draft - had to throw that in). The Vietnamese knew what they were fighting for!!
Back at the ranch Lyn was still out on business and when she returned we headed off to another meeting across town. The bloke we were meeting, Johnny, went to a lot of trouble to set up my phone for me. Bought me a couple of SIM cards, gratis, and did all the hooking up to the Viet system. Great!
We had a memorable dinner at the Dong Pho Quan Hue restaurant that night with a couple of other Wellington teachers. In a building left over from the French occupation. very gracious and elegant with food to match. Followed by, because we are such social night owls, a visit to the rooftop bar of the Rex
Hotel. Some background courtesy of Wikipedia:
"Constructed in 1927, for French businessman Bainier, during France's colonial rule of Vietnam, the building started out as a two-story auto dealership and garage complex, called "Bainier Auto Hall". The building showcased Citroën
and other European cars. From 1959 to 1975, Mr. and Mrs. Ung Thi
renovated the building into the 100-room "Rex Complex" hotel, which featured three cinemas, a cafeteria
, a dance hall and a library.
The first guests in the Rex came in December 1961, while it was still in its final construction phase. They were 400 U.S. Army soldiers, 200 each of the 57th Transportation Company from Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Wa. and of the 8th Transportation Company from Fort Bragg, N.C.
They were the first company-strength units to arrive in Saigon, each unit with twenty H-21 twin rotor "Shawnee" helicopters, on the USSCore
, on December 11, 1961. They were billeted at the Rex for a week or so while their tents were being set up, at Tan Son Nhut
, Saigon, for the 57th, and in Quy Nhon
for the 8th.
dinner, a few weeks after the actual holiday, was cooked in the men's field kitchen on the rooftop of
The hotel was made famous during the Vietnam War
when it was hosting the American military command
's daily conference, derisively named Five O'Clock Follies
journalists who'd find the optimism of the American officers to be misguided. Its rooftop bar was a well-known hangout spot for military officials and war correspondents.[1
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