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Published: March 6th 2007
From Hoi An we set out for yet another grueling bus journey, this one lasted 24 hours! Never, never again, we said. The first half flew by, but the second was painful enough for both halves. We were seated on a bus with no air-con, on a stifling hot day and on this part of the journey we just happened to be driving through desert like landscape. Wonderful! As the only non-Asians on the bus we naturally stuck out, however we really made a scene with our frequent pleading for bathroom breaks. Every time our bus driver pulled over we would run to the front and say "toilet? toilet?"...and every time we got the same response..."NO! NO! NO!". The poor guy was on a "schedule" and we were not helping. It got so ridiculous that the entire bus was laughing at us and he was clearly making jokes at our expense. When he finally stopped we tore out of the bus and down an alley only to find that the bathroom was literally a concrete building with a concrete floor and that's it. No toilet bowl, not even a hole in the ground, just a floor with a mouse hole in
the corner of the building that was clearly not doing its job at draining the place. I can honestly say that is the first time I have ever peed on the floor, but at that point I really could have cared less where I went.
We finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon City) and were bombarded (as always) by people wanting us to stay at their guesthouse. "Lady, lady, you stay at my place? I give you special discount price just for you." Does this really ever work? Because it makes me want to run in the other direction.
The main tourist attractions out of Ho Chi Minh City are the Chu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants museum. It was in these places that I really learned what the Vietnam War was all about. I have had some of the best history lessons of my life on this side of the world. The tunnels were something else. They were the base of operations for the Viet Cong and described as "a 75 mile underground maze where fighters and villagers could hide". They were also a massive death trap for the Americans who were constantly
attempting to invade them. We crawled through these tiny tunnels in which anyone and everyone would get claustrophobic. They were very dark as we had no headlights and smelt of stail air. We learned that people would often have to hide out in them for long periods of time, which would have taken incredible mental strength. They also used various trap doors with brutal spikes to stop the Americans from discovering and invading the tunnels. The Americans knew there was a tunnel system but it was so well hidden and booby trapped that they couldn't compete. The Viet Cong would come up, attack and disappear again in no time at all.
As a major tourist attraction, often to former American soldiers, the tunnels grounds still have a war like atmosphere. There are constant shots heard in the background as tourists can fire off AK47s, M16s, or M60s for around a dollar a bullet. April and I decided to give it a try but right away I had feelings of regret. For one, despite the ear protection it made my ears pop and ring uncontrollably, but also the feeling of the force of the gun kick back into me just
Celia and I in the tunnels
These tunnels were carved extra big once tourists started visiting.
made it seem all that more real and destructive. I was struck by the reality of what this gun could (and did) do and was a little ashamed I even associated myself with it.
Next we visited the War Remnants museum which was eye opening and a little tough to handle. The pictures were very vivid and most of the stories associated with them were tragic. The number of civilians and children that were caught up in this war is very depressing. There was also a whole section on Agent Orange and the effects it is still having on children born to parents that were exposed. These pictures were especially disturbing. At one point I had to take a time out to shed a few tears because I just couldn’t hold it in any longer. I just can't even begin to describe the suffering and torture that happened; to mother’s, father’s, the elderly, to innocent children. I was in a half depressed, half thoughtful mood over the next few days as I digested everything I had learned. I concluded that war is just such an inhumane concept that I don't think I will ever understand it.
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