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Published: June 22nd 2013
MISCHIEF ON THE MEKONG Part Two...CAI DAI CU CHI.
We Guests of Honour from OZ...attending a party tonight...Quynh's parents' Wedding Anniversary.
Indian arm wrestle Shane for who'll be M.C.
"O.K. Shane you can be M.C."
"I've been to Toastmasters. I'll give our Acceptance Speech as well...O.K.?"
"What? You've attended Toastmasters...you want to be M.C...and you want to do the Acceptance Speech as well...fair crack of the whip...flogging the old wallaby aren't you?"
"What about me???"
"Keep out of it Nick."
"Shane & I'll have a dance off."
"What...you think that's unfair? I'll teach you unfair."
"Come on boys...eat your breakfast...we've got a long day!"
We are in Bien Hoa...Nick & Quynh's home town...about an hour's drive from Ho Chi Minh City...great meal last night by the river...feasting on fish, chilli, more fish, more beer.
Massive hotel rooms for the visitors from OZ...massive ante rooms...massive bedrooms...Done well Nick...nice choice.
Nick's organised a 7 seater van for 8.30 a.m to take us touring today...bit of culture before the formal evening.
Nick in his Travelblog T-shirt...gotta be on our best behavior...brand ambassadors and all.
in the front with the driver...Denise, Shane, Nick & Quynh in the back...great...I'll change the CDs...always prepared.
Let's start with some Baaba Maal..."Television"...our Travelblog Patron Ali Watters likes this one...then some Rock...some Blues.
Rockin' along nicely. CAI DAI
Arrive at Cai Dai Temple at Tay Ninh Town at about 11:45am...just in time for the 12 Noon ceremony.
Cai Dai is a Vietnamese religion claiming about 6 million adherents based on facets of Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, karma & rebirth from Buddhism, and hierarchical orders from Catholicism such as a Pope, cardinals & bishops.
It believes that all gods worshipped by the world's religions are the same god, which is named after the Taoist supreme being Cai Dai or High Tower.
Saints include Jesus Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Sun Yat-Sen and Nick's favourite, Victor Hugo.
Adherents filing in...shoes off...tourists in the rear foyer or upstairs side balconies...photos no problem...sea of adherents in rows...men on the right...women on the left.
Some monks with fancy hats...the head monk in yellow representing Buddhism & Virtue with an eye on his hat and back which means he is
a Bishop or Cardinal.
Other Bishops in blue representing Taoism & Pacifism or red representing Confucianism & Authority.
The temple was enormous and very elaborate...pinks, reds, yellows, blacks & blues...marble floors...28 dragon adorned columns representing the 28 manifestations of Buddha...7 headed cobras representing the 7 human emotions...an eye in a triangle watching over...the Divine Eye (left eye representing Yang with a Ying/Yang pupil)...lot of bowing...hierarchy of the worshippers evident.
Then a wander in the gardens as the monks and worshippers file out...clear fine day...colours sparkling everywhere ...can't help feeling this is a wealthy place.
No time for lunch...only time to photograph Shane's companion...again...then off we go...gotta hurry...the next place closes at 4. CU CHI
Over an hour in the van...intimate talk getting to know each other...and then we are there...well sort of. Nick been here a number of times before but not maybe this site.
The Cu Chi tunnels is an area of about 12 sq. kms that the U.S. forces in the Vietnam War had reduced to a lunar landscape...destroyed all vegetation so it was barren & denuded...then bombed the crap out of it some more.
There were piles
of bomb casings including cluster bombs, so whether that meant they were unexploded I do not know, but think probably so.
We had a guide as part of the ticket price and headed off on narrow clay tracks into the jungle that had regrown in the intervening 40 years or so.
The displays were sensational.
There were huts with mannequin/wax figures in uniforms and various guises to show how the Vietcong carried out an existence in an area that was continually blown to bits.
They lived underground in various levels connected by tunnels.
There were hospitals, living quarters, deep wells, weopan storage areas, all that was needed to live underground and undetected.
There were smoke chambers to ensure slow release of smoke from cooking fires to avoid detection...booby traps to catch "tunnel rats" which were U.S. soldiers and dogs who went down the tunnels to flush out the Vietcong.
There were narrow sections of tunnels designed to be too narrow for U.S. soldiers to squeeze through as they had "big backs" as they carried packs & equipment etc.
I was amazed.
I could not help feel immense admiration for the resourcefulness
& determination of the Vietcong...determination necessary to protect their homeland and fight for independence...determination necessary to survive against an enemy armed to destroy them at any cost.
I could not help but be reminded that I was in the next group to be conscripted to fight in Vietnam when Australia pulled out of that insane war...yep...my birth date had been selected in that lottery that changed lives...to fight in a foreign land where the "enemy" was more determined than we were.
But a change of government changed all that for us Aussie diggers.
Thus I am still around to tell this story.
How lucky am I???
Bloody lucky...I say.
The guide then showed us a clay pile...not unlike a termite nest...that had a horizontal slit...from which the Vietcong fired rifles at U.S. & South Vietnamese soldiers.
Then he kicked a pile of leaves...gave me a start...and there was the cover for a tunnel entrance...about 15 inches by 15 inches.
He lifted it and disappeared within...then emerged explaining the technique...had our attention I must say.
"Who would like a go?"
I went down first...diagonally to fit my
shoulders...disappearing within with a one finger salute like Angry Anderson had done in one of the Mad Max films when he was gobbled by quicksand or whatever... a tunnel big enough to crawl or waddle down there...a light illuminating the experience.
After I re-emerged, Shane went down next...grinning up at us...then another kick from the guide indicating a larger trapdoor for Nick to go down & join Shane...the Travelblog logo framed like a picture frame as the Cockle disappeared within.
We were shown other tunnels to meeting rooms and other rooms that Denise & Quynh crawled through...even an exploded B52 bomb crater...near it some holes in the ground where tunnels had started to cave in...even a field hospital.
Nick & Shane got held up in one waiting for a briefing to commence...had to pull rank to get them out of there..."Squad...Atten Ha...they're only dummies...get a move on!"
We had to admire the ingenuity of these people...no wonder they won the War. A blast from the past
Shane was anxious to get to the firing range before it closed...that's an understatement...what's a stronger word than anxious...virtually chased us out of there.
at the firing range as workers were filing out...so we filed them back in...opening up for us.
Shane fired an AK-47...10 rounds for 300,000 dong.
It was pretty hot...and we were sweating...but from Shane's exclamations it was more than that.
Having seen so many AK-47s in Ethiopia in our travels with the Omo River tribes...and to show Shane how a real marksman does it...I put down my 300,000 dong and blasted away.
But Shane...not to be outdone...got a Browning 30mm Machine Gun for 500,000 dong...and let it all off in one orgasmic discharge...better than sex...his reaction assurred us!!! Getting to the party...or will we ever get there?
As all TBers will appreciate...sometimes the journey is as exciting as the destination...and so it was getting to Quynh's parents' 29th wedding anniversary.
The party started at 6pm but we didn't get back to Bin Hoa until 7:30pm & required quick showers to get the dirt off from tunneling and into party clothes...more of the same but clean.
Quynh arrived on a moped looking like she'd been born to ride...instructions to taxi driver in Vietnamese & we were off..."Follow her."
taxi driver did not understand "Follow her" or anything else it seemed.
Quynh in the middle lane...we in the left hand...Quynh in the middle...taxi change to right hand lane...me trying to say stay in the same lane...we stationary...u-turn...there she is...or is it...zillions of mopeds...zillions of headlights...there she is...follow...Shane sure...me not so sure...Shane insisting we piss off the taxi & get out there...me not so sure...Shane insisting we return to the hotel...me not so sure...no idea what the taxi driver thought...Den just enjoying the ride!
Well we got back to the hotel where we had started and Shane was insistent the taxi driver just go...me insisting he come with me to Reception first...to find out if Quynh had told him our destination or just to follow her...Shane insistent he just go...me insisting my way first.
Turned out Quynh had told him where to go...and she turned up shortly after...and ripped right into him...then we let him go.
Got another taxi who took us to a Wedding reception place...this can't be it...we're going to their home aren't we?
And then like an angel of the night there was Quynh...smiling & confident..."Now follow me"...down some narrow lanes and
we were there...about two hours late...some guests already leaving.
Still want to be M.C. Shane? The Wedding Anniversary Party
Being a V.I.P. is an art not a virtue...being expected for about a month and finally arriving is a cause for celebration.
We expected to arrive with a bang...not a whimper.
Thank goodness Nick was there to greet us so we could "Dah Dah...we have finally made it!"
Met the Matriarch first...remembered the greeting for her we'd practised during the day...couldn't remember any other instruction so winged it as usual.
Met the rels...given heaps of delicious food...given heaps of beer...present from Shanghai for the parents...Anniversary Portraits not negotiable...came out well...then settled down for a night of feasting with Quynh's father, brother & Nick's boss.
Being a V.I.P. is an art not a virtue...and when it's me it's time for toasting...and white spirits...wasn't my idea but that's how it ended up.
Vietnamese medicine...not unlike Chinese medicine...and as I was missing a tooth from Shanghai I hope I didn't inadvertently smile for photos.
******** The Gift
And then like an apparition a surprize for me that lifted
NICK & QUYNH
We miss you guys
my spirits so I was soaring in that home in Vietnam...renewed that part of me that was missing...filled that empty void that had been wrenched from me in Shanghai...that which had been taken...nicked by an anthropologist...and hidden behind a fire wall.
Nick presented me with a piece of paper...which had 3 dots on it...3 giant dots...3 Vietnamese dots.
I can blog again.
Come here Nick...that's the best present anyone can give.
How about a drink to celebrate?
Relax & Enjoy,
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