first evening in Saigon
I can not believe we had that same bus driver. We had him for both of our previous trips on the bus and never thought we would survive to see another one. At any rate, we boarded the sweltering bus in Mui Ne, abandoning our lovely beachfront bungalow for a hair-raising ride to Saigon. I think it was possibly the hottest day we’ve seen yet, definitely over a 100 degrees I’d say. The bus ride to be uneventful again, maybe I will finally give that driver my trust. We pulled in for a quick stop at a gas station not too far out of Saigon. It looked like quite a rough place when the first glance. Almost instantly after we pulled in half a dozen women with their conical hats and trays of identical snacks appeared ready to capitalize on our stop. Scattered among them was a women begging for money and a handful of what seemed to be the casualties of war. One man I saw had both an amputated leg, right below the knee and an arm amputated below the elbow. Fortunately, they amputations were on opposite of his body so he was able to operate a pair of crutches. It was quite an amazing sight and difficult to describe how he was able to achieve this. From what I could tell he was able to move around quite well, considering his circumstances. Another man was missing both legs right above the knee and was reduced to walking on his stumps which he padded a little using wad of cloth. I could not help but feel the least bit guilty for these men’s conditions and feel drawn to their pleas for money – given that it was the country that I lived in that most likely caused these hardships. It was all I could do to muster a smile and pass them by, not giving them the attention they had hoped for as I stepped back on my bus… and I complained about a hot bus ride…
A New Friend
Holly Showalter – May 30, 2004
This afternoon I met a Vietnamese university student anxious to practice his English. Over iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk we talked for two hours about our lives and our countries. He’s a business student. After two years he will specialize in macroeconomics, an area of study carefully chosen because of its opportunities for success. He is driving himself hard, as it seems he must in order to succeed. But he’s not doubtless about the sacrifices he’s making –
I learn that his grandfather worked with the US Army for twenty years. He reminded me that the Viet Cong committed war crimes as well as the US and the Saigon army. But he’s far from pro-American. Despite his fear of terrorists, he spoke of Bush as “stupid” and “self-centered.” He acknowledges that most Vietnamese resent America’s involvement in Vietnam. “I’m abnormal,” he offers as explanation of his neutral, forgiving attitude towards the war. As an economics student, he views war as the inevitable clash between rich and poor countries. And he appreciates the technology he attributes to US influence.
Friday morning we toured the War Remnants Museum – the name has been changed from “ Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes” so as not to offend us tourists. It affected me similarly to touring the Holocaust Museum in D.C. The numbers alone were sobering – the villages destroyed, the tonnage of bombs dropped, the people killed on both sides. But it was the photographs that made lasting impressions. A special section was devoted to the international journalists that made history by their brave coverage of the era; many paid with their lives. We saw both the usual pictures of war – soldiers silhouetted against explosions, frightened, gagged prisoners, buildings and bridges nearly destroyed, the wounded abandoned or under care - and those that shocked tears into my eyes – the naked little girl, running in terror from a napalm bomb, piles of bodies after the massacre at Mai Li, contorted torture victims. A letter from a disillusioned American soldier accompanied a picture of two others posing with human heads and expressions that could only be interpreted as satisfaction. Pictures of hundreds of faces distorted by Napalm or unbelievable birth deformities – even years after the war.
Ho Chi Minh
Holly Showalter – June 6, 2004
The renaming of the city we left a week ago – once Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City - speaks of the nation’s pride in the revolution and in the man who inspired it. Signs throughout Vietnam read something like “Ho Chi Minh lives forever for our future.” Every person knows the story of how he traveled as a cook on a ship, living with the French in order to know his oppressors, and choosing simple lifestyle alongside his fellow countrypeople, and of course, inspiring the country to independence. There’s no question that this national hero lives on in the minds and hearts of the Vietnamese people. Some even claim he was saint-like, above a mundane, human existence. But my educated Saigon friend countered that claim. “He was married and had children,” he told me, and leaning closer, “if I said this too loudly, I might be put in prison.” It’s hard to believe that’s true, but who knows? Our guidebook tells us that only 30% of Vietnamese police wear uniforms . . .
This morning we traipsed down to the center of Hanoi again, hoping for a chance to visit the museum and the actual body of the revered leader. Unfortunately, we were just five of thousands with the same plan. We gave up at the sight of the line of people wrapped around the corner of the sidewalk, into the museum’s walls and back out again. They’d come from the country, from nearby towns and faraway towns, lovers, schoolchildren, families, a few scattered tourists. It was an awesome physical testimony to the importance of this guy we keep hearing and reading about.
Thanks to our Wonderful Hosts
Before closing this journal page on our stay in Ho Chi Minh City, I must thank our wonderful hosts Hoan and Zoe, Dung and Hanh’s aunt and cousin. Unfortunately we were never able to meet their uncle because he was away coaching his U17 soccer team. They took very good care of us during our four night stay and even joined us on the boating trip, and trips to several museums and the zoo. I am personally thankful for the massages during my spell of lower back pain, not to mention the wonderful meals and introduction to frozen yogurt for breakfast.