A day of contrasts: rebuilding Vietnam

A sombre day today. We visited the Cu Chi tunnels, the War Memorial and the Reunification Palace. We saw the worst and the best of human endeavour. We saw how cruel and ruthless humans are in a war, and how creative they are in rebuilding a country afterwards.

The drive to the tunnels was spectacular. We drove through crowded, hectic streets, through a river of motorbikes. The countryside was patchwork of emerald rice paddies and market stalls, shacks and newly developed areas, pagodas and temples. It took the bus just over two hours to get to Cu Chi from Saigon, and we had a Vietnamese guide telling us the story of his country.  We learned the back story of the war, why children are given an ugly name before a beautiful name and why Vietnamese houses are so narrow. We learned about the different types of temples, the schooling and education system, and a lot about the politics. I was fascinated by the electricity system and wiring, which is known fondly as “spider webs”. The market stalls are also fascinating; most stalls or shops sell only one thing: air conditioning; bottled water; hammock sleeping spots (I’m not kidding!), motorcycle helmets. There are many ad hoc footpath sellers, hawking anything from coconut drinks to greeting cards, to noodles. And an endless supply of buyers.

Cu Chi was a sad, tragic and disturbing. The adaptive nature of the people in this war ravaged area is not up for debate. That they had to use innovation in such a necessarily cruel way is a tragedy. Traps that were used to catch and hunt animals were adapted for use against (mostly) American soldiers. The tunnel system was an amazing and intricate feat of architecture. I went into a 10 metre tunnel, and was quite claustrophobic. Although, I guess if you have a choice between being claustrophobic and dying horribly….

I couldn’t stay at the War Memorial for too long. I found the images too disturbing and confronting, and I got quite emotional. I understand that we should never forget about the atrocities of war, but I am at a loss to understand why we never learn from it. I don’t care who’s fighting, or what the reason, it’s just horrible – for all concerned.

Dinner was amazing. We went to a BBQ your own meet restaurant, and the food was divine. We had little gas BBQs at each of the tables (built in) and we cooked small pieces of meat, a few bits at a time. It was a little like Vietnamese tapas. We had gorgeous salads, and lots of Vietnamese beer. After we had cocktails at The Rex (very famous hotel).

What a day of contrasts.

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