Archive for February, 2010

Vietnam: The last day

February 15, 2010

Our trip back from Siem Reap was uneventful. After landing in Ho Chi Minh City made some last minute purchases including another communist propaganda poster, some more DVDs, as well as the longest haircut I’ve ever had in my life. For what couldn’t have been more than $5 including tip I had a great cut along with a scalp/head massage, all in a wonderfully air conditioned building.

I really got a kick out of all the (mis) translations of the propaganda posters. My favorite was this one, encouraging villagers to grow more salt in order to bring glory to their Uncle Ho:

“We Must Increase the Production of Salt to Satisfy the People’s Needs. Mobilize the Workers and Collective Farmers to Use Sun and the Salt Fields Effectively and to Produce in an Organized Fashion with Principle and for High Production.”

Now if that doesn’t motivate you to bring glory to the fatherland, I don’t know what will. Below is one of my favorite images. Fertile young women clutching babies and rifles seemed to be a recurring theme in most of the posters, including one of the ones that I bought:

http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Exhibits/Track16/victorious_vn.html

The next day I made my way to the Cu Chi tunnels, on the outskirts of the city. This was my first excursion without Noah, as he had already been there several times before. I was somewhat nervous taking the trip alone, but it wasn’t a big deal at all; I merely boarded a bus with a bunch of other tourists and took the 1-hour trip myself.

Door to one of the tunnels.

Villagers started to build the tunnels in the 1950’s and continued well into the 60’s and 70’s as a way to connect towns, store supplies, and survive heavy US bombing. They were really an engineering marvel—they went upwards of 10 meters underground, had several levels, and numerous trap doors. People would live there for months or years at a time, usually only emerging at night to tend to crops. Some of them even stretched as far as away as the Cambodian border, some 100 km away.

Door to one of the tunnels.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel when I got to Cu Chi, since it was a place where so many Americans and Vietnamese died—they had an American tank that succumbed to a landmine, killing all five inside, as well as a crater from a B-52 bomb. I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable being there, however, and I don’t think that many Vietnamese did either.

Ouch.

Models of Viet Cong soldiers.

I got to shoot an AK-47!

Another door to the tunnel. I think that I'm a bit bigger than the typical Viet Cong soldier.

Yet another rice paddie.

After getting back to the city proper, I killed time in a local park waiting for Noah where I saw this fantastic sign:

Social evils.

While there a few Vietnamese kids asked if they could practice their English on me. One girl did most of the talking while the others were silent. She asked me where I was from, what I did for a living, whether I liked Vietnam, and so forth. They were all 18-19 years old despite the fact that they appeared to my Western eyes to be closer to 15, and were likewise surprised when I told them that I was a mere 23. I gave them a copy of my (now useless) business card and said that they were welcome to follow up, but I never heard from them. It was nice to feel like a celebrity, if only for a few minutes.

Later that evening I went with Noah to a Rosh Hashanah celebration at the Continental Hotel organized by Chabad. Who knew that Chabad even had an outpost in Vietnam, or that there were enough Jewish tourists and ex-pats to make such a celebration viable? I never would have guessed. Apparently the lack of kosher food forced the main rabbi to purchase and butcher a goat himself a few years ago when the organization was started.

Downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

After getting dinner with a group of Noah’s English teach friends—an international group which included people from Vietnam, Japan, Malayasia, Germany, and a half French/Vietnamese fellow, I made my way to the airport to catch a 12:30 am flight to Seoul. The trip back was pretty easy, and I managed to get some sleep at the transit hotel in Korea during my 9 hour layover.

Dinner, the last day.

Caravelle Hotel and Saigon Sheraton.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip. It certainly made me appreciate the opportunities that I have being born in a western country, and I would definitely like to go back at some point to see more of the region.

Last meal in Asia at Incheon Airport, near Seoul. Six pork/vegetable dumplings, pickled veggies, and soup for only $USD6.50.

Advertisements