Monday, February 28, 2011
We have arrived in Saigon. It's strange to think that Vietnam's northern city was 10 degrees, and it's southern city is 35 degrees with humidity so thick I could climb air right now.
We're back in the tropics. And were walking sloth-like through the city, trying make our way to a very important place: The War Remnants Museum.
One needs to walk like a sloth when the air is like soup. No sudden movements, or you'll sweat unnecessarily. Need to stop and neck a litre of water every twenty minutes, because you lost that amount of sweat just strolling around the block.
Our tans have come along nicely, but in order not to die - seriously - we would sit in the shade with a vat of ice tea in a Heat Stupor.
Basically, it was hot.
Saigon also has 8000 Kawasakis coming towards you at any one time. Everyone has told me it's worse in Saigon than Hanoi, but I have to disagree. Hanoi was more chaotic somewhere. Here, it was just a warm throng, sometimes even with regulated traffic lights.
We pushed ourselves towards the War Museum and lolled about on the pavement, immovable, while we queued for tickets.
Fuck. It was so warm, at that stage, I didn't care if I was queuing for the National Tax & Auditing Museum - Exciting! - I just wanted to get inside a building with air-con.
I had been looking forward to the war museum the whole trip though. I studied Vietnamese history in second year varsity (not that I remember much), and we'd heard and seen our fair share of interesting political shit since we'd arrived.
But I also heard this museum was hardcore. It was very biased towards Vietnam, but from what I'd heard, it's like going to a holocaust museum.
Basically, it's not far off.
From front to back, we walked in feeling neutral towards the war, not knowing the details of why it even happened, to leaving the museum not ever wanting to talk to an American again for as long as we lived.
"If I see an American, I will vom. Get me outta here," was the general consensus, whether we were right or wrong.
There are three or four main areas. The first, outside, shows US bombers and planes. Some of these bombers shot things like nail bombs, or threw flames, or dropped napalm. Many of these weapons were still under 'trial' and yet were used liberally to carpet Vietnam.
The US were fighting the northern Vietnamese, under Ho Chi Minh. It all started on the back of the Cold War where the US feared communism like I fear snakes, and decided to get involved in Vietnam's then-going civil war. It was a north-south fight, and the US basically tried to obliterate the northern 'Vietcong.'
By 'obliterate,' I mean fuck over. Children and babies were seen as 'Vietcong,' in their 'Search & Destroy' doctrine. The pictures of the casualties and deaths was truly appalling.
Landmines are still found in Vietnam, particularly on the Laos border and the 'Demilitarized Zone' where the south meets north. Something like 2000 Vietnamese are still being injured from unexploded artillery a year, or something.
That was that, I'll be brief about the next section: Agent Orange. Agent Orange is made from dioxon, a herbicide that is said to be the most poisonous substance known to man.
Either way, the deformities as a result of it are truly horrific. And because it supposedly affects the genetic pool, kids are still being born with severe irregularities. Hell, there was a group of them outside performing music for charity.
It was ridiculously hardcore. But to be expected. If not because it's interesting, I think visits to museums that frame the history of a country is crucial. We owe it to people to understand and acknowledge some of the atrocities that happened there.
The final section basically showed photos of all of the countries around the world protesting against the Vietnam war. And in particular, the Americans occupying Vietnam.
There are always two sides to a story. And yes, America did admit that they shouldn't have been involved. (In so many words.) But fuck me. If I ever thought war was an excuse for mass civilian genocide, this is why.
Senseless? The Americans lost the war. And communism reigned.
It really affected me. We walked into the torture chamber for about 20 seconds, then left.
From the shock of seeing this, plus the searing heat, we stopped at a shop, and I literally passed out. Sat in a chair and passed out for 30 minutes.
After recovery, we went up to the 25th floor of the Sheraton, had a cocktail and admired the view of Saigon. Or rather, Ho Chi Minh.
It was our last night, so we threw ourselves into our last Vietnamese meal. What an incredibly life enriching trip.