Two weeks have blown by since beginning the journey in Vietnam and the marvel of this country continues to unravel.
As an American visiting Vietnam, I had some concern as to the degree of anti-sentimental feelings towards the US. Part of me wants to evade the issue and potential tension by telling people I’m Indian, and I still do sometimes. As ashamed as I am for the acts the US got away with in the war in Vietnam, I’m still evading the truth – that I am practically American. And by evading that, I also miss the opportunity of a possibly insightful conversation.
What I’ve learned and witness everyday is miraculous. The people here have managed to shrug off and move beyond their scars of war. In the history of Vietnam, US was merely one of the last countries among a number of nations (China & France) flexing its military muscle in this land. Fighting and protecting home turf was something the Vietnamese had perfected.
Today, almost four decades later, the country is booming and rapidly moving. And the people here are among the most wonderfully welcoming people I have met. Smiling faces and shouts of “Hello!” from children occur at every turn.
There’s much to be learned from the resilient people of this nation. Although the country was torn apart from 17 years of war and the effects of Agent Orange are still causing widespread suffering, the spirit of the people could not seem any more lively and stronger.
My first stop was Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City today), the epicenter of the battle for South Vietnam during the war. The end of the war was signified by Communist North Vietnamese tanks crashing into the Reunification Palace formerly held by the anti-Communist state of South Vietnam. The palace is preserved almost exactly as it was in 1966.
A US (UH-1) helicopter residing on the roof of the palace.
The view of District 1 (downtown) Saigon from the roof of the Palace.
Ho Chi Minh (whom the city is named after) was the Communist Revolutionary leader of North Vietnam and helped to unify all the people of the nation during the war toward a communist Vietnam.
An American tank at the War Remnants museum in Saigon. The museum turned out to be an eye-opening and moving testament to the hardships faced by the people as a result of the war.
Barbed wire cages used at prisons to enclose and torture 2-3 people at once. The Viet Cong (southern Vietnamese resisting US aggression) and local farmers who were suspected to have helped the Northern Vietnamese army were imprisoned.
People of Calcutta, India burning the US flag and supporting Vietnamese resistance. This was one of many propaganda pictures showcasing how so many nations around the globe supported Vietnam and protested US aggression. A united world against the united states.
One major aspect of the warfare used in Vietnam which I had not learned the full depth of before was Agent Orange. The herbicide called dioxin, along with other “Rainbow Herbicides” was used to defoliate forests and farms of southern Vietnam in order to destroy potential cover used for hiding along with taking away the livelihood of the farmers who were supporting the Communist army. As a result, nearly half a million people were directly killed and over one million people were born with defects and disabilities still evident to this day.
The day after visiting the War Remnants museum, Ankur & I visited a region about 100 kilometers northwest of Saigon, called the Cu Chi region. Here, the local civilian/farmers who became the Viet Cong formed a network of underground tunnels stretching over 120 km. The multi-level tunnels were used to take shelter, hide artillery, and eventually to combat American forces who were bombing the area with B-52 planes. During the bombings, the lowest levels of the tunnels would be protected.
A trap door entrance for the tunnels below the ground.
We attempted to explore the tunnels and the size of them forced us to a crawl or slouched walk. The air was thick with dust and breathing soon became difficult. How anybody stayed down here for extended periods of time was beyond me. But then I realized, being comfortable doesn’t matter when you’re just trying to stay alive.
Inevitably, disease and sickness plagued those who stayed in the tunnels as the jungle introduced many other life-forms beneath the war-ridden land. Overcoming so many obstacles such as war, disease, chemical warfare, etc. seems insurmountable. And yet, the Vietnamese have accomplished that and so much more.
Above, a local family in a park in Saigon playing a game of Jianzi, which is similar to hackey sack. Happiness reigns.