After two posts in which That War figured not all, this one returns to it with a vengeance.
|The shrine of Thich Quang Duc (far corner of the road)|
Ho Chi Minh City
We drove north along a flat, straight road across land that had been forest before Agent Orange was sprayed all over it. The awful effects of that action we had seen at the War Souvenir Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
|Roadside scene north of Ho Chi Minh City|
|Into the tunnel, Cu Chi|
|Disappearing into the hole, Ch Chi|
A continual game of cat and mouse had been played. The Americans liked to drop grenades into the tunnel entrances so the Viet Cong provided them with fake entrances. The Americans used dogs to detect the real entrances, so the VC put aniseed round the fake entrances, and so it went on.
|Lynne by a real hole/fake hole/smoke hole for a distant kitchen?|
|Hospital, Cu Chi tunnels|
... and command centres.
|Trang takes command, Cu Chi tunnels|
We saw a man making sandals from used tyres....
|Making sandals from used tyres|
putting the ‘heals’ at the front and the ‘toes’ at the back to confuse attempts at tracking.
|Sandals with 'toes' at the back and 'heal' at the front|
We drank the ‘tea’ they brewed from jungle plants and ate the boiled sago which was their staple diet. It was not unpalatable and a good source of carbohydrate, but I am sure I would quickly have tired of it.
|Tea and sago at the Ch Chi tunnels|
|In the (enlarged) Cu Chi tunnels|
|Destroyed tank, Cu Chi tunnels|
And then there were the booby traps. Bombs and mines are bad enough but there seemed to be something vicious and personal about the improvised traps on display. A soldier kicks open the door of a house and a plank swings down at him bristling with barbed iron spikes. It is easy to stop: he takes his rifle in both hands and holds it out in front of him. But there is an extra piece hinged on the bottom bearing another barbed skewer which then swings upwards into the soldier’s groin. I have difficulty understanding how anybody who could design or deploy something that would do that to another human being.
|Examples of booby traps|
Cu Chi tunnels
I have no difficulty coping with the Un-Hollywoodlike idea that the Americans are the baddies and the Viet Cong the goodies, what I cannot comprehend is how you can dehumanize your foe enough to do that to them.
|Endless chanting, Cao Dai cathedral, Tay Ninh|
Fifteen minutes later we realised nothing else was going to happen and the repetitive one-line chant was beginning to grate, so we made our exit. We were far from the first to leave.
|Inside the Cao Dai cathedral, Tay Ninh|
|Cao Dai church, Trang Bang|
Nine year old Phan Thị Kim Phúc tore off her burning clothes and ran down the road naked and screaming. Nick Ut’s photograph of this event shocked the world (it can be seen here). My photograph shows where it happened, though the road has been rebuilt and widened since 1972. It is difficult to believe that such terrible events could have taken place in such a banal setting.
|Where to buy weasel coffee, Ben Thanh market, Ho Chi Minh City|
Near the market is the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, one of several serving Ho Chi Minh’s small Hindu community. The gopura may be diminutive by Indian standards, but it stands out in Vietnam.
|Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple|
Ho Chi Minh City
Removing our shoes, we walked round the inside, and watched a steady trickle of worshippers coming and going.
[update: a similar game is playedwith a rattan ball in Myanmar.].
We briefly watched the filming of a television drama. Two young women sat on a park bench having a quietly intense conversation while surrounded by an army of cameraman, soundmen, make-up artists and producers, not to mention a fair few onlookers. I was surprised by how low-key television acting is compared to the stage version.
|In the park, Ho Chi Minh City|
After attempting to photograph the cavalry charge of motorbikes whenever the traffic lights change we had our last Vietnamese meal of chicken and cashew nuts, prawns and peppers followed by a Franco-Vietnamese crepe stuffed with mango and smothered with chocolate sauce.
|Motorcycles, Ho Chi Minh City|
Back to part 16
Mekong Delta (3) Cai Rang and My Tho