Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vietnam Day 4

Vietnam Day 4
We awoke really early to meet the bus at 8 o’clock for our Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels trip. I was quite skeptical of the Cao Dai segment of the trip because we had already seen one of their temples, but I was very excited for the Cu Chi segment.

After three hours on the bus we arrive at a restaurant (yep at 11 am) to dine before heading to mass at the temple. We had fantastic (what could go wrong?) fried shrimp and pho before heading back to the bus to go to the temple.

The temple was huge, much larger than the one we had seen days before. We went up to the second story which overlooked the ground floor where the service was taking place. It was obviously set up for tourists (although the praying seemed very legit) and I found myself surrounded by individuals of all ages and nationalities. Below, there were men and women in red, blue, yellow and white were lined up perfectly and spread out evenly, a very choreographed affair. There were probably 150 of them all together grouped in colors and designs. We stood taking pictures and taking in the tranquil music, the colored atmosphere surrounding us. Once again it was very hot and we were all quite sweaty by the time we left and headed back to the sanctuary of our air-conditioned bus. I really did enjoy seeing this relatively new religion during one of their services.

The trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels took us through very rural areas and some veryyyyy rural roads (which was a little intense on the bus lol). I enjoyed taking in the scenery which included many individuals on hammocks trying to take in whatever breeze nature would impart on them.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are located in the Cu Chi district of HCMC. They were a major location of guerilla fighters for the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive in 1968. They were part of a large series of tunnels which served as hiding locations during war. The United States tried several times to destroy the tunnels during Operation Crimp and other campaigns. We even had B-52 bombers try to explode them. During our tour the guides showed us booby traps which they would use to kill Americans.

Visiting the site was kind of odd in terms of their story versus ours. The film that they showed us talked about “American Killer Heros” and harped on all the bad we did without ever showing anything that the North Vietnamese did wrong. I understand that there are three sides to every story (yours, mine and the truth) but the propaganda was very prevalent.

The guide discussed how the Cu Chi people used their smaller size to their advantage as sometimes the tunnels would be just too small for larger American soldiers to get through. Pretty tricky!

We got a chance to go through one of the tunnels ourselves, which had been slightly enlarged for us to be able to go through. It was very dark and lets just say I was not very happy to be crawling in the dark hot space, I cannot imagine making that my home as many individuals did. They say that most of Cu Chi literally lived in the tunnels, men, women and children. Brittany seemed pretty content however and wanted to go on for more than our guide did! After our tunneling adventure we snapped some pictures of us coming out of it. We also got a chance to see how tiny the true entrance would have been and snap some pictures of us in it.

From there we continued to walk through various booths in the forest which housed animatronical robot people performing various tasks. It was a little hokey, but quite interesting as we saw how they made their own shoes and what they used to eat.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like to have fought in that war: the extreme heat, the dead bodies and the ever prevalent places for the Viet Cong to hide. Those men were sure brave to be dealing with it. I forgot to mention this in my Mekong Delta entry, but John Kerry was a swift boat captain even though they depict him as not a hero or a leader. But leading those boats through that tangled river where you are constantly turning corners and looking out at thick forestry, makes you a pretty brave leader, and a damn good one if you manage to stay alive!

I thought the Cu Chi Tunnels were quite thought provoking a number of levels. First of all it showed the ingenious of the Vietnamese people. They used their native land, their body size and the weapons that we left (they would turn unexploded bomb powder into gun powder) to defeat us. It was really quite humbling. But moreover, the intense propaganda of the place also showed me how distorted views can be, that maybe our view of it is just as distorted as theirs.

Well enough theorizing, back to the story!

After our sweltering afternoon in the jungly forest, we picked up some coconuts (well I got a coconut and Brittany got ice cream) and headed back to the bus for the ride home. I slept most of the journey and was even a little surprised because it felt like we got home rather quickly.

We went upstairs and showered, pretty exhausted. We had promised Matthew and Anish Burtner, two faculty members, that we would watch their three year old son, Barret that night as we knew we would be tired and would want to stay in for a change. He was pretty well behaved and we ended up also watching Luc and Melanie’s daughter Abby. We went for ice cream at the pool bar and let them run around by the piano lounge while Jonathan played on the piano. Once we figured they were thoroughly tired we took them back to Matthew and Anish’s room to watch bootleg Aladdin. Shortly after the movie was over all of the parents arrived to pick up their kids. Matthew and Anish gave us each a little money and a rose, which was very nice of them. We headed back to our rooms to get as much sleep as possible before our service visit the next morning.

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