Thursday, November 18, 2010

The last day in Nam.

On my last day in Vietnam, I woke up early to head to the Cu Chi Tunnels with a Semester At Sea led trip. We got there and there were other SAS students there on their own. A short video was shown, that was very biased in the way of the Vietnamese. The video stated something along the lines of "Cu Chi was a wonderful park area where many people used to go for picnics and children would run around playing innocently, until American bombs started dropping mercilessly robbing the local people of their lives. It was a harsh war and American perspectives are a bit different, and it was interesting to hear the way they phrased things like this to the general public.
Anyway, our guide took us around to show us the different tunnel access points in the area. There were robotic Vietnamese soldiers set up in some places which I found really strange.. There were also little holes in the ground with lids on them that were covered with leaves. When the lids were removed, it revealed a 2 foot by 1 foot sized hole in the ground that the soldiers would duck in and out of to avoid or attack American soldiers, effectively disappearing into the atmosphere when they needed to. We got to crawl into these tunnels which was quite cool. In some places, they had removed the ground that covered the underground areas like the hospital and the kitchen. Soldiers could live underground in these tunnels for up to a month. It was pretty wild seeing how extensive their set up was... the longest tunnel we went into took about 10 minutes from start to finish, and I was literally bent over at a right angle to be able to stand up in them. So tiny, and pretty incredible. There were times when American soldiers set up base camps above the tunnels and didn't realize it until they suffered a lot of deaths.
We also go to shoot guns if we cared to pay for the bullets. Of course I did, so I got to shoot an AK-47. I was pretty surprised at how incredibly loud it was. We had to wear ear muffs and one of the guides stood behind me with his hand on my shoulder so force from shooting the gun wouldn't make me fall backwards. Woah.
After getting back to the ship, I met up with Corey and we went to the American War Museum. There were a lot of different exhibitions going on. One of them showed all of the deformations that people suffered from the chemical weapons used by Americans in the war. I was pretty shocked.. I didn't realize they'd had such a huge affect on generations of Vietnamese to come after the war. Even the children of American soldiers were pictured with missing limbs or oddly shaped bodies.
It started pouring out, so Corey and I bought really dorky ponchos off this guy selling them out front for a dollar. We walked back through the slushy streets to the markets, which still wreaked of fish and had an added damp smell of concrete. These markets we shopped in the first day literally had everything imaginable.. I'd gone to a tailor in there, so we went to pick up my custom made dress. We also went to get some last minute gifts. After that, we got some Pho before we had to get back on the ship at Pho24 which was AMAZING. I also realized how exceptionally good I am at using chopsticks after a week of no American utensils! I was pretty excited that I loved it so much and definitely want to try Pho at home and see if it's the same! Mmm...
The rest of the night was mellow. The atmosphere on the ship has been down and quiet, but things got better once we got to China. I slept for 16 hours one night in transit.. traveling is starting to take a toll on my body, fitness and energy levels. Still, Vietnam was an amazing country. I can't wait to go back there - it is at the very top of my list. I saw Rachel's parents again who said that they absolutely loved Halong Bay, so I can't wait to go up to the North and see all the differences in culture and food up there. One thing I did notice and forgot to mention.. A lot of people on the streets wear these little paper face masks to "cover their coughs." The bird flu was a big epidemic there I guess, and people take extra cautions. It was strange to see though, because even though H1N1 was going around, Americans weren't going through their everyday lives with facemasks on.

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