Posted by Emily Block | 0 comments

Good Morning Vietnam!!!!

    I love waking up to a new country!  So far, I really have enjoyed Vietnam.  I spend yesterday morning driving through the city and countryside on the way to the  Cu Chi War tunnels.  The city is busy but very clean for how many people there are.  There are lots of really fun looking shops I can't wait to explore!  Most people ride on scooters and are excellent drivers.  I guess they would have to be since the streets can be so crowded that people have to drive just inches from each other.  I hear crossing the street here is quite the exhilarating experience.  I can't wait to try that one out too!

   The countryside is beautiful.  There's been quite a bit of growth since the agent orange days.  I was surprised that the whole forest I was walking in was just dirt during the war.  We passed rice patties, rubber plantations, residential areas, and rest stops.  The rest stops are for people traveling long distances on the scooters.  It can be very exhausting, so ever few miles there is a cafe with tons of hammocks for the weary traveler.  

    Before we got to the tunnels, our group stopped to get lunch.  I don't really believe in this kind of thing, but I totally had a dream a few months ago that I went to that restaurant while in Vietnam.  I even knew my way around, like how many tables there were and where the the river forked off on either side of the piece of land the restaurant was on.  Probably just my brain playing tricks on me, but it still was cool.  

    We ate in our own gazebo overlooking the river.  The food was excellent and very aesthetically pleasing as you can see.

Hahaha We are SO tourists!   French fries and chopsticks!  The most beautiful thing to ever come out of blended cultures, no?

    I got the first taste of our guides strange sense of humor when he jumped out at us while we were eating and yelled, "VC!  VC!  Lookout!" while pointing at the river.  (VC stands for Viet Cong by the way.)  It was funny, but also made us a bit uncomfortable to be joking about a war.  He continued the gag throughout the rest of the trip, warning us about land mines we were about to step on or that he saw some guerrillas in the forest.  We all laughed nervously at this.

    Just being at the tunnels was uncomfortable.  I don't know if you have realized it, but being uncomfortable is kind of a common thread on this trip.  I really enjoy it.  It feels good to be challenged and taken out of my comfort zone.  It helps me think about things in ways I never did before.  Anyway, it felt really strange being in a place where my country was killing people (and being killed) a generation ago.  I told my friends that there needs to be a word that means, "feeling guilty when what happened was not your fault, but you belong to the group who committed the act but at the same time you feel bad for them too because they didn't like what they were doing either."    We watched a documentary from Vietnam during the war and I found myself unconsciously rooting for the guerrillas as they used incredible ingenuity to defend their home.  Somehow, at the same time, I was impressed with how tough the American soldiers were when faced with the incredibly frightening situations in exhausting weather so far from home.  Then I realized the things I was pondering weren't fiction where it is so easy to cheer when the bad guy meets his end.  This was real.  People with their own stories, their own families, their own dreams were butchered on both sides.  Even those who made it through, will probably never fully escape.  There is no cheering to be had here.  As Jeannette Rankin says, "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake."  

Can you see where the tunnel entrance is?  
(Another example of our guides strange sense of humor.  He drew the door trap pictured above up to where the ceiling would be, then let it swing down and said, "whap!  Now the soldier is a lady man!" referring to the fact that the lower spikes were at the level of a man's crotch.  More nervous laughter.)  

   I struggled with this duality of thought pretty much the whole day.  One moment I would be smiling for a picture as I squeezed into a tiny hole in the ground, the next I would be horrified that someone spent hours in that tight space and that someone was killed when they were ambushed by someone hiding in that hole.  And then it was back smiling as I climbed through tunnels before sobering up and realizing that people were forced to live in this crawl space.  Like I said before, lots of wonderful discomfort.  

Air holes were made to go through termite mounds to disguise them.  
Down we go!  

   I would like to depart from that theme for a moment to selfishly bring up a personal success.  For some reason, I was most terrified of Vietnam (in my ability to function health-wise) before this trip.  I think I focused all of my worry on the tunnels because that was something particularly challenging.  The whole tunnels area was not quite accessible and the tunnels themselves would definitely not accommodate a chair.  BEing underground in a tight space was discomforting, but I was also worried I would pass out and be in real trouble.  I had planned to just go on the trip and not even try the tunnels, but of course once I got there, I had to try.  It turns out I did fine and wasn't scared at all.  :0)  I really liked the tight, earthy smelling tunnels.  It felt like a cocoon where I could curl up and take a nice nap.  It probably seems like a silly small thing, but for me to be able to do this, even with all the other awesome things I have been able to do, felt really amazing.  

   There was lots going on at the tunnel facility other than the tunnels and internal turmoil.  There were lots of gift shops, or course.  More interesting were the various stations where people were demonstrating various aspects of life during the war.  We toured a weapons factory (in a small hut underground), a sandal making workshop (the sandals were made out of rubber tires), a rice processing area, and the tiny medical clinic.  One kind of frightening attraction was a shooting range.  I strongly dislike guns (or have you noticed haha) and loud noises.  Letting American kids who had no idea what they were doing shoot guns a few feet away was quite frightening.  Gunshots are so loud I can't even describe them.  You would have had to experience it.  I was taking a video of baby chickens (much more my style of happy) and every time a gun got fired, you can see the video jump.  People kept trying to convince me to shoot one of the guns, but I was definitely not interested (and not just because the loud noise scared me).  I think it is a good life goal to never shoot with anything stronger than a be-be gun.  It's a goal I am lucky to have the ability to have as so many people in the world are forced to fight at sometime in their lives. 

   Then the trip was over.  We had run out of tunnels to explore and workshops to visit.  I listened to Chess the musical on the bus ride back because it is about the Cold War (and chess) and seemed relevant.  I really wish the massive pissing contest that was the Cold War had not left the chess board.  I also took zillions of pictures of people on scooters because I found this immensely fascinating.  

   Back on the boat, I met up with Hannah and Andrea and we watched one of the new (super cheap) movies that we had bought that day.  It felt comforting to be able to cheer when the bad guy died again.  Oh humans, I will never understand us.  


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