HCM City Walkabout (part 1)

 Quite a busy day today. I didn’t get up as early as I meant to, but this didn’t cause any problems. Earplugs purchased in Auckland helped keep out the noisy street sounds so I was well rested and the bed is pretty comfy.

I had a plan of action and I went to it with gusto. Until I stepped outside into the stifling city heat, at which point gusto went back to the UK and left me on my own.

My first stop was the British Consulate, which is about a 30 minute walk from my hotel. The walk was pleasant, though traffic is definitely more hectic here than in Hanoi. Skills learned there, though, are just as useful here. The methods by which you cross the road are the same and I navigated my way safely to D Nguyen Du and the Consulate. Five minutes later, I walked out with my emergency card and a huge cardboard DHL envelope with some bumph in that I had to lug around with me for the rest of the day.

 The next place I was headed was the War Remnants Museum. I’d been forewarned that it’s quite harrowing, and I don’t deal that well with stuff like that, but still it fascinated me so I toddled over. Lonely Planet needs a small update from the 2005 edition – the museum is now open until 12:00 before closing for lunch, and the price has risen to 15,000d. The entrance is on D Vo Van Tan and I got there around 10:15 – “plenty time” according to the nice lady on reception.

There are six main exhibit areas, plus a selection of captured US Army equipment scattered around the grounds outside the main buildings. All the exhibits are well labelled in fairly good to perfect English, as well as Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese in most cases. I walked round in a non-obvious fashion, starting with some of the hardware. The Huey helicopter can be clambered up to look inside and still has its machine gun mounted by one door. Two jets and a bomber are also sat around, as are two tanks, a mounted gun and an impressive collection of bombs and shells. One, the Blu 82 Seismic Bomb, was capable of destroying everything within a 100m radius, and causing massive damage as far away as 3.2km from where it was dropped. Now you tell me – how do you avoid civilian casualties with an instrument like that? Answer – you don’t. Especially if you don’t care – you’re only desparate to get your backside out of a mess it should never have been in in the first place.

 True to expectation, the museum is biased, but the displays and exhibits are factual – they’ve not altered any truths. Some of these truths are very hard to handle, including the exhibit showing the conditions some prisoners were kept in – feet chained to a stone “bunk” for years. When the prisoners were released, many were paralysed and deformed.

Talking of deformities, several sections are given up to the well-known effects of Agent Orange, the herbicide used to devastate vast swathes of land in Vietnam by the Americans… which also caused huge numbers of horrendous genetic disorders to the people who spread it, those who it landed on and their offspring. Of course, to date the US has done nothing to make reparation for this to anyone other than it’s own troops – and this includes troops from other countries fighting alongside them. I know I’m rattling on, but I also know that a vast number of Americans themselves are ashamed of their government’s ability to care more about a few million dollars then they are the pride of their people. And no, I don’t expect to get past customs if they recognise me should I ever get to North America again!

I left the most hard-hitting exhibit till last. The gallery in the main building depicting some horrific photographs of the injuries suffered by innocent civilians. Not spies, not underground soldiers, not terrorists… innocent civilians. Napalm burns. Phosphor burns. Missing limbs. Deformities from chemical warfare. Sickening, awful photos of people moments before “shots were fired” and their lives ended. Many of these photographs I’d seen before, but wasn’t aware of the situation in which they were taken. The copies hanging on the walls come complete with the corresponding text from the issues of Life and other magazines in which they were printed, and a handful of words makes each picture hit you with a heavier blow than you could ever believe.

 The two jars with deformed foetuses in give shock value, but in all honesty didn’t really affect me. One man behind me I heard to utter “what the hell is that?” before peering closer. A photograph of a small track littered with the bodies of children and women was the first thing to really gutshot me. By the time we got that far, this same man was openly crying.

By the time I got to the paintings drawn by children for a competition, I pretty much joined him. There were several themes to the pictures – war through children’s eyes, peace and so forth. But one in particular really got to me. I don’t really know why, but I think it’s simply because: “Why should a child have to paint something like this? Why should they even need to ask these questions?”. The title was “Dream for Agent Orange not to exist on my homeland any longer” and it was painted by a child from a secondary school. It just shows than in a relatively poor nation, over three decades may have passed but such atrocious and awful devastation still affects the children here now. And frankly, it just bloody well shouldn’t.

I can only hope that today’s (and tomorrow’s) children learn from our mistakes instead of copying them.

Anyway. Soapbox back under bed. This is meant to be a cheery travel blog, not a rant (that’s what my other blog’s for). Still, this is a place to visit that will get to you – or it should if you’re remotely human (i.e. not a politician), and is definitely worthy of your time should you visit HCM City. Posted by Picasa

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