• Tara B. Vasi

Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnam War Museum, Motorbike, Yoga, Night train

The group planned to go to the tunnels today, but I opted out for a myriad of reasons. Louu, Joe, Lara and I chose the Vietnam War museum instead and a more flexible day to ourselves

I sleep in until 8:15am and roll over to see Bryony still there and wake her up so she isn’t late for the tunnels. She tells me she is sick and staying in bed. Poor sweet girl. I leave her some treats and medicine on her bedside take.

I start the day my favorite way, good coffee and some writing. There is a buffet going on in the common area, but the group of Chinese women staying in the hostel destroyed it taking literally every morsel of food for themselves.

Louu, Joe, and Lara settle for a half a left over baguette and a few bananas. I settle for more coffee.

We order a GRAB, which is similar to an UBER, to take us to the Museum. We wait for it outside by the market and have a few minutes to walk around. The smell is so strong I can only walk through for a few minutes before I am forced to leave the tents for fresh air. I am reminded of when I was a little girl and would plug my nose and run passed the seafood section at the grocery store.

We see all kinds of meat and fish and even fish that are slowly suffocating in a shallow bowl of water. There are flowers, fruits, candies, etc.

We find our GRAB and travel through the chaos in the streets to the Vietnam War Museum.

I have learned about the war in history class and from my Dad, but was interested to learn more. I have prepared my emotions a bit for the devastating lesson, knowing how hard it was to hear about the Cambodia genocide, but ultimately have no idea what I am in for.

They set up the museum strategically, by showing us first about the large number of Americans who protested the war.

The war was hugely unpopular and many soldiers sent to Vietnam refused to fight. Mid to end of war, four students protesting the war at Kent University in Ohio were shot dead by National Guard troops in 1970. That was a big deal.

A brief botched summary: The Vietnam war was a conflict against the communist government of North Vietnam and the South. During this time the Cold War was happening between the US and the Soviet Union. The US believed in the domino affect, that if the Communist North took over the the south, it would then start to take over other countries, thus communism would spread. The US hardened it policies against any allies of the Soviet Union. They used the “domino effect” as a way to intervene in the war, though the people protesting the way believed it wasn’t our war to fight.

Ho Chi Minh formed the Viet Minh and seized control of French educated Emperor Boa Dai in Hanoi. Vietnam was a ruled by France for a while. France backed Bao and helped him set up Saigon, a state that would have close economic and cultural ties to the west in the south of Vietnam. Anti communist Ngo Dihn Diem pushed Boa to the side and took over the south. There was nothing France could do there. So now we got HoChi in the north and Diem in the South.

Eisenhower pledged his support of Diem and South Vietnam in 1955.

Diem tortured and executed Viet Minh sympathizers in the south, calling them Viet Cong, or Vietnamese Communists and assumed they were from the north.

Kennedy sent a team in 1961 to report conditions and help Diem with the Viet Cong threat and by 1962 the US military presence in Vietnam had skyrocketed.

Diem and his brother were killed potentially by Northern Vietnam, three weeks before Kennedys assassination in Texas, in November 1963. Lyndon Johnson stepped up and furthered US support in the south. Two US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin were attacked and that’s when shit really hit the fan and Johnson sent retaliatory bombs to Northern Vietnam. The bombing didnt just take place in northern Vietnam. The US also dropped two million bombs on neighboring neutral countries, like Laos and Cambodia to disrupt the flow supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Just rude.

During the Vietnam War 3 million Vietnamese were killed, 2 million of them civilians. 2 million people were injured and 300,00 people went missing. It was amazing how many photos were taken during the war. There were photos of Vietnamese children crying and reaching for their parents. The caption written by the photographer, read, I shot the photo, turned away and all I could hear was gunfire. Many photographers went missing. This one photo won a Pulitzer Prize. Children trying to run away from Agent Orange.

There were many pictures that really disturbed me, of course. I walked around with my mouth open and my hand on my racing heart. Tears weld up in my eyes and when I looked around I could tell there were other people that were getting emotional too. War, violence, death, torture, it makes my heart hurt and my stomach sick. So many lives lost.

The quote on this photo says, “ The above picture shows exactly what the brass want you to do in the Nam. The reason for printing this picture is not to put down the GI’s but rather to illustrate the fact that the army can really fuck over your mind if you let it. Its up to you, you can put in your time just trying to make it back in one piece or you can become a psycho like the Lifer (E-6) in the picture who really digs this kind of shit. It’s your choice.”

After learning about the genocide, I was worried about walking by Cambodian men that were a part of the killings, but now its like the “psychos” that the guy is referring to could be many Vietnam Veterans that are still living in the US. Many peoples grandfather. My grandfather is a Vietnam vet.

I know there are many respectable Vietnam Vets too, but its hard to imagine after seeing how the Vietnamese were slaughtered and tortured, any part of that war was respectable.

I thought this was interesting.

In 2001 US senator Bob Kerrey confessed to heinous murders he committed in Vietnam in 1969. Did he go to jail? What about all the other psychos?

Essentially, the US was testing its weapons on Vietnamese people, including the toxic chemical Agent Orange. Agent orange just completely annihilated whole villages. They had two whole rooms showing pictures of injured people and disfigured children. This one really got me.

There was a ton of other bad shit that happened but fast forward. In 1973, US and North Korea signed a peace treaty, so the US moved out for the most part.

There was still fighting within Vietnam, though. North Vietnam defeated Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh city though HCM died is 1969. In 1976 Vietnam unifies to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Why Is it still named HoChi Minh city? You’d think they’d change it to something more neutral and not after the asshole communist emperor. So you’d think it was over now right? Nope. There were still undetonated US land mines going off in Vietnam in 2003 and still killing innocent people. They’d send rats and pigs and other animals out into the fields to test the land for land mines.

We walked through two floors of the museum, but I could not bear more photographs of dead bodies, or deformed babies. I declared, “I have to get the fuck out here,” and everyone else agreed.

I walked for a while trying to shake the experience at the museum, though I knew we could never change history or really shake it at all.

I had to get the thought of death and tragedy off my mind, so I bought an ice cream cone and a coconut water in an actual coconut. It was delicious. The day quickly turned around from there.

I wanted to break the coconut to eat the meat so threw it up in the air and let it smash on the side walk. It sort of worked.

It started to down pour and we snuck into a coffee shop and watched the chaos grow into full mayhem in the streets with the added moisture.

Everyone wanted to go to the market but I needed some space to have my own adventure and to bring my mind, body, and soul fully back to a place of love, life, and peace. I searched online and found a a yoga studio 3 miles away. There wasn’t a schedule posted on their website, but I decided to head their anyway and hoped for the best. I ordered a MOTORBIKE GRAB, like an uber or a cab but I was on the back of a motorbike. It cost me $1. He picked me up and together we braided through traffic. I filmed a time lapse video while on the back of the bike and I think it is so cool! I was not scared in the slightest bit #fearless.

The yoga studio was on the second floor. They had many different rooms and had yoga mats already laying down on the floor. A drop in was $2. Luckily there was a yoga class starting fifteen minutes after I arrived! They gave me a locker for my bag.

I had a plastic water bottle with me and felt like a sinner entering the studio without my reusable hydroflask.

The yoga teacher was a sweet angel who taught the class in English AND Vietnamese. So, she said each cue in english and then in Vietnamese. I was the only Westerner in the class or as it appeared. I was so impressed by her, I couldn’t help but smile the whole hour and ten minutes.

After the class, I HAD to approach the teacher. She was approaching me at the same time. She told me, I was so strong and it was a pleasure to have me in class. I told her how much I loved class and how she spoke it two languages. She told me it is great for the Vietnamese people that are learning English, but also great for the foreigners that are here visiting. I left that yoga studio feeling like I was floating down the street. My body needed the attention and I gave it what it needed. I was so smitten with myself to have practiced yoga at a studio in Vietnam.

Thats the sweet angel in the white shirt.

I walked back to the hostel. I passed Starbucks, H&M, the Underground market, Private schools, a zoo, a movie theater… I wanted to badly to shop, to buy presents for my entire family, but knew I’d be unable to carry the extra weight around for the remaining 20 days...

Because the motorbikes travel in pack, crossing the street can be tricky, even though they have the little green walking man indicator. I started having fun with it. I’d boldly step with a strong stride and if a motor bike wanted to go, well he would go around me. I had this crazy walking pace because I was buzzed off the yoga and running on fumes and I just plowed right through the three miles back to the area around the hostel. Lady on a mission.

First meal of the day was at 6pm, and I ordered crispy noodles with sautéed vegetable and beef. I ate the whole plate.

We meet at 7pm and head to the overnight train. Our bus the ten miles to the train station was the best bus we have encountered so far this trip, but have stayed on the shortest period of time.

Bryony, Shelley, Lara, and I are in a carriage together and the ride is 11 hours. The carriage feels more like a morgue and we are stacked on top of each other is small narrow compartments.

Merry Christmas!

This is the first of four overnight trains on the trip. Tomorrow we arrive in Nha Trang on the coast and the plan is an all day boat ride with a seafood lunch and snorkeling.

For some reason, I wasn’t originally excited to visit Ho Chi Minh City, but now that I have experienced it, I think its a really cool place. Its very stinky, but also very lively and diverse.


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