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"A Brief Exploration of the Soul Of Ho Chi Minh City Part 2"


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Using the map of HCM given to us by the hotel front desk staff, I realized that located near the Independence Palace is the War Remnants Museum. We simply walked again to this museum. Upon entering the gates of the museum, we saw displays of different US military equipments left behind by the withdrawing US military forces months before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Helicopters, tanks, airplanes etc... are arranged neatly on the front and left side of the grounds of the the museum. A display on the right side of the caught our attention: series of prototypes of solitary confinement cells used by the american forces (one made of barbed wires where a prisoner of war could not make any movement; another made of concrete and steel doors with a small opening that would only allow the guards to peep if the prisoner is still alive) for the vietcong prisoners of war. There was also a real guillotine which was used by the french military forces during the french
colonization period.

There was a display of large unexploded bombs like B-52 bombs which were as big as a human being. But, what really hit me hard was what we saw when we entered the ground floor of the museum. Immediately after the museum main entrance are a group of victims of the orange bombs used with american forces during the war. About 10 people with physical deformities (small legs, distorted faces and short arms) were making handicraft souvenir items made of beads and other local materials. A bulletin board with a write up on the inhuman effects of the orange bombs says that those people were either second and third generation children of the survivors or the survivors themselves from orange bomb attacks. Immediately after the war, the americans denied that they used orange bomb nor napalm bomb or any chemical warfare but overwhelming evidences proved the indeed orange bombs and napalm bombs were used during the war.

From the ground floor up to the third floor, there were displays of real US military armaments (armalite was said to be the most popular automatic weapon during the war, different kinds of land mines, hand grenades and orange bombs). There were plenty of photographs depicting how cruel and destructive the war was. Most notable was the photos of a US Senator who admitted that when he was a soldier sent to Vietnam, he killed a family of vietnamese civilians.

Upon sifting all the displayed materials it left two important things in my memory: first, the might of the US forces was so invincible and second, the destructive effects the war brought to HCM including not only deformities among the victims of the orange bombs and other chemical warfare but also the poisoning of the environment was so enormous.

Having seen the seemingly invincible forces of the mighty defenders of democracy, I told my wife, we should appreciate how the supposedly the “communist vietcong forces” was able to convince President Van Thieu and his american allies to move out of Saigon. The following day, we went to Cu Chi Tunnels by bus. We were able to arrange for this local tour with a local travel agent located on Pham Ngu Lao Street near the Hostel where we booked for our early morning airport arrival It was a 5 US$ per person trip on board an air-conditioned bus ride from HCM to Cu Chi tunnels (70 kms.) and back with an english-speaking tourist guide. There was an additional entrance fee of 80,000 dong per person for the entrance of the Cu Chi tunnels system.

The tourist guide succeeded in imparting to us Vietcong's secret weapon against the mighty american military hardware. This secret weapon is far more significant than the then already mounting worldwide criticism which pressured the americans to pull out from Vietnam. This secret weapon proved the resilience and determination of a people to win back their independence. Vietnsm was occupied the longest by the chinese, then for hundred years by the french colonizers, followed by the mighty americans. Through out this long era of struggle to finally have a country of their own, the vietcongs have this secret weapon: the Cu Chi Tunnels!

Now known as the Cu Chi Tunnel Historic Vestige Site, the tunnel system was the proof of how the vietcong with small body physique was able to outsmart the bigger americans! During the war, the americans referred to it as their inability to familiarize with the local terrain. The common scenario was that as they engage a battle with a ragtag vietcong patrol, as soon as they start to pursue the vietcongs, the latter would suddenly dissapear in the jungle wilderness. Then as the americans continue to roam around the jungle, they found themselves stepping into the waiting poisonous traps and getting killed in the process.

The americans did not have the slightest idea that under the ground of Cu Chi that they heavily bombarded with B-52 bombs was (to use the words from the tourist leaflets given to us at the entrance of the Cu Chi tunnel) a unique project of architecture, as an underground system of tunnel deeply located in the ground bed with numerous floors and alleys like a cobweb of over 200 km long with its places of accommodation, meetings and fighting. The tunnel system shows the resilient will of determination, wisdom and pride of Cu Chi people as the symbol of Vietnamese people's revolutionary heroism.

Using manual crude digging tools with a bamboo basket the vietnamese dug the tunnels disposing the soil diggings into the nearby Saigon river seldom get noticed by the americans.

We saw for ourselves the Ben Duoc Tunnel portion situated within the Cu Chi tunnel system which was the base of the Zone Party committee and the High Command of Sai Gon – Gia Dinh Military Zone and was classified as national level vestige.

Since the tunnels (which I had gone inside myself) are small enough to accommodate only the small body size of the vietnamese in a kneeling position, there was no way that the americans can pursue the “now you see, now you don't” vietcongs!

I imagine that the vietcongs had all the advantage during that protracted guerilla warfare as they engaged the americans using the tunnels as the battlefield with their improvised weapons mostly poison traps crafted out from the recovered unexploded bombs of the enemies.

For 15 years, from 1960 till the liberation of Saigon in 1975, some 14,000 vietcongs stayed in the Cu Chi tunnel systems during the day time eating only cassava (locally called tapioca) and getting out into the Saigon River to dispose of body waste at night time that is if there was no americans to lead into the deadly poisonous traps!

After 35 years, the fear of getting infected with Vietnam Rose in HCM is no longer felt despite the presence of massage attendants openly displayed in front of the massage parlors. My personal feeling is that the vietcongs are after all as gentle and meek as a lamb and not vindictive. In fact, majority of the boat people who fled Vietnam after the liberation had already returned home. The economy of the country is steadily getting stronger showing proof that communism should have not motivated the americans to do a Rambo everytime they lost sight of vietcongs taking shelter in the underground tunnels!

Back into our hotel room, we read a tourism leaflet for a sidetrip to Cambodia for only 10 US$! Next trip, perhaps, next year, a Vietnam flight and into Cambodia!

Posted by E. Sandalo 18:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged people

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