Some Things I Might Have Done Differently….

Travel Memorabilia - Vietnamese

I think this blog, unless I’ve anything pertinent to add, has hit a dead-end. I’ll try to keep it going, but tell your friends, once you’ve read it, to keep the hits and views coming.
I thought, I’d mention a few things which might have made my trip through Vietnam and back more enjoyable, although no matter how and where you travel, it’s about taking chances; finding the freedom to observe, to see, to get a feel for things, without judgement or prejudice – just that. And about rediscovering in the Bard’s words, ‘that undiscovered country,’ about finding out. It’s also an opportunity to take a welcome break from worries, distractions and stresses which less of us are finding, but others are.
The more one tends to travel, the more one never fails to be amazed at the lies, b/s and distorted propaganda about the world spread abroad from the media and by the so-called famous and powerful. The rest of us who aren’t in the public eye continue to live the reality.

1. I would have done map and more research of Hanoi which might have lessened the dark jungle effect I experienced when first arriving.
2. I would have booked a quieter – and perhaps cheaper – Halong Bay Cruise from another agency, more suited to my tastes and the place.
3. I should have hired more motor bike tours to see more of the real Vietnam. After all, it’s only paper.
4. Using plenty of sunscreen in hot places like Mui Ne is only common sense.
5. I would have booked a day tour of the Mekong Delta from Saigon before catching the train To Hanoi.
6. I could have stayed in more single room accommodation.
7. I would have acknowledged the response from the young bus assistant and shook his hand when he noticed my amusement on the way between Nha Trang and Mui Ne towards the motor bike banana sellers instead of treating him as though he wasn’t there.

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As Returned…Wenzhou, Wet and Murky

College Campus - Main Part

The conditions in which these two pictures were taken, where I’ve been ‘teaching’ English for the past year, bares no resemblance to the conditions I returned to find Wenzhou in: cold, dreary and wet. Much like the outward journey.
One of the drivers frustrated and cursed at the heavy traffic, before he got the bus back safely into the bus station. As soon as I’d found a pair of laces to replace one that had become seriously frayed due to the pressure of taking my shoes off and putting them back on to get off during the bus journey, it was back to the college campus. Boring, lifeless and dull wouldn’t be an inappropriate description. So I was glad I went away after all, otherwise a segment of my life would have been wasted.
So long Vietnam, welcome back to Wenzhou.
‘Welcome….’ Are you sure?
I mean it. The college grounds were as silent as the grave.

Looking across to Wenzhou University

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LIfe Aboard A Sleeper

Two or three Russians were in residence. One, overtly using his laptop, promptly dragged himself away from the table, dragging his wired-up notebook with him which clattered onto the floor. Luckily for him, it wasn’t broken. I couldn’t help but stifle a few laughs. I wonder, given his careless attitude, if he’d dropped it likewise before?
The sleeper bus back to Wenzhou wasn’t due to leave until 11:00 am – plenty of time to get up to the Langdong Bus station. I don’t know why I was worried, probably that all my smooth planning would go haywire. The needles worry passed, although I went to the wrong bay waiting area. An assistant directed me to where the bay number, indicated on the ticket, was actually in the station.
As soon as a Chinese claps eyes on a foreigner, it usually means ‘chingbudung – I don’t understand.’ One of the associated drivers took my rucksack and asked: “Wenzhou?”
The air vents above the middle aisle blew hard. I saw an unoccupied bunk on the right one. Not long after, and for reasons known to himself, a guy directly below me asked the driver if I could move. I was not sure of the reason. Didn’t he like foreigners?
His problem solved, mine wasn’t. The sleeping pills I bought were less than useless. I’ll remember to pay more for a stronger variety next time.
One of the noisy chattering drivers brazenly announced that his colleague had nipped out to take a “san-yola” which, in English, means “piss.” The bus bog also reeked of it. I tried to avoid using it by paying 1 yuan to use the service station toilets when the bus stopped. The other Chinese inconvenience was no queuing for things. They’ve never been trained to do otherwise.
Delays on freeways through Fujian Province amounted to small crises – crashes involving cars. It doesn’t seem to enter the Chinese brain: you have to drive carefully. The drivers and passengers were sitting at the side of the central reservation alongside their wrecked vehicles.

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How Chinese Can Gamble And Travel

Baby Buddha's - Lotusland

In every Chinese major city, you’re bound to find one, that is if you’re not strolling around window shopping. They stick out, are gigantic and are multi-storied constructs. The basement and first floor house mainly electrical goods: DVD players, woofers, laptops, desktops. The stalls, corridors, lobbies and alcoves are stacked with the latest equipment conveniently reached: clothes, DVDs and CDs usually on the third floor. That Chinese New Year, in full swing, didn’t dampen the enthusiasm by proprietors to sell, even though a lot of them and others had gone away for the celebrations.
Also in downtown Nanning, the locals were busily playing cards, chess and other gambling amusement. I stopped at a crowd of several Chinese interested in an unusual contest. A guy sitting on his honkers throwing 6 inch orange plastic hoops with one hand at a large plastic gold-colored up-ended plastic piggy bank. He kept on missing the pig after at least a round of throwing. A man standing next to the kneeling contestant encouraged the crowd to part with its money – 100 yuan each. If the contestant succeeded in getting a hoop to land around the pig’s tail, little more than a large round nipple, he’d take all the money as winning. If he lost, the crowd would keep all of its money.
Chinese tend to be overtly noisy. A heated argument erupted between the standing man, who was goading the crowd to part with the cash, and the contestant over tactics. All the money was put into a brown wallet-like purse.
The man, after a few further attempts, threw two hoops together which, lo and behold, landed on the pig’s back-end. The guy immediately snatched his winnings and muttered something like a spoilt child and stormed down the street without so much as a by-your-leave, nod, a wink, or a thank you, except a ‘I should think so’ attitude accompanied his stride. Such are the joys of Chinese disputation, usually heated, and never more fully engaged than in a gambling contest.
On the way back to the hostel, I met a Chinese waif and stray, who’d been staying there, munching a greasy muffin from a paper bag. He was walking to the train station.
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“To Nanchang.”
“Where is it?’
“Half way between here and Shanghai, I wanted to go to Vietnam but the f**king consulate was closed.”
“Sorry to hear it. You must have applied at the wrong time. It’s difficult to get a bed, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I know. I’ve slept on newspaper before because there were no seats.”
“Have a good trip!” I called after him as he went on munching the muffin, his eyes glaring into mine.

Flower Arrangement - Nanning

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Further Thoughts About Vietnam, Hanoi, and a Saunter Under Neo-Lights

Nanning at Night

I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat performance, a 24 hour bus journey back to Wenzhou, so I bought some sleeping tablets, hoping they’d stave off the effects of insomnia.
I had a chat with an English tourist who’d just ended a three and a half month travel around India. He found it a mixture of the euphoric and the depressing. He’d given up his job as an assistant editor for a magazine to travel. He thought some male western attitude to Vietnam and the Vietnamese, misses the point.
“There’s no point in moaning or complaining about being ripped off down there. Aggressive complaining’s not part of their culture.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “you may come off the worst.”
“Besides, how much are you really losing? A few dollars.”
“It is, though, easily done. It’s part of human nature.”
I related the incident about the unpleasant altercation me and Ronan had on the train about the price of the coffee. How to deal with it non-violently, is much more difficult.
“I like hanging around big cities,” he said. “Hanoi is interesting enough to have spent five days there, just seeing how life ticks over, although it’s difficult to orient yourself. It’s not like Phnom Phenh, for example, where the streets are on the grid system, so are easy to follow.”
“Yes, the streets are all over the place,” I agreed, “although this adds to its flavour.”
“I witnessed some brawling between a couple of guys near the Old Gate and between a couple of woman.”
“You’re kidding?” I didn’t see anything like that,” came my astonishment.
“Probably because they had too much to celebrate over Tet.”
“They can be aggressive, the Vietnamese, but I also found them very civil and polite. They’d have too much to lose if the foreigners stopped coming in; the way and magnitude that they do come.”
Later, we went out for a bowl of beef and rice with vegetables and beer at a an open-air restaurant a young German guy recommended who’d also arrived from India. He was also one of those alpha males: “Look dudes. Look how cool I am,” attitude.
He said, according the English tourist, how he’d like to “beat the sh*t out of a Vietnamese.”
I don’t think such an approach or attitude is a sensible idea. He could come off the worst. A bit earlier, he said he thought ‘Vietnam was sh*t.”
Certainly, the country is a bit overrated, but that derogatory comment takes things too far. Like anywhere you travel to, there is always unique characteristics, interesting happenings and a fascinating history.
We left him to stride back to the hostel wearing a gray trilby hiding most of his thick curly hair. I went back to retrieve my camera to go out again and take some night shots of the lit-up Nanning surrounds and of buildings.
I reminisced about the whole point of travel, seeing life as it is, and how different the English guy thought China is from India – maybe more sophisticated, more civilized….
Perhaps I’m joking.

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Throwing Money to the Wind – New Year Travel Problems

Lit-Up Tower - Nanning

The Hanoi world seemed dead. Most were not communicating, were not responding, although there wasn’t that many around to care, really. I wanted some free breakfast – it wasn’t forthcoming – so to make it so, I had to spell it out in black and white. A polite young English guy who directed me and was living in the dormitory, had been working behind the reception for two weeks.
“Do they pay you any money?” I asked
“I get a free bed and food. There has been talk about getting some pay but it hasn’t arrived yet.”
A Vietnamese co-worker produced my ticket for the bus back to Nanning. He also produced a map and indicated:
“You have to go to this hotel to get bus”
“Very far?” I asked
He said it was. It wasn’t.
I could have easily walked it but decided to be vicarious with most of the Vietnamese Dong. I waited for a taxi at the end of the street. The driver charged me 100,000. It should, given the distance, have been no more than about 30,000.
A couple of Chinese guys and a few other tourists were waiting for the bus in the hotel lobby. It did the same by stopping at the same restaurant where you could buy snacks. I threw the Dong away on chocolate pies and potato chips – disgusting and unhealthy.
I made fun with a friendly dog that rolled around on the dusty forecourt. It didn’t take to the potato chip I threw it.
It was a pleasant journey beside limestone outcrops cloaked in green afforestation. This area was a hive of activity during the Communist takeover of Vietnam and during the Vietnam War when supplies from China and the Soviet Union were transported in. Today, it just serves farmers, tourists and nominal traffic. The whole of this area, what with the limestone escarpments, is like Guilin and Yanghsuo in South China’s Guangxi Province.
The Chinese side of the border is much grander, roomier. What do you expect. The country’s got more capital. I was talking to a Chinese teacher yesterday who said he thought China’s lost so much of its past cultural heritage and moral traditions because of money and materialism. I couldn’t agree more.
A British guy working in Guangzhou I was sitting next to, gave me a nudge, as a military inspector got on board to carry out another passport check. “It’s jobs for the boys,” he said.
The bus sped to Nanning.
It had turned dark when the bus dropped me off, leaving me to ensuing Chinese New Year travel chaos.
I couldn’t get a train ticket to Wenzhou – sold out. There were no plane tickets for tomorrow and were a bit pricey for the day after.
I settled on the bus – 22 hours again. There was one ticket left for Wednesday the 9th.
I found the Lotusland Hostel surrounded by trees down on the left of an unlit street beside a canal. I got s dorm bed.
Too many notices were pasted here and there which usually means too many rules that usually get broken.

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“I Don’t Think We Can Say We Didn’t See Anything of Vietnam”

Another Mask Store - Hanoi

The train made a prolonged stop at a station. I toyed with the idea of getting something to eat from a vendor on the platform. I changed my mind. It wasn’t long before another couple with two youngsters raided the cabin and took the bottom bunks. The younger girl played with a fish-shaped balloon. It got a bit irritating as it floated up, invading the top ceiling and nearby space.
The train clicked, rattled on, venting out prolonged bugle-like sounds every so often on its way to Hanoi. There wasn’t much of note to see: a dreary opaque landscape consisting of banana plantations, rice and crop fields, people on motor bikes, and dirt roads. A few sizeable limestone clumps rising up tooth-like appeared. Sad that they are being quarried for raw materials, either sulphur or another kind of powder. Such are the perils of economic development, and that man can only see them for what he thinks they are for – utilization.
The train pulled into Hanoi station around 3:30 p.m. It isn’t that big: run-down, dirty and quite grotty with garbage on the track. I waved away demanding punters who wanted to take me in a taxi or on the back of a motorbike. It was near enough to the alleyway where the Old backpacker’s Hostel is located, so I used my map of the city and legs, and best-footed it forward.
Although not quite, most of the streets were like a ghost town situation: stores shut up, sparse traffic, not even half the usual activity. Well, it was slap bang in the middle of the Tet Festival after all.
Having legged it to the small street, I checked into the Hanoi World Hostel. It is rather shabby and run down. What do you expect for $5 a night, particularly if it’s dorm accommodation.
I booked a bus ticket back to Nanning for the next day. As it was nearing the end of my last full day in Vietnam, I went to capture any Hanoi atmosphere that I could: entered a DVD store that was stacked to bursting and bought a three set copy entitled, ‘Vietnam, The Ten Thousand Day War.’
A gondola woman vendor sold pineapple, 40,000 Dong for two lots. I was getting a vicarious attitude, throwing the money away like confetti. I wouldn’t be in the country to spend any more after tomorrow, so best to get rid of it.
Opposite the hostel, I went into a store to buy a bottle of Tiger beer. The owner said “thank you” in Vietnamese which means “gamba.”

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Train Jolts and Curves – A Dispute About Coffee Money

It bumped, jostled and curved its way onwards. It was as though its screeching wheels and groaning cogs were winding down or in serious need of lubrication. The passing life outside was shrouded. The dark night kept it secret, a murky world, mist-covered by windows. Daylight, welcoming, was there. The sun pushed through shods of clouds that hung on distant mountains. Some, closest, were rocky and variable. The rest was flat and fertile: rice fields, palm and banana plantations. The clapped-out rust and crudded stretch of iron proved remarkably resilient as it jolted and shunted forward blaring its horn, grinding to a halt.

It made a change being able to chat liberally to a fellow English speaker, an Irish script writer based Down Under. The crowded tourist den, Saigon’s ‘Crazy Buffalos’ and ‘Allez Boo’ bars sprang to mind, feeling eons away – something conjured up from a distant past. But that’s what I like about train travel. It can be traditionally slow and time enveloping, or rapid, due to modern demands, spurting the adrenalin. The former speed gave me a fleeting chance to see Vietnam’s hinterland: a passing mountain backdrop, oblong shaped houses, huts, and shacks used by land holders. Some were tending to crops, others wielding the odd cow.
I briefly got off at a station and bought two rolls of bread, and cheese slices. The bread was 100,000 Dong more, the cheese cost 40,000.
Much later, a man in his thirties and a thin woman in her mid-sixties, got on.
“Would you like some chicken and rice?’ She asked.
“Well….OK,” feeling in the mood to eat.
“I’ll get you some.”
“How much?” I asked when she came back.
“A hundred thousand.”
“A hundred Thousand! Too much.” I was going to hand the carton back.
“We got one for thirty earlier on this train,” Ronan, the Irish guy chipped in.
“Okay, forty thousand,” she compromised, stroking my bare feet and ankles hanging over the berth, appearing sweet.
“You…coffee? You coffee?” The guy pressured.
“I’ll get the coffees, Dave,” Ronan was being extra supportive and hospitable.
“Forty thousand for one.”
“What! You’re joking!” I fumbled through a bundle of Vietnamese money. I hadn’t the correct amount. Ronan got into an even hotter argument. The guy became aggressive.
“It’s too much, and you’ve only filled half the cup.”
I tried to fob him off with 5,000 Dong in two 2,500 notes. He threw them back in a rage, although I think he changed his mind and took them back in a flash just before the train started moving.
“Notice how the old woman looked sweet,” remarked Ronan.
“Sure did. When they behave like that they lose my sympathy.” The deceit, though, was easily manifested.
It’s what’s repugnant about today’s world; money mixed with ignorance. We are declining, not progressing; both as a civilisation and as a species.
However, the difficult incident passed away in a welcome relief made more so as swathes of sunlight fell upon mountain sides underneath blue skies. The Central Highlands area of the country told a few tales of intense activity during the Vietnam War.
“Come and see this, Dave.” Ronan invited.
We stood behind the window. He pointed out that passing close-by tree-clad mountains would tell a few stories about jungle warfare waged between the guerilla cong. Tons of Dioxin was used against the militia, scorching much of the plantation. Ronan could identify the names of these hills. A few scorched buildings were seen, evidence of the War. Discussing the conflict, I wondered.
“So it was Johnson, then Nixon, who were chiefly responsible for prolonging the war?”
“Nixon was a big crook,” Ronan interposed.
If you consider the amount of bomb tonnage dropped on the North and the Watergate scandal, it isn’t hard to refute the allegation. However, taking the actions of Bush and the Iraq War for all the wrong reasons, Nixon’s actions perhaps pale by comparison.
The train stopped at a packed level crossing. It had hit a girl and remained stationary for a good half-hour until she was lifted out of a ditch. It wasn’t easy to see how injured she was.
The locomotive made a big uphill sweep, hugging the edge of the coast. It twisted and bended by the side of a 3,000 foot mountain above a coastline of little coves. Little waves from an inky sea were lit-up by funnels of light beaming from offshore patrol boats. A necklace of lights twinkled on a horizon while myriads of stars lit-up the sky.
I gave Ronan my Hue Backpacker’s Hostel Card. It would ease his taxi journey into the old capital.
‘You’ll have the place to yourself,” he thought as he pointed to the other occupants of the cabin. A young guy and his wife with their little girl sucking a bottle of milk staring bright-eyed up at me, were preparing to leave.
“Are you sure they’re a couple?” I asked.
“Yes, they were very much together down the corridor.”
“But I never saw him hold the baby.”
“Maybe it’s a cultural thing.”
The train hit a wall of fog as it rattled, ground and jolted into Hue station. It would rat, tat and crunch its way into the darkness a whole lot more after I called “cheerio” to Ronan, watching his slim build disappear into the station.
The swoony song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” had a hollow ring as a guardsman came in and crashed out on one of the empty bunks.

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A Ridiculous Altercation – Everyone’s Coming to Saigon

If you’re faced with killing time, you’d hope there’d be plenty of things to do. Not so in Saigon, unless you book a place on a day-long Mekong Delta tour or lounge on your behind all day swilling beers in or outside the ‘Crazy Buffalo’ or ‘Allez Boo’ bars. There’s always lounging on a park bench, of course, unless you get shifted or told to sit up by a park official.
I’d booked the slow way back to Hanoi; a two-night train journey that wasn’t due to depart until 10 p.m. I didn’t want to hurry back to a college campus that would, in all respects, be lonesome, dispiriting, not to mention shrouded by cold dreary weather. I decided to stay away for a few more days and recapture the spirit of travel. The colder air in Hanoi would perhaps be welcoming.
I left my rucksack downstairs. The guest house owner immediately suggested a motor bike ride to the railway station, once I told him about the train journey. I thought a taxi would be a safer idea. These folks will try anything to rake in more dosh.
“How much?’ I asked.
“Thirty thousand,” cheaper than the taxi.
I found an indoor restaurant along the street on the opposite side and ordered some breakfast: a ham omelette and two iced teas. If I thought, because it was Chinese New Year, that there’d be 50% off the price of food and drinks, think again. I was actually charged 15% more – branded ‘lucky New Year money.’ I was surprised that I had to pay 11,000 more. Foolishly I made a song and dance about the unexpected increase.
“Why didn’t you put the notice on the menu folders at the beginning of your shift?” I asked a flustered young waitress.
“I told you already about the increase, man. It’s the boss’s decision.”
She’d already sped off on the back of a motor bike to celebrate the New Year leaving her meagre staff to do all the work.
“It’s only half a dollar, man. Most of the restaurants on this street are closed.”
Maybe I should have told her to speak more slowly, but I agreed. Besides, am I that hard up? What about the poor soul, rushed off her feet?
I went off to the market where all the confusion took place with the elderly beggar woman, but it was also closed, so I stretched out for a while on a park bench. I lay on the concrete for what lasted like a long time, watching a squirrel dart up and down the thin branches of a couple of hovering trees, until I was motioned to sit up by a park official.
I sat in the ‘Crazy Buffalos’ bar drinking a glass of Vietnamese tea and scrutinizing excitable trampy pop videos. The Lady Ga Ga type is what a sizeable proportion of young clientele like these days. The music’s loud and beaty, too. How else do you kill time, except exchange more Chinese currency and saunter around stores picking a few more DVDs?
The backpacker streets were full of waifs and strays falling out of the woodwork, coming in from all over the place. The mind boggles. Everyone’s coming to Saigon, if not Vietnam, it seems. Well, it’s cheap and congenial. It’s 2,000 dong for a single banana, 6,000 for a large bottle of water – normally 10,000, although I got fed up with paying out tidbits of money.
I called round to the guest house to pick up my rucksack and claim the motor bike ride. The owner said his son would take me to the station. Sitting at a computer, he’d had too many beers. His speech was slurred.
“You’re drunk!” came my dismayed response. I was worried I wouldn’t make it. His father stepped on the bike instead.
The streets were infested with legions of motorbike riders – a plague of Pied Piper rats being tuned away. In this case, the tune came from ratcheting throttles of accelerator handlebars. He almost bumped into one causing an impatient outburst. For a big city like Saigon, the railway station is rather small.
The train slowly clunked and clattered away. I agreed to change cabins so that a guy from Hong Kong could keep an eye on his ailing father. I’m glad I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have shared one with an Irish guy who’d turned up from a day-long Mekong tour. Wish I’d joined it. Recounting his experiences, there were some eccentric group members too.
“Raced here to get away from a lady,” he said.
‘A girl?”
‘No, the real thing.”

Cluster of Saigon Watchers

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Thoughts about the Vietnam War – A Chinese Photographer

Saigon, because it lacks the jumbled-street character of Hanoi: its roads and streets are broader and straighter, isn’t as interesting as the capital city, and doesn’t have its vibrancy. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t easier to get around in. It is very like Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, which has its streets made on the grid system.
I strode off towards the light brown-colored cathedral named after Notre Dame. The central area surrounding it is large and the streets are spacious. Water sellers were charging 10,000 Dong for small bottles. It might give passers-by more of an incentive to buy one at 5,000. After taking a picture of two of the church’s interior – it’s not that spectacular, and a stained glass window or two, I paused at the gates of the Reunification Palace. It looks more like an embassy or some other modern administrative building than a palace. Tourists and the public aren’t allowed inside. Apart from a solitary tank stuck in the grounds, there isn’t much to notice, so I headed for the War Remnant’s Museum.
If you want to know more about the Vietnam War and its outcome, then the museum’s the place to visit, not that a visit to Vietnam itself doesn’t tell its own story. I didn’t get there until around 11 a.m. It closes for lunch at 12 p.m., so I would have to return at 1:30 to finish an adequate tour of the building.
Examples of obsolescent fighter jets, tanks and bombs used in the conflict are on display in the courtyard. They’ve not only been put there as historical memorabilia of the weaponry, but also to show a thought: ‘this is the consequence of war,’ and ‘look at what the Vietnamese people have achieved in overcoming aggression by capturing this sophisticated firepower.’ A boast or not, there’s more about an introduction to the War, photographs with text, that decorates the walls of the ground floor as you walk in.
I went into a video room and sat down to watch a documentary about the effects of the chemical Dioxin, otherwise known as ‘Agent Orange,’ used widely during the War and which, to this day, has devastated the lives of many people from village communities. The museum gives over a whole section to the part the chemical played. The rest of the second floor covers what is called the ‘War of Aggression,’ and the third floor, contributions by photojournalists who were killed, and other artifacts.
Despite creeping tediousness – a time-consuming look at all the photos and reading every caption, every picture tells a story, it was interesting learning more about the history of the struggle the Vietnamese experienced, notably French imperialism in the 19th Century, to the end of the Second World War when Vietnam as a socialist republic was founded. It wasn’t until 1954 when a Communist-led nationalist movement known as the ‘Viet Minh’ defeated the French by winning the battle at Dien Bien Phu. A historical convention at Geneva partitioned the country at the 17th Parallel into the Communist north and the so-called ‘democratic’ south. It was in 1975 that the US and the South Vietnamese Army were defeated and the Communist forces that unified the whole country captured Saigon, thus finally ending years of struggle over the rim of Indochina.
The War lasted for about 8 years, although was extended for a further three. Up to four million Vietnamese perished and fifty-eight thousand American soldiers died. Pictures hanging on the museum walls, representing what some of them did, are harrowing.
The whole hemisphere, including Laos and Cambodia, was used to drop as much tonnage of bombs. Presidents Johnson and Nixon ordered four times the amount of TNT to be dropped that was expended during World war Two. Raids on Hanoi, the north and the rest of the theatre boosted the U.S. arms trade, and photos of the B-52 Bombers look mightily impressive. Nixon extended the bombing by trying to bully the North Vietnamese into a peace submission. However, it didn’t have the effect of softening the resolve of the guerilla movement known as the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army. It did just the opposite, and Nixon got world condemnation. When a country has had years and years of struggle against foreign domination and oppression, war becomes a mere appendage in the hardening of resistance.
I was glad to extricate myself from the tedium and the feeling I was getting in everyone else’s way that had just as much right to be in the museum as I had. I took pictures of the plethora of artillery, and later, I bought a photocopied book from a store in the backpacker area called ‘Vietnam – A History’ by Stanley Karnow. It does a prodigious job at chronicling the causes and events of the War. Back in Hanoi, I bought a three disk DVD series entitled, ‘Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War.’
I grew up hearing about it being the ‘big’ event that it was during the 60s and 70s, supposedly against the spread of Communism and about young men dodging the ‘Draft’ risking imprisonment, although little else. However, the ulterior reasons for war: territorial expansion, resources, a need for aggression, to manufacture new arms, no matter who is caught in the crossfire, are denied by those responsible. The current NATO campaign over Libya is a case in point. There’s no such thing as a smart bomb, although those in the histrionic organization like to utilize and show off its latest laser technology, but if any rebel or civilian the campaign is supposed to be waged on behalf of gets killed, then too bad.
What now, though, for Vietnam forty years on? It still feels the effects of the conflict: a struggling economy, rural poverty, a need by local people to sell, sell and sell again, a devalued currency and a marginalized state.
Despite the socialist propaganda on notices, monuments that portray it and slogans bandied about the country, not to mention the emblematic hammer and sickle and lone star on red flags, how truly can Vietnam stick to that ideology today. It is now ironic, that the Communism the country so desperately fought for has ended due to the absence of the Cold War that is replaced by a growing market-driven global economy. If it stuck to its Communism, it wouldn’t be an open state pandering, amongst other things, to western tourism and hard capital. Nevertheless, if the Vietnamese are sponging off visitors, then who can really blame them. After all, the West colonized their country in the 19th century, bombed the s**t out of it and leaves it marginalized today. Money, money, and money again, however grubbily, talks.
I went back to my room and had a shower: feet still sizzling from the sunburn. I ordered a bite to eat. A Chinese guy, visiting from Shanghai, kindly treated me to a Tiger beer.
“Seven RMB here, thirty at home. Vietnam is like China twenty years ago. I like Ho Chi Minh City. Stay for five days.”
He had difficulty finding a cheap room.
I took him to my guesthouse and asked the owner if she had any spare rooms. The ash from protruding incense sticks brushed my trousers.
“He needs a room,” turning towards the Chinese guy.
“Sorry. All full here. I do have one in another place for fifteen Dollars.’
“Okay,” the guy returned.
A female backpacker turned up.
“Are you looking for a room?” she asked.
“No, I have one. He is,” turning again to the Chinese.
“Why is everywhere booked?” she looked nonplussed.
“Can’t say,” although it was late in the evening and the Tet Festival was getting into full swing.
I strolled around the shops ending up buying a few classic DVDs: “Braveheart’ and the 1992 French Film, ‘Indochine’ starring Catherine Deneuve which largely deals with the French occupation of Vietnam.
It was time to batten down the hatches. Local workers emerged clashing symbols and were dressed in red silk costumes wearing facemasks, stopping at each store doorway prancing, dancing, and shaking around in a gigantic Chinese dragon.
Get ready, it’s Chinese New Year, or is it Tet they’re supposed to be celebrating?

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