|Saigon Street with no traffic, a miracle|
There is no apparent order to the shops, old crumbling lean-tos with dischevelled people selling trinkets right beside huge shiny glass and chrome car dealerships selling state-of-the-art mercedes cars. In front of the shops are women with traditional Vietnamese wicker baskets on poles across their shoulders with a few vegetables in them, or piles of green mangoes, and people are preparing food to sell from the most modest of cooking utensils, a pot, a kettle, ingredients: it's all compact and it's all mobile.
My first day I headed over to what is called the War Remnants Museum, which is where they document the details of the American War of Aggression. Outside, huge captured American tanks and bombers take pride of place, their violent memories scored onto the rusting metal of their massive lumbering bodies. B52s, huge tanks, and gigantic transport helicopters with their outsize roters hanging mercifully useless in the hot morning air. Walking by them, I wondered what action they saw during the height of the madness that was the Vietnam/American war. Saigon itself back then was the center of US command and wasn’t liberated by the Vietcong until 1975 when the last Americans evacuated and the war was declared officially over.
|US Army troop transporter outside the War Remnants Museum, Saigon|
|Captured US aircraft on display outside the War Remnants Museum, Saigon|
The museum is an education. Old artillery in glass cases, sections of a sewer children, who were subsequently shot by US forces, hid as the enemy approached, a whole section on photography and how powerful it was in bringing the war to an end, the various photographers from Time and other magazines and papers, many of whom lost their lives while bringing those amazing images to the world. There is a very disturbing section on the effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals that were used profusely on Vietnam (and on Cambodia when the US Army tried to stem the tide of arms coming in through the Ho Chi Minh trail that ran through Cambodia’s eastern flank). These toxic chemicals caused devastation to the landscape, causing cancer and serious birth defects amongst the population for years to come. The tragic and heart-rending images of the people affected by these toxins are to be seen in this section of the museum. I was quite happy when the lights in the museum suddenly flashed and an alarm sounded, which I discovered meant it was lunchtime and the museum was closing for lunch. I’d had enough.
I have been trying to comprehend the psychology of a people that could withstand the full force of the US Army for years, hiding out in an intricate warren of bunkers below the steaming earth as it bravely withstood everything the US had to throw at it. Pretty much everyone agrees it was due to the leadership of Ho Chi Minh that got them through that time.
|The famous image of a group of children, including Kim Phuc who had her clothes burned off in an Agent Orange attack on her village. This photograph galvinized anti-war sentiment across the world.|
|Iconic picture of young Vietnamese girl standing in front of her burning village|
|Saigon street vendor|