Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Saigon - A Troubling Day

Before we reached Saigon, Charles had given us a scary account of the Cu Chi tunnels. Whether you were claustrophobic or not, they could be a bit too much. As a result everyone was reluctant to go, but after being reassured that there was more to see than the tunnels, we all opted to go. It was a morning I could have done without.

Our guide, Victor, was the son of a South Vietnamese soldier who had died in the 80's as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. It was clear he was fully reconciled with the North and without spouting the party line, nevertheless echoed their sentiments. This interweaved with tales of wooing women with motorbikes ('You have a luxury bike, you get a luxury woman. A cheap bike, you get a cheap woman'). So far, so good. Before we got to the tunnels though we stopped off at a lacquer work workshop for handicapped workers. We weren't the only ones there; it seems to be a popular stopping off point for guides with foreigners. Spending nearly thirty minutes there I came out with gifts I thought were handmade, but were actually vastly marked-up souvenir fare. When we got to the tunnels, I found the same items at a quarter of the price. Also when we got to the tunnels, Victor confessed that he had 'forgotten' his guide's license, and if we were asked, he was just our 'friend'. We weren't asked. Instead we were rushed in to a tourist infested forest. Rapidly, we moved from displays of various traps used on the Americans (folding chair traps, armpit traps, door traps) to abandoned tanks to the shop. The shop nestled beside a driving range where curious tourists (and they were there) could try out AK47s etc.. These shooters were given ear protection; the tourists in the shop were not. I suppose we were fortunate taht when no one wanted to shoot anything our guide pushed us on. On, on, always on in this Disneyland with guns. There was even a 'Pirates of the Caribbean'-style weapons workshop with animatronic Vietcong flicked into motion by switch. Eventually we came to some tunnels. I went first, curious to see these passageways. I wasn't the only one curious and two Australians in front of me were barely moving. It was hot, I was getting angry, and yes, I was wondering how I'd feel midway through this, the longest tunnel, shuffling every few minutes at this snail's pace. I got out. Already a legion of pensionpackers were queueing up to get in. I got my chance though. A shorter tunnel lay next on the tour with no one apparently in it. I shuffled through. It was small, though widened for tourists, but not uncomfortably so.

All in all though, I hated the place. There is no sense of respect or dignity to the place. Instead it is a rushed celebration of pain and death. I could have skipped it without missing anything but a sad, bad experience.


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