Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Saigon/HCMC

Arrived in Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) after South Vietnam collapsed). The bus stopped right in the busy center of  backpackerville which was awesome, but it still took me a long time to find the guesthouse in which Penny and me agreed to meet up. There are so many alleys, which make me very confused, as I have no idea if the alley is shown on the map or not. Ended up walking in circles, and by the time I found the guest house I thought that Penny got tired of waiting for me. Nope, she arrived 20 minutes later, her bus was an hour late.
When Penny arrived, she said that the tuk-tuk driver wanted to take her for a ride, said that the hotel is 7 kms away! In fact it's about 100 meters away. The alley was full of hotels, and negotiated a price was not a problem. We just kept walking repeating our price ($10) until someone agreed. Can't believe they even try to negotiate! All their rooms are empty, at least get someone in!
(LP) Ho Chi Minh might seem like a modern city but it's one that's grown higgledy-piggledy over many years. Every scrap of land is precious and most people live in the fine lacework of alleys that connect the main streets. These alleys don't have names but rather take the street number of the main street that they are closest to. i.e. 175 Pham Ngu Lao is the name of the alley running off Pham Ngu Lao at number 175. If the alley runs between two main streets, the two ends often take different names. Hence the properties at the southern end of 175 Pham Ngu Lao have the address 28 Bui Vien.
I had only 1 day in Saigon as I was running out of my stupid 1 month visa. There is so much to see, and so much to do, but I only had time for 1 thing, and I chose to devote the day to the history of Vietnam and so we took a tour of the famous Cu Chi tunnels.
Cu Chi tunnels - The underground tunnels of Cu Chi were the most complex part of a network that stretched from the gates of Saigon to the border of Cambodia. The 250 kms of tunnels held living areas, storage depots, ordnance factories, hospitals, headquarters, and almost every other facility that was necessary to the pursuit of the war. No single military engineer designed this vast labyrinth nor did any one commander order it to be built. The tunnels evolved as the natural response of a poorly equipped and mainly local guerrilla army to mid-twentieth-century technological warfare  Aircraft, bombs, artillery, and chemicals obliged the Viet Cong ("Vietnames communists", people in South Vietnam who support the communist North) to live and fight underground. Ironically, by becoming an army of moles pitched against armies winged into battle by helicopter, the VC pro-traced the war to the point of persuading the US that it was unwinnable. The district of Cu Chi became the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare. For years, most the Cu Chi suffered the fate of being a "free strike zone". That meant that random artillery fire, known as harassment and interdiction rained upon it by night. Bomber pilots were encouraged to offload unused explosives and napalm over Cu Chi before returning to base.
The tunnels facilitated communication and coordination between the VC-controlled enclaves, isolated from each other by South Vietnamese and American land and air operations. They also allowed the VC to mount surprise attacks wherever the tunnels went, even within the perimeters of the US military base - and to disappear suddenly into hidden trapdoors without a trace. Over the years the VC developed simple but effective techniques to make their tunnels difficult to detect or disable. Wooden trapdoors were camouflaged with earth and branches; some were booby-trapped. Hidden underwater entrances from rivers were constructed. To cook they used kitchens which exhausted the smoke through vents many meters away from the cooking site. Trapdoors were installed throughout the network to prevent tear gas, smoke or water from moving from one part of the system to another. The US and Australian troops tried a variety of methods to pacify the area around Cu Chi, which come to be known as the Iron Triangle. They launched large scale ground operations involving tens of thousands of troops but failed to locate the tunnels. To deny the VC cover and supplies, rice paddies were defoliated, huge swathes of jungle bulldozed, and villages evacuated and razed. The Americans also sprayed chemical defoliants on the area aerially and a few months later ignited the tinder-dry vegetation with gasoline and napalm. Unable to win the battle with chemicals, the US army began sending men down into the tunnels. These "tunnel rats" who were often involved in underground fire fights, sustained appallingly high casualty rates. When the Americans began using German Shepherd dogs, trained to use their keen sense of smell to locate trapdoors and guerrillas, the VC began washing with American soap, which gave off a scent the canines identified as friendly. Captured US uniforms were put out to confuse the dogs further. Most importantly  the dogs were not able to spot booby traps. So many dogs were killed or maimed that their horrified handlers then refused to send them into the tunnels.
We've been told that jungles were burnt off, not only because of the tunnels, but to expose the HCM trail as well. Nothing grew for years. They put chemicals in water to poison the people. Then they said that the orange chemicals are good to eat, they're not harmful at all. Probably kind of what government tells us right now. Pesticide-d food raptures the stomachs of bugs that eat it, but it's certainly safe for human consumption! But driving through the country side of Vietnam, I haven't noticed much distruction, all Vietnam looks pretty green to me. That's until I noticed that these are not native forests. All the trees grow in lines, clearly planted by people.
Some of us went to the tunnels, most of us didn't. These tunnels were even enlarged for tourists. One tunnel was left original, with no light, no cleaning of leaves. 3 people went in. It was fun! At least they gave us flashlights :) I even found a bat in there :) It's hot and sweaty and dirty, and you have to crawl on all fours, otherwise you won't fit in. A bit spooky for fun, I'm sure it wasn't much fun living in there for 10 years though :(
After the tunnels went into a war museum. The guide said that half an hour would be enough, but an hour later, we only covered not more than half of the museum and then it closed :( Again, a war museum, and again I'm in disbelief about causes of wars and about cruelty. Ok you as a soldier were sent to a war, but why do you have to ruthlessly torture innocent people? Even if they're not innocent, they're just protecting their families, their country, which YOU invaded?! I believe the army is good for it's own protection, not for invasion. The whole world had demonstrations and protests against Vietnam war, and the only reason US pulled out almost 10 years later was because they were running out of money. Where did their "noble" cause go? After the South fell, what happened? Nothing really. The country is in piece and is independant living "flexible" communism. People are generally happy, economy is booming! 10 years, millions of lives was aaaaaall worth it! US was blamed for using illegal weapons, chemicals which destroyed most of the jungle, gave cancer to population, 3rd generation is still born handicapped. After all that, we still think of noble reasons to go to war, lets support the war in Iraq and Afganistan, we're there to free the people! (Ssshhh about the oil, don't tell anyone!) ("President Bush's Cabinet agreed in April 2001 that 'Iraq remains a destabilising influence to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East' and because this is an unacceptable risk to the US 'military intervention' is necessary.")
Iraq war has cost the US 50-60 times more than the Bush administration predicted and was a central cause of the sub-prime banking crisis threatening the world economy. The former World Bank vice-president yesterday said the war had, so far, cost the US something like $US 3 trillion compared with the $US50-$US60-billion predicted in 2003. The spending on Iraq was a hidden cause of the current credit crunch because the US central bank responded to the massive financial drain of the war by flooding the American economy with cheap credit. The money being spent on the war each week would be enough to wipe out illiteracy around the world. Just a few days' funding would be enough to provide health insurance for US children who were not covered.
Afganistan - energy, natural resources, trans-Afgan pipe line (America has wanted a new government in Afghanistan since at least 1998, three years before the attacks on 11 September 2001. The official report from a meeting of the U.S. Government's foreign policy committee on 12 February 1998, available on the U.S. Government website, confirms that the need for a West-friendly government was recognised long before the War on Terror that followed September 11th), strategic position against Iran and China should conflict arise. It's no mystery that the boom in production of opium and heroin in the 1970s within the so-called Golden Triangle (Laos, Burma and Cambodia) was largely the work of the CIA, who used the profits to finance anti-communist operations in South-East Asia. Mullah Omar, in search of wider international acceptance for his regime, decided to forbid opium cultivation, which in 2001 dropped to practically zero. But once Afghanistan had been "freed" and had returned under the control of US armed forces and intelligence services, opium cultivation went back into top gear immediately. Right from 2002 (before the Taliban began their return), it beat all previous records and in the space of a few years transforming the country into the world's biggest heroin producer (93% of global production). Afghan heroin is transported out of the country on US military cargo planes. it is hidden inside military coffins filled with drugs instead of corpses.
Lets go to Iraq and Afganitstan to free the people! Can't believe there are still people out there stupid enough to believe that! Why won't they go to Tibet instead??
(LP) The end of war: "In January 1975 the North Vietnamese launched a massive ground attack across the 17th parallel using tanks and heavy artillery. The invasion provoked panic in the South Vietnamese army, which has always depended on US support. Whole brigades of soldiers disintegrated and fled southwards, joining hundreds of thousands of civilians clogging Hwy 1. City after city - Hue, Danang, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang - were simply abandoned with hardly a shot fired. The ARVN troops were fleeing so quickly that the North Vietnamese army could barely keep up. The North Vietnamese pushed on to Saigon and on the morning of 30 April 1975 their tanks smashed through the gates of Saigon's Independance Palace (now called Reunification Palace). General Duong Van Minh, president for just 42 hours, formally surrendered, marking the end of the war.".
All this war is like a chess game to me. Send your own people to get killed and get life-time trauma without adequate post-war support, defending your stupid ideas. We need to be independant! Fight for our freedom! After the tank crashed into the palace and puts his life in danger (1 life as opposed to thousands of your own people), oh forget independance and all that bullshit, we surrender! The chess pieces never win, they're just pieces in the game of 2 people who play the game.
(LP) The cost of war - In total 3.14 million Americans served in Vietnam. Officially 58,183 Americans were killed in action or are listed as missing in action. By the end of 1973, 223,748 South Vietnamese soldiers had been killed. North Vietnamese and VC fatalities have been estimated at one million. Approximately four million civilians (or 10% of the Vietnamese population) were injured or killed during the war. At least 300,000 Vietnamese and 2200 Americans are still listed as MIA.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Saigon

4 comments:

  1. I'd like to think we live in an enlightened age, but someone will always find justification for the slaughter of innocents.

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  2. Yana, prochitala tvoy blog. Kakie ujasnie fotografii s V'etnamskoy voini...eto prosto ujas; voini vsegda ujas, kak i luboe nasilie, a tut eshe i "celenapravelnoe" mashtabnoe nasilie...eto prosto ujas

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  3. very interesting (though it wasn't easy hanging on till the end) ... and I have two conclusions:
    1. you are a very talented writer
    2. you really, really don't like the US :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yana

    By now you must realize that all wars are banker wars!
    It's nice to see how they recovered from the horror and still keep
    their sanity.
    Did you pet the bat?

    Ken

    ReplyDelete