Cu Chi kicks ass and feeling at home in Saigon

Trip Start Dec 31, 2006
Trip End Jan 17, 2007

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Sunday, January 7, 2007

Due to equipment issues that are being resolved (thanks Esther for you help) the trip to Vinh Long and Sam Mountain in Chau Duc is postponed until next week.

 We went to the village of Cu Chi, where the underground tunnel network is located. The usage of the tunnel for guerilla warfare can be traced back to 1934. During the Vietnam-American War, the tunnel was expanded and now runs from the outskirts of Saigon to the borders of Cambodia. The resourcefulness and man-woman-child power of the people of Cu Chi is admirable. Teale and I crawled through a new variation of the tunnels made for big westerners. One of the disturbing parts of the tour in Cu Chi was near the end, where you could opt to shoot a rifle, machine gun, or handgun on a shooting range.
I declined that option of the tour. The sound of the guns shook me up too much so while Teale got a chance to shoot, I saw how rice paper was produced at an exhibit situated next to the shooting range and cafe where I purchased a little rice wine after getting a sample (tasty!). I also got an interesting propaganda DVD made in (I believe) the 60's with very poor production values (which we watched at the beginning of the tour). The DVD was worth the extra thousands of Dongs (a couple bucks) since it is an interesting historical artifact. In addition, B-52 bomb craters were spread out throughout the area. Again, the resilience and sheer ingenuity of the people of Cu Chi is admirable. The tour was fascinating, strangely laid out, and disturbing. These simple rice paper making villagers of Cu Chi are not so simple and definitely know how to kick ass!

Local North Americans/Viet Kieus in Saigon
Thanks to my friend Candice in Brooklyn, I met Alison (Candice's childhood friend) who is living in Saigon and teaching English. She is twenty-five years old and an avid globe-trotter. She's been all over Asia and says India has her heart. She also taught English in Korea. After visiting Vietnam for a couple weeks she picked up and moved here to teach English (found a job in two weeks of deciding to move here).

Alison's fellow teacher friend and housemate, Laura from Canada, introduced me to their fellow teacher and friend, Tuan, from San Jose, CA. Tuan is a Viet Kieu (pronounced "Q") which means Vietnamese abroad. He was introduced to me as "Tony" since the school he teaches at wanted him to have a western name for marketing reasons. No Vietnamese parents wants a Vietnamese teacher teaching their child English even though Tuan speaks flawless English since he grew up in the States. Tuan is living in Saigon with his mother who stayed here. He expressed that he is trying to get in touch with his roots (as many young Viet Kieus do who go back to Vietnam). Tuan introduced me to Thatch, another Viet Kieu, who is in Saigon to take advantage of business opportunities. Both were around my age and seem to be impressed with my film project/personal journey/pilgrimage. We really could identify with one another although they are more Vietnamese then me-they look it, they speak it, they are it. I told Tuan how I was inspired to live here and find work so I could learn the language and he said that I'd be surprised how much opportunity there is right now. I believe it. I can feel it. The tides are changing here and even remnants of the war will be forgotten soon. This is a special time for Vietnam and the Vietnamese people and I want to be a witness to it all and capture this changing of the tide. So who knows, maybe I'll move here for a couple of months. I feel very at home in Saigon. I dig it. And since I've been here, real local Vietnamese knew and saw the Vietnamese in me! That is a first for me. Oh, yeah, and I now eat the round ice (which is clean) and I'm eating the fresh veggies. I have to have my Viet ice coffee and fresh veggies. When in Rome...

Other things we've done but I don't have time to elaborate on regarding shooting for my film:
-Visited my mom's home in 1963 which was near a GI bar where terror activity went down. Will go back to again.
-Had coffee on top of the Hotel Majestic with a great view of the Saigon Harbor and cargo ships. The hotel has been there since 1925.
-Had drinks on top of the Rex Hotel and scoped out aeriel shots to be taken of that area where there is some nice iconic shots of Saigon.
-Visted Le Cong Kieu St. that has old antiques, war leftovers: sun glasses, film cameras, dog tags, and PHOTOGRAPHS!!! Will rummage through to see if I can find anything worth using for the film.

Tomorrow, we visit the grave of my great grandmother on my grandfather's located on the outskirts of Saigon. I'll be making an offering and then will visit my grandmother's sister for an interview on the pirating on the boat along the Mekong during WWII which will be incorporated into the film.

To be continued...

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