Bitch, please! My own story.

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Today I visited the Cu Chi tunnels, which are located about 45 minutes outside Ho Chi Minh City if it were any other city, but because of the traffic, it takes about two hours to get to.  On our way to the site, we are required to make the obligatory stop at some gift center.  According to our guide, this shopping center is different from all the others, as this one is used to train and help support second generation offspring that are (genetically) affected by their parents' exposure to Agent Orange, of which the US is said to have used extensively during the war.  After about thirty minutes, we board the bus and head out to Cu Chi.   

The Cu Chi tunnels attract tourists for several reasons.  The first is that it shows a sample of the  extensive underground tunnels built by the Vietcong, first to be used in guerilla warfare against the French, then used more extensively in the war against the US.  Without adequate arms, the Vietcong had to look for other ways to battle its enemies, so used basic guerrilla tactics, of which the tunnels allowed them to move clandestinely from one area to another, transport goods and weapons at any hour, as well as stealthily set up booby traps in areas that appeared to be unvisited by the Vietcong army.  

We learn how the Vietcong would live off the rations left behind by the US soldiers, which is how they survived to some extent, and reworked American artillery that either didn't go off, or was abandoned, then used against the Americans.  The site also shows extensive examples of the booby traps set up to capture and kill its enemies, which looked like things used back in the 15th century.  During the course of the tour, you are allowed to travel through many of the underground tunnels, with each entrance allowing you to choose the length you wish to travel.  Since the spaces are so small, but widened from the original to allow foreigners to visit, you have to either crawl or squat and waddle your way through them, as they are very narrow.  I opted to sit this one out, and waited at the other end of each tunnel for my fellow travelers to emerge.  As we went from tunnel to tunnel, fewer and fewer people chose to do them, with just a few doing all of them.  (A few freaked out from claustrophobia from the first tunnel they entered; we were warned beforehand not to enter if you have such fears.) 

The site also includes a few bomb craters for you to see, displays of workrooms used for a variety of tasks by the Vietcong, and shown how they cooked underground so that the smoke from the fires wouldn't alert the Americans.  We were also told how the Vietcong also used to attack oncoming tanks, which made the Americans sitting targets.  The Vietcong knew that the front of the tanks were very well plated with armor, but the sides of the tanks were not, so they waited for the tanks to roll by, then attacked from the sides.  When the US started to suspect something was up, or underground, as was the case -- no sign of people, but ambushes -- they used dogs to sniff out the enemy, which is how the tunnels were discovered.  Once discovered, they were bombed repeatedly.      
The second reason the site is popular, and arguably the biggest draw, is that at some point in the tour, you can fire a round of bullets using guns that were used during the war.  Very, very few people sit this part out, of which I was one of them.  This one guy asked me if I wanted to go in with him and buy a round, but I told him I don't use guns, so he unsuccessfully lobbied others to go in with him.  (You have to buy rounds of ten, with each bullet costing between $1 -- 2, so this five minute thrill can cost you up to $20.)  The moment you enter the Cu Chi site, all you can hear is constant gunfire going off in the background, which makes the site very profittable.  

Our tour guide is quite the character.  He loved to sing to us in both English and Vietnamese, singing songs that he wrote himself, and they are pretty bad, as is his voice, but they can be funny.  He shared with us that he grew up near Cu Chi, but the family's house was destroyed by the French, so they relocated to Saigon.  When he was in his early 20s, his father told him he had two choices: throw his lot behind the US forces, or battle against them by joining the Vietcong.  He opted for the latter, so moved back to the Cu Chi area.  Since he spoke English, his role in the group became very helpful.  During the war, he was shot twice in the arm, which he happily showed off his wounds, and played up on his role in getting rid of foreign occupation.  As we traveled the grounds, he would make sound effects for us to know what both sides of the conflict were up against, or act out events as they would happen.  This did help put things into perspective. 

The guy was also boastful.  On the bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh City, he showed us a picture of a baby.  He then boasted that this was not his grandchild, but his child, as he was married to a young woman; he is 65 years old.  When people see the three of them together, he said he wants to make sure that they know he is the father of the baby, not the wife, and that he still has it in him.  But such personalities show that they have a crude side as well.  This side of him came out when he was showing us how rice paper (used for some Vietnamese foods such as spring rolls) is made.     

He told us that in Vietnam, everyone eats rice every day, it is a staple to their diet.  However, noodles, which are more expensive, are eaten only a few days a week, if you are lucky.  "Think of it this way," he said, "rice is like your wife.   You can eat your wife every day, but noodles are like your girlfriend, you can eat her only a few times a week if you are lucky."  This one young Australian guy, who was traveling with about seven other girls and guys, turned to them after the guide made this analogy, and said out loud, "He's a pig!"  Yes, indeed, but he was entertaining.  

When we first arrived at the tunnels, like all tourists, everyone in the group (about 20+ people) wanted to take pictures.  We accommodated one another by either circling the site so everyone would have a view, or take turns at the front, then stepping aside for others.  That is, everyone but this one woman.  She would push her way through the group, then stand in front of the site, blocking everyone's view.  If you wanted a picture, she was going to be in it.  She acted as if she were the only one there taking pictures, and that she had preference over everyone else.  I held my tongue at the first site, but when we got to the second site, and she pushed her way through, then stood in front of everyone, blocked everyone's view, then wouldn't move, even though she was asked to, preferring to comb her hair instead, I couldn't hold my tongue any longer.  (We were rushed from one site to the other, and you were given just a few minutes at each, as other groups would be waiting behind you for their turn.)  So, I let her have it.  I told her that she was an inconsiderate, selfish person who had no respect for anyone else in the group, and that she wasn't the only one who wanted to take pictures.  And that was just for starters.  I don't remember whatelse I said, but at the third site, and all others that followed, she stayed in the back of the pack, waited for everyone else to take their pictures, and stayed well clear of me.  But then I stayed clear of her when she was off shooting off her round of ammunition!  

I was the only American in our group, and I didn't hear any American voices in the other groups we crossed paths with either.  I was waiting to hear the usual statements I heard before from so many others while in Vietnam about the US and its role in the world and starting up, or getting involved in, wars.  But nothing was said, which was a relief.  I think it might have had to do with the rest of the group being rather young, so the war is an abstract concept to them.  I was, after the 65 year old guide, the second oldest in the group, and I think the third oldest was much younger than me. 

It was back to Ho Chi Minh City, we were dropped off at the tour agency's office.  The tour was supposed to end at 2 pm, but the traffic meant that we didn't get back until around 3.30 pm, which was okay with me, as my flight to Siem Reap (Cambodia) wasn't until almost 8 pm, so the traffic worked to my benefit.  Back to my hotel, picked up my luggage, then off to the airport.  After a flight that lasted one hour, I went through Immigration in Cambodia, then was wisked away by the hotel's taxi -- it waited for me -- in the nighttime heat.  Angkor Wat waited for me only a few miles and hours away, and I couldn't wait.


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