Skinny Shows Off

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Tây Ninh,
Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi are something of a must-do if you're anywhere near Saigon. We grabbed a cheapie bus and on the way to the tunnels stopped at the Cao Dai Great Divine Temple and were lucky enough to observe a noontime ceremony. Although we were restricted to the galleries above the main temple floor, I still felt like we were intruding on almost cult-like worship. Dramatic devotion like this has always amazed and puzzled me- on the one hand, it seems to have a very positive influence, and is a source of hope in the lives of the devotees (particularly those less fortunate), but on the other hand, you always seem to be one crazy guy away from passing around the poison Koolaide.

While many other religions are insular, Cao Daism trumpets its foundations in other faiths. Cao Daists describe their religion as the unification of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism: These faiths are represented in Cao Dai theology through such concepts as reincarnation, vegetarianism and yin and yang and also on the Cao Dai banner - a tri-colour with one colour for each religion. Men with the rank of priest and higher are robed in solid colours depending on their spiritual allegiance within Caodaism: yellow (symbolizing Buddhism and virtue), blue (Taoism and pacifism) or red (Confucianism and authority).

After the temple we made our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels- these are just a small section of the massive labyrinth and multi-leveled tunnel infrastructure built by the Viet Cong to allow them, and the North Vietnamese Regular Army (NVA) to hide from the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army. These tunnels were well south of the DMZ, inside South Vietnam, and very close to Saigon, and were an obvious problem for the Americans. The tunnels were also heavily booby-trapped and the Americans, after heavy losses, gave up trying to use troops on the ground to destroy them, and this became one of the most heavily bombed areas of the war- it's also where Agent Orange was used as the Americans tried to destroy the ground cover that helped hide the tunnels. The Viet Cong did sustain huge loss of life but the tunnel system survived the war.

The group we were assigned to tour the tunnels with were heavy on the 'heavy' so my initial fears of being the one guy in the group who gets stuck in one of the tunnels (requiring the Extrication Squad from Crisco Oil) were quelled- I might get stuck but there some in the group who wouldn't get through the entrance opening!! Our first stop was a mocked up escape hatch-DH aka Skinny Minny, jumped in and out fairly quickly followed by a number of the smaller types from our group, but when a chubby young thing had to be forcibly pulled from the opening by three people- there was excess body fat flowing everywhere, I knew I wasn't going in. The tunnels themselves have been enlarged to accommodate the larger frames of Western touristas but the further you go the narrower they get, to a point at which you are crawling and looking for the escape hatch. They also get quite hot and are not for the claustrophobic- most of our group bailed quite early including The Princess- if she had stayed in she would have seen that it was my broad, heavily muscled shoulders that forced me out- obesity played no role.

At the very end, you have an opportunity to shoot any number of vintage Vietnam era weapons but it was surprisingly expensive and, as we were down on Dongs (Vietnamese currency), we gave it a pass. We're saving that experience for Cambodia.
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