Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shoot it, Conan!

Martin tells everyone that I was looking at him as if he was a barbarian. My perspective on this is that barbaric actions warrant dirty looks.

These two little kittens have lost their earmuffs. 
Mittens: still intact.

But, my how the Vietnamese are proud of winning the war! This whole country is pasted with reminders of the American War, but the attitude is not the same as the 'lest we forget' pacifist sentimentalities that are expressed on the WWI and WWII war memorials that are scattered all over New Zealand. It's more a 'lest you forget' sentiment. More a 'we'll kick your ass all over again' kind of sentiment.

I remarked to Martin at one point that Ho Chi Minh had a few qualities in common with Ghandi – he was fiercely dedicated to his country, and to unifying his country. He stood for the common man and the peasants, valuing those at the bottom as much as those at the top. A working class hero, Ho Chi Minh famously wore the same sandals that the commonest peasants wore – fashioned from old tires. But as Martin pointed out he also had some extremely un-Ghandi-like qualities – Ho Chi Minh would never have sat down when he could have had a scrap instead.

Don't worry: if the Americans invade again, Martin knows just what to do.
We went for a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels – one of the tunnel systems famously constructed by the VietCong during the war. The area where these tunnels were constructed was jungle, and the earth they are dug out of is hard clay and sand. You can find out more about the tunnel systems here - but I'll spare you a history lesson.

The site at Cu Chi is really very good. It is managed by the government, and very well maintained. You really notice the government influence on the site in two ways:
  1. When you arrive, the first stop on the guided tour is a compulsory propaganda film screening:

  2. There are a few food stalls and a restaurant area and the prices are not inflated at all, and there are no hawkers at the site. This is common for the tourist attractions that are government managed – the government actually does a very good job of ensuring that the tourists don't get ripped off. In fact, I think they should probably, for their own sakes to less of a good job. At the government owned attractions like the tunnels and the zoo and the museums, the ticket prices are ridiculously cheap – the most we have paid to go anywhere was around 80,000 dong, or USD $4. I think they could charge a bit more and use the revenue to maintain some of the sites.
The paths are cleared and well maintained, and because it is jungle the area is well-shaded, so even in the heat it is quite pleasant to walk around.

There is a spectacular demonstration of booby-traps that were laid in the ground. The strategy seemed to be to take them out one man at a time. From what I can tell, the strategy worked pretty well, though it must have been gruesome.

The folding chair trap.
Imagine that the bamboo pole sticking out of the top
right corner is an American Devil leg.

And then there are the tunnels themselves. They are impossibly small and horrible. It's not like wandering around on North Head with a flashlight hoping to discover a secret stash of Spitfires. A small section of tunnels has been preserved for the sake of the tourists. It is 100m long, and has been widened enough so that someone my size can get through on hands and knees. There are exits every 20m and we took the first exit, along with almost all of the rest of the tour group. It was really horrible being in the tunnel even only for a couple of minutes, and I can't really fathom the desperation that would have led the soldiers that worked in the area think that these tunnels were a good defensive option. You expect tunnels to be cold and clammy, but these were hot and the walls seemed heavy, with what little air there was sticking to the sides of your lungs like a phlegmy soup. The people of Cu Chi starved during the war, and at the tunnels they demonstrate this by feeding the tourists boiled tapioca and crushed peanuts mixed with salt – the staple food at a time when there was no reliable agriculture in this fertile land. Food that could be gathered from the forest.

Even our camera lost focus when presented with
tapicoa and crushed peanuts for lunch.

The firing range felt kind of sick to me. Barbaric. Lest we forget.
Great big bloody pile of spent shells at the firing range.


  1. I had fun. Some of those expended shells were squeezed off by me. And I object to the use of kittens in such a propogandistic post.

  2. All very intersting