South East Asia on a Hamstring – February 27
Hanoi, Vietnam – February 27, 2000
I slept in and enjoyed my last few hours of a single room. Wendy’s trip was over and today we got a new group and a new leader and I was to switch rooms and share with Lochie for the next ten nights.
Our new leader was as of yet unidentified. Paula was supposed to leave our group but she’d had to fly home suddenly due to a family tragedy. We were leader-less for the time being.
At 8:30, I thought that half our group would’ve been off to the airport for flights home. Only Lochie, Tom, and I were continuing. I thought I’d given it a wide safety margin and wouldn’t have any excruciating goodbyes to go through.
I was wrong – they weren’t going to the airport until 9:30 and I had come down too early. I had to eat breakfast with the most annoying man on earth, an Australian scientist who insisted on keeping me up to date on all of the Australian sports scores. He was oblivious to my boredom, so I had tried the obvious approach.
“Really, I couldn’t care less,” I had told him a few days prior. He had laughed and continued telling me about cricket in rugby in great detail.
At 11:30, the leftovers of our group chartered a mini-van and went to the Museum of Ethnology and the Ho Chi Minh Trail museum.
En route, Tom told me that our new leader would be arriving from Bangkok in time for our 6:30 meeting.
“Bangkok?” I said, suddenly very concerned. “Do you remember his name? Could it have been Peter?”
Tom wasn’t sure. He thought that sounded right. I fretted the rest of the afternoon.
The Museum of Ethnology was a unique museum all about the various ethnic groups that make up Vietnam, their origins and cultures. Karen Arnold, a woman that I correspond with on e-mail, had tipped me off to it and we were all very impressed.
Wendy had told us about the Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum and that was even more interesting. It is brand new and doesn’t even have a special tourist admission price yet. It is a celebration of the “American War” and the victory of the Viet Cong.
We arrived right at 1:30, opening time. The group right ahead of us was all ex-soldiers, VC men all in their old uniforms, clapping each other on the back and having an emotional moment as they attended the museum to their victory.
I approached the ex-soldiers and asked if we could take photos with them. They said something to me in Vietnamese – something inquisitive. I responded that I was American, guessing that they wanted to know my nationality. I followed it up quickly with a wave
around the room at the exhibits and a point to myself – and then an indication that I was two-feet tall when the Vietnam War happened. They all laughed and the tension was broken. I smiled and said that I was a Yankee dog, but fortunately, they had no idea what I was saying. The others in my group looked at me, a bit horrified.
Tom the American and I posed for photos with the soldiers. It was a bit eerie. Tom wondered how his brother would feel – his brother was on permanent disability after being shot 14 times in the stomach and spleen in Vietnam.
We walked through the exhibit, the soldiers pointing at artifacts and photos and then at themselves. One had been a driver, one in construction, and so on.
Initially, we were euphoric over the multi-culti aspect but our enthusiasm dampened rapidly.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum is all good cheer. It never mentioned the South Vietnamese, the Soviets, or any civil war. It was just Vietnam versus the Americans, and the Americans were run out of town. No mention of the Cold War, no mention of the South other than as puppets of the West, and no mention of the war resistance throughout the West. No mention of death or tragedy and all of the photos showed smiling, victorious Vietnamese soldiers. Some ID cards of American soldiers were on display. I wondered what happened to the owners.
We walked through a fake jungle, cruelly bombed from above by Yankees.
The final exhibit was a three-dimensional model of the terrain and the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trails that combed the hills. I looked at all the little light-up trails and thought “no wonder Vietnam was unwinnable.” It was all a little weird, watching the US held up as
the Great Satan and wondering what happened to the puppet war between the US and the USSR.
I was suddenly aware that there is censorship in Vietnam and that freedom of information is non-existent. Basically, in order to reconcile the differences between North and South, the Vietnamese government has concocted a war wherein no Vietnamese person was in the wrong. Surely a massive oversimplification, but it appears to have worked and the Vietnamese people seem happy with their budding capitalist/communist state.
We arrived back at the hotel in time for our group meeting – our leader’s name is Mark.
Mark seemed tired, having just flown in from Bangkok and probably working on his week off. He was different from Wendy and Andy, certainly, but seemed a lot better than Peter. Our new group was much younger than our prior group, with 35 probably being the median age. The two youngest are both 22-year-old Japanese girls from Osaka. There are two couples that are between 28 and 36, so I am actually in the middle of the age range this time.