Tuesday, October 22, 2013

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

One of the things I didn't get to do enough of was touring in Vietnam.  It was a little disappointing as I thought I might have more travel companions than I did, and I often found myself shopping rather than doing much else.  I didn't feel like I had enough time to learn more about life there and about Vietnam in general, which is one of my favourite things to do when I visit a country (aside from eat, and I did a lot of eating!). One of the other recruiters recommended that I see the War Remnants Museum, not because it's "enjoyable", but because it's powerful.  I figured it might be better to see something like that since it would likely have a lot of impact in the short space of time that I had to learn something about the country, and indeed, the Vietnam warm was a significant part of the country's history--I hadn't remembered that it lasted for 17 years!

The museum is definitely difficult to go through.  It's not for those that are sensitive to violence and gory scenes.  Yet it's so necessary to see it.  We have the option to look away.  The victims, both soldiers and civilians, live with images they witnessed first hand, the lives of those they lost, the physical defects of the chemical warfare that the US launched in the country.  They do not have the option to look away.  Unless they end their lives.  And we know that so many have, soldiers suffering from PTSD, feeling guilty for the role they played, probably many Vietnamese that have done the same, though I don't know how to find out the impact.  So much of the world condemned the US invasion.  While some countries were limited in their condemnation through only their national socialist and communist parties, Canada's government, among others, condemned the act.  Many said it was act of aggression.  It's hard to disagree. 

I have taken several photos from the museum, and when I'm able to post the album, I do caution that you view at your own risk.  It's not meant to make you feel happy and good.  It's meant to inform and to impact, to remind us that war is horrible and should never be taken lightly.  I sometimes think about the original series Star Trek episode called A Taste of Armageddon in which two planets engage in a simulated war where casualties are determined by computer "attacks" on the other planet, and various people are sent to incineration chambers when they are declared as casualties.  Captain Kirk destroys the computers, telling the leader that they'll have to engage in real war, which is bloody and painful and where people actually suffer and that if they want to prevent it, they'll have to negotiate with the enemy and agree to end hostilities.  These days war is kind of like that to me; it's easy because most of the people that decide to send people to war don't have to endanger their own lives or mental health.  They can hear about the casualties on the news or through their information sharing mechanisms, but they don't have to face the gruesome realities anymore, not like in the past when a King would even go to battle with his army, and combat was more often hand-to-hand than not.  It's easy when you're sitting in your safe office to make these kinds of decisions about other people.  How long it will take for Vietnam to recover I don't know; but the population has proliferated, and I'm happy to learn that the economy is growing, so hopefully this is a positive thing.  It's a wonderful country with warm people.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


My room at the InterContinental
If you're a regular follower of my blog, you probably wondered what had happened to me after a long time of no posts--although I did do that one about multiculturalism in the middle of the summer.  Anyway, I'm back on the road again for another recruitment trip, and I'm in Vietnam for the first time in my life.  I was so excited to come here because I'd heard really good things about the country, but I have to say that it's been a little hard for me to enjoy so far, unfortunately.  It seems like a great country to visit, but I haven't been able to enjoy it as much as I would like.  It's not because work is in the way, but I've found the head and humidity more oppressive than other countries I've been in recently, and on top of that, my stomach has been off for a number of days.  As of yesterday, I was supposed to have found myself in Danang after a few days in Hanoi, but Typhoon Nari decided it was the right time to hit the country, and being that Danang is a coastal city, the area was hit badly, and we weren't able to find out that our flight was cancelled until several hours after it was scheduled to depart.  One colleague and I spent the day at the airport waiting for a delayed flight, and then they finally decided to cancel all the flights for the day.  It was frustrating but probably for the best because no one could get a hold of the hotel in Danang--we learned they were closed and that even the city had started to evacuate tourists the night before the typhoon was supposed to make landfall.  It was pretty bad.  It would have been interesting to be in the storm in a way, but really, it's probably best that I was able to stay safe.  We stayed in Hanoi for another night and re-booked flights to Ho Chi Minh City the next day.  Luckily we were able to find a hotel that had space for us (there were 5 of us at the airport), and we spent the night in the beautiful InterContinental Hanoi hotel, which we discovered was built over a lake and had beautiful scenery and amenities.  When you've been in a hot airport all day, and you're sweaty and sticky and tired and frustrated, sometimes it's nice to get a little bit of a paradise in a beautiful room.  Each room had a balcony, and there was a lovely lounge/bar situated over the water, and we sat outside and had a small bite of supper.  We were none of us very hungry by that point but just tired and needing a little nourishment.  It was so pleasant, I easily could have fallen asleep.

We also faced a significant event while we were here.  One of the heroes of Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap, died on Friday the 11th at the age of 103.  He is credited as having been instrumental in securing Vietnam's independence from the French, among other achievements.  A state funeral was held the next day, and then there was a long procession as they took his body to the airport.  Thousands and thousands of people attended, and for the funeral, there were also several ambassadors and other significant representatives from various countries.  Roads and sections of the city were blocked off for these events.

I did have a few good moments shopping when I was in Hanoi.  I got photos of some really beautiful vintage embroidery work, which is easy enough to find in the northern part of the country as the northern tribes are known for their embroidery work, and it's easier to find these things for sale in Hanoi than in the southern part of the country.  I couldn't afford to buy the vintage stuff because it was quite a bit more money that I had to spend, but I would have loved to buy something.  I managed to get a couple of adequate photos of the items before the shop owner caught me and told me no photos were allowed. I hate it when that happens, but I understand the reasons why.

A colleague and I also happened across a quilt store that supports women in the country.  Mekong Quilts produces beautiful items, and I hope I can buy one of their larger items one day when I have a bit more available cash.

One thing that I was surprised to see was the number of women wearing those conical bamboo hats.  Sometimes we think that these are village practices or are no longer part of people's everyday attire when westernised attire becomes available, but really, this is a very regular part of some people's every day tradition, even if it's just for street vendors or what have you.  In my romantic notions of things bucolic, I definitely find a beauty in it.
Street scene in the old city
Due to all the fatigue and issues that have happened here, I feel like I haven't been able to learn as much about the country as I normally do when I travel.  I'm hoping that will change in HCM City.  I do have some spare time--and a little more than expected since our Danang event had to be cancelled.  Meanwhile, I've been enjoying seeing the different kinds of food items available here.
 This fruit was in my hotel room, and it turns out it's called a Vietnamese apple. I don't know what the local name is for it, but it would be difficult for me to pronounce anyway, I'm sure.  One of the things I have observed is that I think I would have a hard time living here because people's English levels that I've met are enough to get by but not great, and I can tell that often I am not able to make myself understood.  I've been told by one of our government guys here that he thinks even Mandarin is easier than Vietnamese because the tones are more difficult in Vietnamese, and I'm definitely not finding it easy to reproduce words that I'm trying to say.  So I'm not sure how successful I would be here if I found the language too difficult to learn, though I guess it would be a heck of a challenge!

I found a Circle K and was excited to see some of the snack foods in it.  I found a lot of seaweed-flavoured snacks.  I bought a bag of chips just to taste it, but I realised when I got back to my room that I grabbed the wrong bag, and I've bought something that I'm unsure of what the flavour is.  It wasn't bad, but I can't tell from the photo on the bag what it's supposed to be, but it looks like grilled fish.  Oh well.  Maybe I'll have to go buy another bag of the seaweed ones, though I'm not in the habit of eating a lot of fish.  I'm not that fond of them that I want to eat them all the time.

I also discovered this winter melon iced tea drink.  It doesn't seem like something that would make a good drink.  Maybe one day, I will try it.  I've so far tried sapodilla milkshake and lemon yogurt drink (which contained no citrus and tasted like sweet lassi, but it was yummy!).  I wanted to try things I haven't heard of or haven't tried before.  It's been an adventure on that front, too! haha  As it turns out, I've tried sapodilla before, but I learned from the Wikipedia link that it's known as chickoo in India, and I remember not liking it much.  In milkshake form, it's not terrible, but I wouldn't order it again.  It was something to try.  I also had snail, banana, and tofu noodles with a curry-like sauce.  It was tasty, but I felt the bananas were too starchy and not cooked enough.  Hanoi is known for snail dishes, apparently, so I thought I should try some while I'm there.  Anyway, hopefully I'll have some more exciting updates later on in the trip!