Day 9: Ben Thanh, Hua Phuoc Hai, and the War Remnants Museum

Hello readers,

Today was a very full day with bit of a heavy ending. Firstly, we went to the Ben Thanh market which is one of the more traditional markets in Saigon. For those who are from Cleveland who are reading this, imagine the West Side Market (maybe a little bigger) but also filled with touristy items and clothes on top of the food. It was a really cool place and haggling with the shop owners is actually really fun. The market was pretty tight at times so as I was walking through with my backpack, I unfortunately knocked a times off their shelf. Luckily they were scarves so they didn’t break. Either way the shop keeper wasn’t happy with me. I did end up getting myself and some others a few things back home.

Afterwards, we had our last Vietnamese language class. This class’s design was review what we had learned up until that point and also say goodbye to our professor. He was a great teacher and made the class extremely fun. He made you uncomfortable by making you practice in front of the rest of the class, a technique that makes you learn quicker. Although it was hard, I’m going to miss that part of the trip.

Next, we had a class on the fundamentals of Buddhism and, afterwards, went to a pagoda. As I understand it, a pagoda isn’t exactly a Buddhist temple. The temple is where Buddhist men would train and stay as monks. The pagoda is more of a satellite temple. It’s a place in the city or anywhere where people can come to pray to Buddha and the Buddhist gods. We got to do this. We had some incense and went to the different idols of the pagoda to make different wishes. There is a luck god, gods for future mothers, and many other specific idols in the pagoda. It was beautiful inside and was a really cool experience.

Last was the war remnants museum. This was a pretty heavy experience for all of us. I’d like to start off by saying that from my impression, most of the information (at least the pictures) seemed real and really only a few statistics and torture methods seemed to be a little exaggerated. Other than that, my view of the Vietnam War, from all the movies and history lessons, has seriously changed. The government of Vietnam estimates that millions of Vietnamese died in the war. And many are still affected by its aftermath. People who live in areas that were contaminated with agent orange still have children with terrible birth defects and deformations. There was also evidence of multiple massacres of elders, women, and children by Americans throughout the war. Although it’s possible that the numbers could have been exaggerated, I believe that these massacres happened. It was really difficult to read some of the quotes from soldiers talking about what they had to do to keep their sanity. One such quote said you had to give into being a murderous madman and hope you just come out alive. After that comes the fight for sanity. Another quote clearly stated that the US had severely broken the UN’s rules of war. We also went to see a replica of a prison camp during the war. This was a scary sight. The cages and cells that these prisoners of war were kept in were clearly dehumanizing. There were also torture methods described in great detail, torture methods performed by Americans.

It was hard to imagine such a thing. We all grew up and were taught to love our country. But in these situations it gets kind of hard to do so. It also brought forth another idea. There are governments that blatantly lie to their citizens. North Korea lies to its citizens. Vietnam seems to stretch the truth in its museums. Almost all countries have some kind of government propaganda. I grew up to believe that the United States government didn’t lie about its history. The war crimes it performed in the Vietnam War is definitely something I was not taught growing up. It just makes you wander what else you may not know.

To finish on a lighter note, today was an awesome experience despite probably sweating more than any other day of the trip. We also went to a Mexican place for dinner because the Vietnamese students recommended it…why not. I can honestly say I had one of the best quesadillas I’ve ever tasted. Funny how that stuff happens.

The featured image is our Vietnamese class with our teacher in the middle.

Thanks for reading,

Brian

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