Day 7: Crawling around Cu Chi

Today, I started off my day with the classic half plate of spinach with some watermelon and sweet bread. I also had a tomato with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on it, which was delicious. Then, we hopped on the bus for a 2-hour ride to the Cu Chi Tunnels. I was surprised that this zone was still considered part of Ho Chi Minh City since it was so far away. Also, it was much less developed than the city that we have become used to. The Cu Chi Tunnels were used by the Viet Cong to hide, escape, meet, and live. It was really impressive because there were three levels of tunnels and rooms, in total 9 meters deep. To make it even more impressive, the Viet Cong dug then with very small shovels. The entrance to the tunnels was the width of a person and was covered by a small metal cover, which was then covered in leaves to prevent detection. In addition, to prevent unwelcome people from attacking the insides of the tunnels, the Viet Cong would put bombs at the entrances after they had gone inside. They also built various traps that were impossible to get out of. For example, they had pits filled with spikes and rotating platforms with spikes. The tunnels also had river access so that when people were trying to escape the area, they could swim right into the river far away. I can’t imagine being in the tunnels for more than 10 minutes and definitely not living in the tunnels. They were very cramped and you had to bend in half to walk through them. In the rooms, you could stand up, but it was still very cramped. They were also very confusing with many different routes. The guide said that sometimes even Viet Cong soldiers would get lost and fall into one of their own traps and die. Unfortunately, we were not able to go in the smallest tunnel entrance because of prior weather conditions. We also watched a short informational film about the tunnels and the war, and it was very interesting to see how the government portrayed the war. They portrayed it as the Americans being the enemy and the way they talked about the Americans’ deaths was respectful, but I detected a hint of bragging (this is the best word that I can think of, but it doesn’t quite capture how I felt about their portrayal). I’m not surprised about these things because, in any war, the other side is the bad side. The only war that I can think of that has pretty much a mutual enemy in World War II. The portrayal of the war was pretty modest and attempted to be sensitive, as many war monuments and museums do. To show how traps worked, there was a mural on the wall with American soldiers stuck in them, injured. This was off-putting to me, especially since I’m American. The American portrayal of the war is different since we had a different perspective on it, which shows that the victors don’t always write the history. I’m a big fan of the saying that war has no real winners because I think it demonstrates the horrible things that war does, and in the end, death is the most prevalent side effect. I think that in addition to the victor, factors that play into who writes the history of wars are who is left in the population. If there is no one left to tell their side of the story, then the side that is left will write history. I also think that global political power plays a role, especially in this situation because the US had much more political power and because of the general fear of communism throughout the world. So far, I have noticed that many people I have met seem to take the same stance about war as me: everyone is a loser in the end. This shows that in the future, we all want to move on and make amends so that we can work together for a more peaceful and healthier world. This demonstrates that Vietnam is becoming more globalized because it shows that people are thinking beyond their cultural/ethnic group in order to work with different people. After visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, we went to lunch at a riverside restaurant that was nearby. Once again, they had sautéed vegetables, and I ate at least half of the plate. We also had time to walk around the area to see the river. Then, we visited a war memorial and cemetery for those that died in the Cu Chi area during the war. There were some very elaborate graves for generals and other important people, while the rest were mostly similar to graves in the US. The elaborate graves had statues of sacred animals and pictures of those that had died. All of the graves had a small pot, incense (I think), and another container. This represents one of their cultural practices of burning sticks in honor of those that died. There were many beautiful flowering trees and bushes, giving the whole area a serene look. There was also a large monument at the end of a path lined with Vietnamese and Communist flags. After visiting the cemetery, we went to a workshop where the craftsmen made beautiful works of art from pearl pieces and eggshell pieces. The ability to make such precise and gorgeous works left me in awe. We did some shopping, and it was so hard to pick what to buy, but I did buy gifts and souvenirs, so get excited! Then, we went back to the hotel for a break before dinner. I can’t wait to try bahn khot!

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