Today, we took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. These were used by the Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War to escape death. But there’s much more to them than just a system of underground crouch spaces.
The Cu Chi tunnels were an elaborately planned, enormous system for thousands of Viet Cong people to use during the war. They had infirmaries, living rooms, kitchens, military planning rooms, and bedrooms, too. But don’t be fooled; they weren’t luxury 5-star hotels. They were tiny, bleak, and dark tunnels built for the bare minimum of survival for many people. To climb into one, you need to go feet first, put leaves on the cover of the ground entrance door (which is incredibly small at around 1’ by 2’), then lift the cover straight up with your arms, and slowly sink into the tunnels. Once you were in, you had to uncomfortably hunch over and walk for however long necessary to arrive at your destination. It was not fun. It was not easy. And thousands of people dealt with living inside of these for many years.
The ability to do this reminded me of the Vietnamese peoples’ resilience and strength, that has so evidently rolled over to today’s age. They had to go through so much, not just during the Vietnam war, but for the past 1000 years or so of foreign rule and oppression. Now that the Vietnamese people have their “freedom” (yet still ruled by a communist-like state), they have turned their strength from freedom into success.
One thing that stuck with me was when our tour guide was talking to someone about the tunnels regarding life or death in the tunnels. He said something along the lines of, “If someone is shooting at you, and you either get shot at and die, or climb a tree and live, you climb the tree. Simple as that. It’s life and death. So if people are shooting at you and your only option is to live underground, you live underground.” The Vietnamese people did whatever it took to live. They survived the toughest conditions between living underground, surviving agent orange, withstanding political oppression, and so much more, to get to where they are today. They have gone through the toughest of times to earn their quasi-freedom. But their happy enough with that. (At least that’s the impression I’m getting thus far) And because of all that, they are turning this wonderful opportunity to grow Ho Chi Minh City. It’s now a place of peace and prosperity. They are now building so many things and trading and exporting thousands of goods and services that the city doesn’t look like a battleground but a booming center of opportunity and capitalism. The Cu Chi tunnels isn’t just an underground cool thing to take a picture of. It’s a reminder of their history and their strength, and an indicator of their merited success.
Following the visit, we went to a unique art shop created by victims of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war. Our tour guide first showed us firsthand the process of creating the art, then took us inside the shop, filled with thousands of beautiful items. This artistic place was incredible. It was just like the Cu Chi tunnels in the sense that these people have taken their tragic strife, and turned it into something truly beautiful, both figuratively and literally. That’s just what Vietnam does: creates hardships into opportunities.