Saigon. Or is it Ho Chi Minh City?

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Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, but few people call it HCMC there. So take your pick, no one seems to care, however some locals do get confused if you don’t call their city Saigon.

After having to tear ourselves away from Phu Quoc island (it’s probably the place we liked leaving the least so far), we had the pleasure of taking13+ more hours worth of buses, ferries, and finally a taxi to arrive at our hostel in HCMC/Saigon around 9pm the night of February 26th. Our schedule only allowed us to stay for just three nights, but Kiran and I were content with what we accomplished there, considering we only had two full days to sightsee.

At an ice cream shop on Phu Quoc island, thankfully, mercifully, Kiran happened upon a magazine that had loads of information about HCMC, so this stay went infinitely better than our stay in Bangkok, a city which Kiran and I both detest. It also helped that we happened to stay within a roughly two mile diameter, further limiting our chances for Bangkok-like issues.

HCMC has 10 million people and 7 million motorbikes, so we walked almost everywhere.
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We learned a lot about the Vietnam War thanks to reading a very well written Wikipedia article on the war starting somewhere around hour eight of our trip up to HCMC. Once there, sadly, I can’t say we learned as much as we had hoped from the museums that we visited, as they seemed more like communist propaganda ploys than they were honest attempts at providing information, but more about that later.

The museums did however make for some really interesting photos, especially if one can stomach teratogenicity (more about that later as well). These photos are from the War Remnants Museum and the City History Museum. I wonder when they’ll give us our stuff back.
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This is a 155mm self-propelled howitzer. I had Kiran stand next to it to give you some perspective.
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I really wanted to see the Cu Chi tunnels, but a late night of karaoke put the kibosh on my plan to visit the tunnels the next day. And, if you’re friends with my sister on FB, you can see documentation of our night, but Kiran and I both feel our karaoke videos should not be made available for public consumption.

The highlight of our trip to HCMC was going to Pho Binh, a noodle shop once owned by Mr. Ngo Van Toai. To United States GIs/soldiers/marines in Vietnam, Pho Binh was a great place to get beef noodle soup during the war. Upstairs on the second floor however, Pho Binh secretly served as the command and control center for the planning and execution of the Tet Offensive in 1968 [widely credited as the turning point in the Vietnam War (from a public relations standpoint)], ultimately leading to President Johnson’s decision not to seek a second term, and President Nixon’s decision to withdraw forces from Vietnam a few years later. Here’s that very second floor from the outside.
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Soon after the Tet Offensive started, Ngo Van Toai and others were found at the noodle shop and their plans discovered. Ngo Van Toai was taken in and tortured for 20 days, but we were told he didn’t break, speaking not even “half a word.” He was then sent to the infamous prison camp on Phu Quoc Island for further torture until his release at the war’s end. He is considered a great war hero by the Communist party.
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After prison, Ngo Van Toai returned home to his noodle shop where he worked for another 30+ years until his death a few years ago; his son has since taken over the shop, so thankfully we got something to eat.
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If a tourist arrives (they seldom do, my Tripadvisor review was only the fourth review of Pho Binh), they bring out a family photo album and a visitor guestbook to look at and sign while you’re eating.
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Apparently some soldiers and Marines came back to the noodle shop years and decades later to make some peace with Ngo Van Toai and hopefully the war itself.
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Once we finished our lunch, we were escorted upstairs to the second floor.
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We learned they hid the attack plans behind this artwork.
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I tried stealing the idea and hid my debit card under a picture at our hostel in HCMC, and then forgot about it entirely until Kiran reminded me of this minutes before we checked out of our room. Wives are great that way.

Here’s Mr. Ngo Van Thoi looking on as the Subdivision 6 commanders plan their attacks.
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We sat at the exact same table planning our revenge 🙂
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Peace.
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Honestly, I was very torn whether or not to patronize the family of a man who helped facilitate the deaths of 2500 Americans during the offensive. However, in deciding to go to Pho Binh, I took comfort in knowing that the Viet Cong (NLF) paid dearly for their sneak attack, losing almost 40,000 of their fighters as a result of our defense against the Tet Offensive. Furthermore, the Tet Offensive actually helped us bring home our troops; so since all is fair in love and war, and the war is over, we went to Pho Binh, and we’re really glad we did.

Back to the War Remnants Museum … fair warning, some of the photos below are pretty horrible. Although much of the museum is ‘commie propaganda,’ I learned later the museum’s mission is, in part, to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war, so that we may never witness these horrors again. To this end, it achieves the first part at least.

For those of you who may not know, some of our forces got pretty strung out in Vietnam. Here’s a real life Colonel Kurtz.
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Waterboarding circa 1968 I believe.
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Americans (allegedly) dragging two Vietnamese to their deaths.
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It’s hard (for me at least) to imagine US forces slaughtering entire villages, men, women and children, but apparently it happened, several times … numerous times.

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey admits he and the Seals he commanded killed civilians, but denies reports his men executed civilians.
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Check out how tall Senator … errr, Secretary of State John Kerry is
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To the bleeding hearts out there, the Vietnam War makes the dog collars and the other shenanigans we pulled in Iraq seem so tame compared to the potential hell that can arise when you train young men and women to kill each other. I digress.

As you may know, Agent Orange contains dioxin, a horrendous chemical we used to thin/kill the thick jungles in order to better spot the enemy during the war.
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The word teratogen is formed from the Latin roots teratos meaning monster and genesis meaning to make, literally, monster-maker. Unfortunately, dioxin is a teratogen, and our use of it has caused unimaginable birth defects in untold numbers of Vietnamese, and is (likely) responsible for an ever growing number of cancers and even second and third generation birth defects in both Vietnamese and Americans.

I’ll be curious to read some day why Dow Chemical has paid US soldiers and Marines for the after-effects of Agent Orange, but why the US Supreme Court recently threw out lawsuits brought by the Vietnamese for the same reasons.

I leave you with these terrible horrors, sorry. Perhaps all is not fair in love and war.
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One response to “Saigon. Or is it Ho Chi Minh City?”

  1. Anonymous says :

    Scott and Kiran- I am humbled by your most recent post. For those who were not around in the mid to late 60’s and into the early 70’s this stream brings back lots of not so nice memories for so many of us. I am thrilled that you had enough respect for the country and the people that you reached out, experienced their life in some small way, and shared those memories with those of us who never had to personally face the horrors of that war. Thanks from Pam and Dad. Keep those cards and posts coming, and Go North Carolina. I will pick them thru to the championship in the MGE pool, as always, and will have UCLA dropping like a big fly on day one. Sorry Kiran.

    Scott, at least this time I know what coast you are on while doing the pool.

    Family joke for those not in the know.

    Go Bucky. Dad

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