Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Thurs 7th - Sun 10th November - Ho Chi Minh City

On the Wednesday evening I got a 30 min taxi from my hotel in Hoi An up to Danang where the nearest rail station was. From there onto the 10.20pm overnight sleeper which arrived in Saigon at 3.15pm. I shared the four berth compartment with four others, a Buddhist nun, opposite me, a local businessman below, and two older Vietnamese men opposite who took turns sleeping, sitting and surreptitiously smoking. Despite all that I got a reasonably good night sleep and caught up with some reading and blogging in the morning.

Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon by the railways, by older people and by certain expats. It was the capital for many years, under the French and South Vietnamese and is definitely the bigger, much more boisterous older brother to Hanoi. I found the scooter traffic in Hanoi's old quarter a bit difficult to deal with at first, but in HCMC it's different again. The boulevards, wide because they used to feature canals down the middle, are now swarming with thousands of scooters and motorbikes. So much so that at busy junctions they overflow onto the pavements and there is simply no space left for pedestrians at all.

Saigon served as the base for US operations here during the American war and as such, there is a large War Remnants Museum here, formerly called The Museum of Imperialist Aggression and War Crimes, (or something like that). And this is the must-see attraction for all tourists, particularly Americans, French and other pig-dog imperialists looking for a bit of contrition and graphically wrought shame. 

Arranged over three floors, plus a set of gruesome prison cells in the courtyard, the museum in my estimation seems to be arranged according to three loose themes. 1) The effects of the mighty American war machine on the small but resilient country of Vietnam during the years 62-72. 2) The tragic legacy of the aggressor's use of chemical weapons (especially Agent Orange and the incomparably poisonous dioxin it contains), and the thousands of tons of unexploded ordnance and mines that still claim limbs and lives to this day. 3) The barbaric, sadistic and murderous attention given to North Vietnamese individuals imprisoned at Con Dao on the island of Con Son by French rulers from 1861, and later the South Vietnamese under the approving supervision of thirty CIA officers stationed there.

It certainly proves there's a well established precedent for Guantanamo Bay, and the secret interrogation sites the CIA currently hides, and the British collude with. Though the atrocious violence meted out to insurgents at this island was considerably more brutal and medieval than what we've been told about the former. And don't forget this was well after the 1949 signing of the Geneva convention.

The Opera House in Saigon.
Tiger cages - up three men may be incarcerated in the smaller one, not much bigger than a coffin, and seven in the larger one, unable to move or escape the hot sun.
Bulldozers like these were used to clear property and destroy ground cover and trees, removing any chance of cover, and with it, the livelihoods of agrarians and farmers. Remind anyone of Palestine?
Graphic images on the walls.
A map showing distribution of Agent Orange across Vietnam and into Laos.
Agent Orange and Dioxin.

Time for a snooze.

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