Sunday, September 26, 2010

Củ Chi Tunnels

(This post is a follow up from our trip around the world. I will be writing a recap for each place we visited during our 4 month trip. Prior to Vietnam we also visited India, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia).

The Củ Chi Tunnels are an experience. I think we were expecting more of a historical tour and it was anything but. Our guide was ‘John Wayne’, and he had a very cutting and dry sense of humor, but I guess that is typical considering he frequently visits a place like this and deals with the tourists it draws. We had an interesting mix of people on the bus, stretching from loud Australian girls in summer dresses to a Canadian professor. Entry for foreigners costed 75,000 Vietnamese đồng ($3.85 USD) and 15,000 (77¢ USD) Vietnamese đồng for those from Vietnam.

- Not long after we arrived people were buying ice cream and complaining about the heat. There was also the sound of gun fire in the distance, catering to the tourists that needed to shoot guns to make things feel more realistic. Somehow I expect more of people while visiting a memorial site where people lost their lives, but I just wondered what was going on around me. Everyone came for different reasons, but we were reminded of the voyeristic types places like this seem to draw, which is one reason I tend to avoid war related sites.

- At the Củ Chi Tunnels we were first shown the entry to the hidden get away tunnels in the ground. Typically the bottoms of the trees would be marked, so if enemy troops were coming after the Viet Cong they could essentially escape by disappearing underground.

- Watching several brave guys on our tour fit into these very small openings made me really think how the small stature of the Vietnamese people really proved to be an asset, because even if these tunnels were detected many included traps or were simply too narrow for Western bodies to fit into.

- The tunnel system was built from 1948-1954. While simple, they were also undoubtedly very sophisticated. Frankly many of the young American GIs never stood a chance. There were various levels to aid in escape and they were made out of the clay so if the area was bombed it would only make it stronger. Through the war 30% of the first level were bombed. Time and time again John Wayne stressed these tunnels were not for living. If enemy troops were coming they would slip into the tunnels and go under them in the opposite direction, thus evading capture or worse.

- It was a sweltering jungle and then there were rudimentary traps made from mundane and ordinary objects. Suddenly window boxes and folding chairs were made deadly metal stakes beneath.

- War is indeed harsh and it pains me to think of men dying slow and agonizing deaths as they struggled around the terrain. Their end would have been horrifically tragic, especially if they didn't immediately die.

- Some of the questions tourists asked were just ridiculous, especially because their concerns had been addressed, but John Wayne humorously put them in their place. After demonstrating various traps and allowing people to go into the tunnels, a rather loud girl asked where people would use the restroom.
They had gone through the tunnels as well, on all fours, and John Wayne said, "not eating, not bathroom, not bedroom, no living in tunnel!!"

- Another way they evaded US troops was to make sandals from thick mats, which hid their tracks and were able to get wet. As he showed them to us in the various sizes he said 'these for monkeys, these for children, these for Vietnamese, these for Westerners'.

- The strangest part of the Củ Chi Tunnels was what a tourist racket it is. They had the most ridiculous and kitschy mannequins - some that even moved. The worst part was the firing range. It seems particularly senseless to have something like that at an area that was so war torn where so many people died, but you could pay to shoot an AK47. There were even prizes for hitting targets. Unreal. We kept standing there thinking this cannot be happening.

- After the shooting range we watched a propoganda video detailing a young woman who was 'an American killing hero' and how 'Washington DC wanted to turn Vietnam into a dead land' and attempted to destroy the Củ Chi Tunnels, but didn't succeed because the Viet Cong had 'a riffle in one hand and a plow in the other'.

- There was a diorama in the corner that looked like it was made by school children. It was really strange and even showed families having dinner underground while bombs and destruction went on above. John Wayne didn't address that, although I do believe what he said regarding it being impossible to live in these tight spaces, despite what all of those elementary school history books say.

The entire day reminded me of the Comedy Central television show Strangers with Candy with Amy Sedaris.

This will probably go down as the most bizarre day of our trip.

1 comment:

JoernandAllison said...

I guess it all starts with a tour guide named John Wayne. It appeals to us that this should not be touristy and kistchy, it should be a memorial, but it makes you think again about the difference in attitude and view towards these tunnels, the war, everything.
Bizarre sounds like the best word to describe it, but I'm also sure that you were able to take from visiting this area what you needed to emotionally.