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Good Morning Vietnam!

VIETNAM | Saturday, 5 October 2002 | Views [1730]

9/29/02

Good Morning Vietnam!!

I like Vietnam so far!  Went on a city orientation this morning, so that was a really good way to get an overview of the city before we try it on our own.  Then I went into the city with Geoff and Mike to roam around.  Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon by the native southerners.  It was renamed after the war (which they call the American War) because it was Ho Chi Minh’s dream to see Vietnam united. 

Right away as you get off the bus there are crowds of kids trying to sell you postcards or gum, coconut boys hawking the large nuts with straws sticking out of them, and cyclo and motorbike drivers haggling for you to hop on.  Saigon itself isn’t much of a city to look at though.  It’s dirty and people throw their trash in the streets, there are people everywhere trying to sell you things…especially since we are obviously American tourists.  From that description, you’d think that it was some terrible place… But I’ve fallen in love with Saigon! J 

10/5/02 – Catching up on the journal:

Because I’ve gone on so many arranged tours in the previous countries, I purposely didn’t sign up for many Vietnam tours – only one, in fact, to the Mekong River Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels.  This means I didn’t get to see as much of the country as others – some are even going to Cambodia which would have been amazing – but I’m really glad I stuck around Saigon for the majority of this port stop.  I’ve had some very meaningful experiences that I wouldn’t want to trade for anything! 

It’s the people that make this country so special.  Sure they want to sell us stuff, but Vietnam has been the first country so far where people also come up to me out of curiosity and ask questions.  We met a boy the first day who tried to sell us gum at first, but then we asked if he would hang out with us for the day and show us around.  He led us all over town and his presence seemed to keep the hawkers at bay. 

The next day, I woke up late and everybody was already gone on organized trips, so I had nobody to go to town with.  So I went by myself (Shh! Don’t tell Mom! J) So I got to town and by the second block I was already sick of all the people haggling me to buy things or to take a cyclo or motorbike ride.  Eventually, I came across a little park that has tables with umbrellas where you can order a drink and sit for as long as you like.  There I met a French guy who had just arrived in country that day and would be living for a year in a town on the Mekong River to study Vietnamese law.  He, to my surprise, met up with me at the War Remnants Museum later (I must have let it slip that I was going) and after that we just wandered around the city, found an internet café.  He borrowed my pen and I never saw him again.  Just disappeared!  I was pretty disappointed; I was looking forward to seeing if he wanted to come to dinner with my roommate, Helen, and me, but I have no idea where he ended up!  The people you meet while traveling, eh?

In that park I also met an old Vietnamese man named Ti (like ‘tea’).  64 years old and he’d fought on the side of the south in the “American War” and his entire family was killed when the Mekong delta where he lived was bombed.  After the cease fire, Ti was arrested and sent to a re-education camp run by the Communists.  I was told that people sent to the camps are not considered citizens anymore, so technically, they are not even supposed to be in the city.  But where else can they go?  One of our guides told us that almost all the cyclo drivers are war vets from the re-education camps.  They sleep in their cyclos on the street corners because they cannot own land and they don’t have enough money to start a family.  It’s really very sad when you realize what some people must live with day after day. 

Ti sort of adopted me for the day and took it upon himself to lead me around for a few hours until the War Remnants Museum opened back up at 1:30.  We wandered around a mall, changed money with a woman sitting on a street corner, and then we just walked for a while.  I could only understand about one out of every four words he was saying, but that’s ok.  It was nice to have company for a while.  As a thank you, I bought his bus ticket back to the Mekong River.  Maybe he “used” me for the bus fare, but I really don’t care – what I got out of that mere 3 hour experience was more meaningful than anything I’d done up to that point, so the $20 I spent on his fare and a bit of lunch was more than worth it.

Tags: people, vietnam

 

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