Tuesday, July 26, 2011


In the end, two days of Ho Chi Minh City was enough for me. It's not so much that I'm addicted to Facebook (though I probably am). It's more that I don't appreciate being told which websites are and aren't good for me. According to Marjo, a guy from the Manila whom I met in HCMC, you can access porn online, but you can't update your status on Facebook. That's insane.

Thanks to Marjo, I found a cafe in the bustling backpackers area where I was able to log on to Facebook with my iPod Touch. Too little, too late. I'd already bought my ticket out of town. Ironically, before meeting up with Marjo, I watched the movie Have You Heard About the Morgans?, with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as an estranged couple forced to go into Witness Protection after seeing someone get murdered. When Carrie Bradshaw -- I mean, SJP... I mean, her character -- whined about leaving New York City, its glamour and take-out Chinese food behind for Wyoming's Middle America, I felt her pain. At least Wyoming has Facebook!

On the bright side (and there usually is one), after a full day spent wandering the streets of HCMC, I discovered some of its beauty. Like Buenos Aires, it's a place that's best appreciated at night, when the street lights dance off the buildings, and the grime and decay of the architecture, much of which is in serious need of refurbishing, or at least a fresh coat of paint, isn't quite so evident.

The frightening onslaught of oncoming motorbike traffic remains as daunting at midnight as it is at midday, but I've read that I should expect more of the same in my next destination, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Hopefully, I won't have to politely decline the offers of so many street peddlers trying to offer me rides to my next destination in carriages pushed by wobbly looking bicycles (apparently, tuk-tuks, so huge in Bangkok, are the primary mode of transport for hire), or urging me to drink their coconut juice (with a straw, straight from the off-white coconut shell).

The highlight of my time in HCMC was definitely the War Remnants Museum. I wept openly as I walked through the three stories of graphic images of the effects of the Vietnam War. The photos of how the dioxin in Agent Orange and the other chemicals sprayed throughout the war zone affected civilians and continue to affect their children and grandchildren are devastating and not for the fainthearted and squeamish like me.

While I gained a new respect for the Vietnamese for facing such atrocities and its long-lasting after-effects with so much dignity, as an American and as a human being, I felt a twinge of shame as I perused the exhibits. But I think that was the intention. There is a flagrant anti-American bent to the museum, and the commentary that accompanies the images highlights the U.S. role in the war and tries to paint the country as the primary villain.

A photo of an expressionless mother holding her child was accompanied by a description that read, "Hostility shone in the eyes of a mother and her child towards U.S. troops." As editorializing goes, that's a stretch much wider than the Saigon River, which I could see so clearly and beautifully from my 10th-floor hotel-room window. Mother and child were looking in different directions, no apparent hostility and no U.S. troops in the frame. Not to toss around accusations of deliberate and propagandizing inaccuracy, but for all we know, they could have been gazing out at the waters of the Saigon. The powerful photo, whose dominant mood seemed to be fortitude, not hostility, would have spoken volumes without any kind of Greek chorus.

I must plea ignorance when it comes to the intricacies of the Vietnam War, but I do know that it was more complicated than the big bad U.S. wolf vs. the poor innocent civilian lambs of Vietnam. For me, the message shouldn't be about recrimination and good vs.evil. It should be that war truly is hell, and those who suffer the consequences most aren't necessarily the ones doing the physical fighting.

I'm above such sloganeering as "Make love, not war," but it's more clear to me than ever that no victory comes without defeat (for both the winners and the losers). Ultimately, Saigon may have fallen to the communist forces in the north, but after two hours spent looking at the war toll (both physical and emotional), I left with my own personal message: In love and war, nobody wins.

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