See Ya Saigon

Last stop: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

I flew from Siem Reap, just because that happened to be where the travel agency booked my ticket back to Taipei through so I decided to stop in Ho Chi Minh for a few days, may as well get a taste for Vietnam if I have the time I thought. Before hand, with the help of the travel agency, I secured my Vietnamese visa, which I had to pay the equivalent of about $60 USD for even though I was only stopping in for 3 days. If I had known how much the visa was going to cost beforehand I wouldn’t have bothered to extend my layover, but that is my own fault for lack of follow through. It did make getting through customs extremely easy.

When I walked out of the airport cab drivers were lined up waiting to pounce on the new arrivals. The first cab driver quoted me $25, then I got $17 then $10 so I went with the $10. Wrong choice. It wasn’t a cab it was just a guy in his car and he asked me for money to pay the parking ticket, I started to argue and he said he would give me the change back and I would just deduct it from the $10. So, when I started to look for my money he grabbed it from me and started to thumb through it. I grabbed it back, alarmed. When we arrived paid him about 9.15, plus paying for the parking was probably a little over $10.

I realized later that I had 400,000 Dong (about $18 USD), just missing. My luxurious budget of $57 USD for 4 days, was cut down to $6 a day. I was beyond furious, thinking about trying to get back to the airport somehow and demand my money back. Alas, I couldn’t afford to get back to the airport until my flight home. So I resigned to living off instant noodles for the next three days, and treat myself out for some pho on my final day.

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I kind of forgot what big cities are like. It’s busy and loud and people are always trying to hassle you. It is kind of exciting though to feel all of that energy. It is totally different feeling than Taipei more western somehow I’m not sure. But the Vietnamese people are sitting in those plastic chairs on the sidewalk drinking sweet coffee, smoking, and gambling or playing Chinese checkers, just like I pictured.

I spent most of my time in Vietnam, reading and writing. One morning I decided that I could afford to treat myself to some Vietnamese coffee. Since it is so famous and I’ve tried the Trung Nyguen at home before, prepared myself like regular drip coffee, but never prepared Vietnamese style. I saw this “special” coffee on the menu and I was curious if it was like the Laos version of a “special” coffee, so I asked what it was and she told me it was %100 Arabica beans. So I decided to try it.

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When she brought it to the table I was thinking;oh geeze what the hell is this thing why couldn’t have I just ordered a regular cup of coffee?

In a tin can there was some hot water and a tall round thin glass, like one you would use for juice, on top of the glass was a tin contraption that looked like a saucer and a cup, on the cup was a small cover. I opened it and found that the coffee was inside the little cup, hot water was poured into the cup and the saucer was actually a filter that it dripped through, I had to wait for it to drain fully drip by drip then I removed the cup and saucer filter and used the lid from the cup to put under the saucer to keep it from dripping on the table, took the glass out of the tin cup and took my first sip.

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It was fantastic. Best coffee I have ever had! I was curious how it would taste Vietnamese style with the condensed milk and sugar, but I didn’t want to ruin the perfect taste of just solid Arabica bean.

One thing I had to do while in Ho Chi Minh, was visit the Vietnam War Memorial Museum. The tickets were about $1 USD and it was weighing on my mind as a tourist (especially and American tourist) as something I was obligated to see.

The outside of the museum has a few air-crafts and tanks and machine guns, even a helicopter that were all used by the US military during the war.

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The war museum was weird. Obviously,I knew it was a mistake that the US got involved in, and a lot of people in the states were opposed to it, not to mention people all over the world, but I guess I didn’t know how severe it was.

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During WWII when the French were invaded by Germany, the rule over Vietnam was handed over to the Japanese, where the US and UK supplied the Vietnamese with means to fight the Japanese rule. When it was over, the US and UK supported France and still saw indochina as a part of the French Empire. However, the Vietnamese resisted and gained independence in 1954 and was split into north and south, the north was communist and this was the start of the cold war so of course the US backed the south and it was called a US puppet state. This is the part where I got so confused why we stepped in after they had already gained independence from France, it was sited as protecting the south from communism, and trying to keep communism from spreading but as a former french colony it should have been their job not US.

Basically what I concluded was that the Vietnam war was yet another mess left over by western colonization.

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It was hard to swallow especially the display about the prison for Viet Cong POW’s, some of the torture methods the US army used were the exact same I just learned the Khmer Rouge used in Cambodia. That was the hardest part for me. Seeing the water torture and something similar to the tibia torture in black and white photos performed by those wearing US Army uniforms.

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Everyone else I talked to commented that the Agent Orange display was the most graphic. One room dedicated to facts about all the chemicals used during the war and the effects it had during and after and how they still affect Vietnam today. Deforestation, climates destroyed, people deformed for life, veterans who had children born with severe disabilities because of their exposure to Agent Orange (both U.S and Vietnamese soldiers), and people in Vietnam who were unfortunate enough to be born in an area of exposure. Not only affects from Agent Orange are still lasting but UXO’s (un-exploded ordinances) left by the U.S Army still account for a certain number of deaths every year.

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Anyway it was a bit of a grim ending to my time in Southeast Asia, nonetheless I am glad I went. Four days in the center of Ho Chi Minh living off instant noodles, after a peaceful month in Laos was more than enough for me, I was happy to say “See ya Saigon” and return home to Taiwan.

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