My time in Saigon so far has been a fun sweaty one. It’s not raining here which is a plus so it’s not as humid but that does mean my skin is a tad more dry.
I got in late in the night and it was rocky to start with. The ATM was declining everyone’s cards so tons of backpackers were a bit stranded. I managed to get out 500,000 dong with a hefty fee. I tried to get a SIM card but my phone is locked by Virgin so I’ll try to get that solved before I head to China since I know China will be a lot tougher to get around without any mobile connection.
The hostel is pretty cool and has a lot of terraces and a rooftop which I climbed up when I first arrived.
Apparently there was a partial Lunar eclipse over a blood moon which was the first time that had happened in 154 years and I was about two hours too late to see it.
My first day I hung around with Alberta from South Africa, living in New Zealand. He’s on a long holiday at the moment. Here’s a tiny banana from breakfast.
After breakfast I got some milk tea which was a pretty standard milk tea. More commonly known as bubble tea in the U.S. Alberta and I walked to the museum, it’s about 4km and it was hot so we stopped for some smoothies at a street vendor and very nice to see her hand squeeze the juice right in front of us.
Anyway, we went to the War Remnants Museum and it was intense and filled with three floors of information. It’s about the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective, something that you really aren’t taught in U.S. schools. And it was a time where I contemplated my identity as an Asian American.
There’s a book I read called Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire and this excerpt below is just an introductory part of the book but the three driving forces is something that resonates with me.
“…our lives are all monumentally shaped by three major driving forces in U.S. society: racism and patriarchy most immediately, and ultimately, imperial aggression against Asia as well.”
And so going through this museum, I was emotionally moved by the tragedies that happened and that I was not at all taught about. It also made me remember that if I was not adopted, I could (and in specific historical instances, would) have be subjected to these same kinds of treatments by Americans. As I was going through this place, it reminded me that America itself still has a hard time accepting me as American. I’m reminded that I’m “foreign” when I get konichiwa’d on the street, called a chink, and called exotic, etc.
It also reminds me of a conversation going around with the Logan Paul issue. Reina Scully made a response video and she said, “he doesn’t see us on the same level as human being as him.” This is stuff that we would talk about in class but it’s essentially this dehumanization that allows people to justify such atrocious things and, in this instance, is so evident in the Vietnam War.
It was filled with pictures, many of which were horrific and that I won’t show but here’s some snippets.
“they decide on water torture…”
The United States’ action in Vietnam has the same aim as it’s Santo Domingo operation. In both cases, it is a military intervention to prevent the evolution of a people
I came from this with a deeper understanding of the history but it was also just a time to contemplate being Asian and American. Because it’s histories like these and some of the ways the U.S. still treats me that makes me identify more closely with my Asian counterparts abroad and at home.
After that, I had dinner with some of the hostel mates, it’s called family dinner and they bring in some local street takeaway food. It was some kind of beef and rice thing with boiled eggs. The beef and rice was fantastic, the egg was just a bit too eggy for me.
I was at a table with an Irish couple, a guy from New Zealand, a woman from Sweden, and another Laura from Finland. One thing I noted is that I’m usually lowkey on my phone converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, meters to feet, km to miles, etc.
The next day, I woke up early to go on a tour to the Chu Chi tunnels in the north. I went with these two other guys from the hostel, Carl from Ireland and Harry from England. Harry is studying abroad in Shanghai at the moment. Carl is a nurse in Ireland on holiday. Chu Chi tunnels were very touristy and oddly almost theme park-like. I enjoyed my conversations with Carl, Harry, and Mai (the guide) more than the actual sights. Carl and Harry have also both been to China so it was nice being able to talk about China with them.
We first stopped at this laquer place called Handicapped Handicrafts (a name that we noted wouldn’t fly in the West). It’s people affected by Agent Orange working on the laquer stones. They use mother pearl and eggshell inlay along with handpainted designs. It was really pretty spectacular designs and I got a small stone. It was pretty expensive though so that sets me back on my budget. Harry, Carl, and I basically said “when in Rome though.”
Then we got to the tunnels and, as I said, I thought it was more interesting talking to Harry, Carl, and Mai than the actual sights.
I thought it was kinda strange how everyone was climbing on the American tank and taking pictures. Everyone being mostly European tourists. Then again, this is also our history so it seems a bit more insensitive, as an American, to climb on our war tank in their land used to kill them and take a picture.
There was also a gun range where you could shoot an AK47, M16, etc. and again, I didn’t participate.
Harry, Carl, and I did run through the longest tunnel though and it was hot and exhausting. Throughout all of it, you are bent way down and in parts you have to go on all four. It’s really rough if you don’t go fast though. We got caught behind this group who were stuck and it’s the worst just crouching there, in the dark, waiting.
Harry had asked me midway through if it was a bit strange being an American here and I was like “it’s a bit more complicated than just being American”. Because throughout a lot of the 20th century (Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment, Vietnam War, etc.), I’d be viewed by the Americans just as the Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese all have historically been viewed. So hypothetically put me back during the time of the Vietnam War and I’d most likely be in Asia and not on the side of the Americans. And also that the idea of who is an American is pretty muddled for particularly for people of color. Harry and Carl agreed and nodded towards a similar situation with Brexit.
Of course these are just my thoughts and it’s not like I don’t feel American or like being American. I just think it’s pretty strange how being an American through adoption somehow justifies a differential treatment between me and Asians who immigrated here or Asians in Asia.
After the tunnels, Mai took us to try some weasel coffee. It’s similar to Luwok coffee from Bali. It’s coffee made from the poop of this weasel that eats the coffee beans and when it digests it, it doesn’t have any caffeine. They had some dried fruit there and some good candy. Coffee was pretty smooth and normally I don’t care for coffee, the candy was better but I like candy.
This Italian couple who was also along for the tour bought $75 worth. We figured they were in a retirement trip or something. The guy from the couple was spouting off some, uh, interesting stuff such as “Chinese can’t eat potatoes” (which I alone could disprove pretty easily) and talking about what a shame it is that England lost their empire just because of the public opinion that India was mistreated and no one wanted to go to war with Gandhi.
After we dropped the Italian couple off, we had a somewhat long ride back to the hostel. Mai wanted some videos for her YouTube channel and well…
Here’s Mai making us sing:
Harry going in the tunnel entrance:
Harry at the shooting range:
Carl and I got some lunch when we got back to the hostel at a chicken curry place around the corner (Harry had to catch a flight to Thailand). It was delicious! Had some potatoes, chicken, and I think maybe a blood cube or something. The blood cube didn’t taste like anything except the curry broth so it was almost like a soft tofu cube. This was just like a street vendor.
Then later we went to a hot pot and BBQ place. We honestly had no idea what we were doing, I had watched a YouTube video about how to eat hot pot long ago but that didn’t help here.
The hot pot was also pricy by backpacker standards. Vietnam is cheap but also pretty easy to blow your money if you aren’t buying strictly street foods. Also I’m not eating vegetarian as you can tell. Too much trouble and I actually do want to try the foods they have to offer in each place.
Not many people here speak English, but I’m also in district 10 which is not the tourist district (district 1). It’s pretty straightforward getting by though and they do appreciate it when I say “cảm ơn” which is thank you in Vietnamese. Traffic is chaotic but it’s manageable as all things are with a calm head and good wits about you.