I hopped a flight down to Saigon to spend my last three days in Vietnam before making it over to Taiwan. I had spent all of my previous ten days with Giang so it was a strange feeling being back on my own again. Good and bad. I knew that Taiwan was going to be the most expensive part of my trip so I tried to just relax and not spend any money. I bought a tank top, a pair of shorts, lots of fruit juice and threw on my headphones to walk around the city for all three days. Outside of the hostel there was a park and every time I walked through it a group of students came up to me to ask me questions and practice their English. Of course it was always followed by a photo op.
I made my way to the war remnants museum and, well, it’s so tempting to avoid this topic altogether . . . but I’m not going to do that.
I didn’t really know what to write so I’ve just copied and pasted what I wrote in my personal journal here.
WARNING – You are entering a political rant zone
What to say? The Vietnamese have never shown me, or any other American I’ve met traveling or living here, any type of animosity because of our history. The past is the past and they seem uninterested in reliving and talking about the war here in Vietnam. The museum was well done, small and to the point. It was clearly their version of events, using phrases like, “puppet government”, “puppet army”, “U.S. backed”, countless times and only referring to the northern soldiers as “heroes”, “warriors”, and “patriots”, but I have to say I learned a lot. The top floor was dedicated to the history leading up to the war, starting with French occupation of Indochina and the Vietnamese resistance. They had a whole floor dedicated to Agent Orange and all it’s effects on the local population. Just massive prints of babies born with no limbs, one baby looked like it had three different heads. It was raw, it was disgusting. A whole god damn floor of birth defects and their stories. it was like the Mütter Museum but sad instead of interesting. Another floor was taken up by photos of the war in general. it was amazing. most of these photographers were either American or nationalities other than Vietnamese so it was more a portrayal of the soldiers involved than a propaganda exhibit. And finally the bottom floor was sort of a “moving forward” floor. It showed the resistance to the war from all countries, including the protests in America. Next to that were sections dedicated to other socialist governments, lots of pictures with Vietnamese leaders meeting with Fidel Castro.
My father was a combat sergeant here during the war, serving in the same division that Forrest Gump served in during the film. Growing up I would sometimes summon the courage to ask him a few questions, but it wasn’t something people often discussed.
I don’t really know how I should feel. I’m not mad at America for it’s mistakes. Every country has made mistakes, and hindsight is 20/20. But I’m frustrated that I was never taught these mistakes. It was frustrating traveling through Central America and learning how the CIA injected unknowing locals and mental patients with syphilis and ghonorrea, which is common knowledge there, but I had never heard of it. Oh god, antibiotic resistant bacteria is on the rise. They’re saying ghonorrea will soon be an untreatable disease. Condoms everyone, condoms!!!!!! It was frustrating being in Chile and learning how the U.S. removed Allende, a democratically elected leader, from power, and put in Pinochet, but yet I never knew. It’s not the question of right or wrong that most concerns me, I should have been taught it. This isn’t me cherry picking fun South American political episodes, it’s a major cold war event that shaped an entire continent including creating concentration camps for dissenters. And it was frustrating learning about the back room American political scene that led us into Vietnam. It was all frustrating because I shouldn’t have to travel to every corner of the world to truly learn about the influence of my home country. It’s disappointing. Whatever, maybe it’s my fault for never having paid attention in social studies. But you know what? I remember seeing the almost complete annihilation of Native American tribes chiseled down to a neat paragraph called “Manifest Destiny” so I really don’t think that’s the case. “Manifest destiny” that phrase just makes me want to punch someone in the dick.
Is it really so difficult for us to look at our mistakes? What’s going to happen? Is it necessary for all of us to cream in our pants at the sound of Reagan’s name? CAn’t we applaud at how he brought a sense of pride and unity to the country, but also at the same time learn from his mistakes, like not acknowledging Aids until tens of thousands of Americans died, and then cutting funding? I don’t understand.
When I was living in Chile I got really close to Bjoern and i asked him how much they teach them in school about what the Nazis did.
“Everything. It’s beaten into us all the time. It’s almost too much”
Too much? I don’t know. Then Brandon came down to visit me. Brandon, who listed his religious views on facebook as “very jewish” and he met Bjoern, I told him what he said about it being too much. Brandon nodded his head a little and then said, “good”.
After the Museum I walked home and two westerners came up to me on the street looking very distressed. They asked in an eastern european accent if I knew where a police station was, saying that they got all of their stuff got stolen by motorbike drivers (very common in Saigon) and they had no way of getting home because they have no money. I said I was sorry, I didn’t, and then started to walk away when an immense amount of guilt started flowing through me. Ugh, I’ve had stuff stolen in a foreign country and it was terrible. But I have no money to spare. I called them back and asked them how much they needed, they said they could get a motorbike back to their apartment for 80 dong. Damn, ok. Where? A few blocks away. Ok I’ll get you home. As I was walking with them they started telling me their whole story and apologizing profusely for making me do this. I told them it was fine and I’ve been in their shoes before but they kept apologizing. Too much. I’m around bad acting all the time in New York so I started to get uneasy about this whole situation. They couldn’t find the motorbike people who promised to get them home for 80 so we looked for a cab. The cab cost 200 dong which is about $10, one-third of my daily budget. Shit. They kept apologizing. I got uneasy. Then I got convinced again. I told them I’d give them 200 dong. They said they would only be borrowing it, that they would meet with me the next day and give it back to me. Sure. They asked for my information to get in contact with me but I didn’t trust giving them my info so I asked for his name so I could find him on facebook. He wrote down his name and made me promise to message him that night to pay me back. More apologizing. I said of course I would send them a message that night. Then they left and I walked back to the hostel. I looked up the name and it didn’t exist. Scammed!