Ho Chi Minh City Day 2 – The horrors of war

Today started slightly later than I was anticipating based on a decent nights sleep after the previous evenings wandering around.  I arose about 8:30am and sat down to have my morning water and a cigarette whilst planning what I was going to do today.

Internet access here is proving to be somewhat problematic, there is the hotel wifi connection as well as one other open netowrk but I have thus far only managed to get online breifly as the connection does not seem to work, with this realization I decided to just wing it for the day, I had a beautifully hot shower and set out for the most important start to the day coffee!

A couple of doors down from the hotel as I discovered the night before is a local coffee chain called flash, so I stopped in there and had a very nice coffee to start off the morning at a reasonable 25,000VND I sat and ejoyed that for awhile before setting off to find the second most important start to the day, breakfast.

I had already decided that I was going to visit the War Remanants meuseum today (previously known as the American War Crimes and Atrocities Museum) so I decided to head off in that general direction to forage for some food.  When I am exlporing a new place I tend to operate in a grid like pattern which seems to work well here for the most part as the streets are relatively grid like (with the exeception of multiple streets off the one corner in many instances) and it allowed me to get a general feel for the lay of the land.

The first thing that struck me for the first part of the exploration was the fact that I was the only white person around, I thought this was slightly odd as I know that a fair amount of tourists did come here, so perhaps I was just in the wrong area for where tourists usually walk which later proved to be true,  The area that I was in however seemed to have no shortage of cyclo drivers all wanting my business, with everyone of them seeming to have a book of recommendations / stories from people around the world.  It was quite difficult to communicate that I just wanted to walk around.

All the cyclo drivers throughout my time here thus far have all proven to be exactly the same with the exception of the two in the short distance I was about to run into.  After the initial speel he then came out with I take you to nice lady which given that I had not experienced that kind of offer here yet slightly surprised me.  I politely declined his offer and started away when the offer of heroin then came, my first thought was shit you aren’t even starting off at weed?! Needless to say I just kept walking as I have never had an interest in that scene.

The second and final offer for those kind of services came only a few extra steps up the street from a moto driver sitting next to his bike on the corner, it was straight to the nice young girl? When I said no he responded with she suck your dick!  Perhaps that is a big deal or something here but most relationships do tend to involve that experience at some point so why would I want to pay for it?

Just ahead I decided on my breakfast, a small place somewhere between local and western standads and prices which I think was called the Zhou cafe.  130,000VND for a breakfast of a large (and I do mean quite big) iced mocha and a bacon and vegetable bagutte which was to die for.  I don’t know if it is based off how they feed / prepare their pigs or how they slaughter them but the bacon here tastes amazing!  it is so full of flavour and delicious to eat I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now considerably cooler by virtue of the fans and my belly full I set out down the next street.  It was here that I started to see considerably more caucasian people so it seemed that I was either too early or that they seem to congregate only around a few streets.  I found a little circle k so I stopped to replenish my liquid supplies having alreay been through my first 1L and picked up another 500Ml bottle of Revive isotonic and 500Ml bottle of regular run of the mill water for a nice 14,000VND (about 60 – 70c) as I was heading out the door and saying no to a motobokie driver there was a couple just heading in.

The husband then turns to me and states that I sounded Aussie to which I responded that would probably be because I am mate with a grin.  We ended up stopping and chatting for a good 20 minutes with a constant flow of people trying to sell us hats and sunglasses to which neither of us were interested in.  They were from Arhnemland (sp?) and were over for some dental work.  He had 9 crowns manufactured and fitted, one filling repaired and general cleaning done for only $2.5k a damn sight different to the about $15k it would cost at home.  Apparently the facilities are all modern and clean and pretty much on par with western standards so that was relatively impressive.

At this point both of us could only just laugh, a guy came over with shoe polish and really couldn’t understand why neither of us wanted to have our shoes polished, I was wearing the sneakers which have seen a fair portion of the world and the guy I was chatting with was just wearing thongs, not exactly footwear designed for polishing!

They gave me a card and directions to a driver / tourguide that they had used here and thoroughly recomend as having good english and a pleasure to spend the day with which was definately useful, I doubt that I will use it this trip however I do definately plan on coming back to see more of the place and that will come in handy.  And with that we parted ways and I continued my exploraitions.

At this point I decided to check if the camera had acclimatized to the humidity or if it was just going to fog over like it did the night before but all was good and it was time to let the picture taking commence.  Given that it is the beginning of day 4 that I am writing this synopsis for day 2, I shudder to think of how much post processing I will have to do, I have a lot of raw files!!

I decided to swing more towards the general direction of where the museum was going to be and kept wandering, after about half an hour I came across a little park on the corner of a road and I was thinking it was nice to finally see some public seating and was thinking of taking a seat and watching the traffic go by on all sides, needless to say I didn’t.  As I entered the park and looked to my right there was a woman with pants around her ankles squatting taking a piss, needless to say I kept on walking.

One point I will make here is that I wasn’t actually disgusted by what I saw, definately a tad surprised however it is a natural body function and as I have discovered here you can go massive stretches without access to a shop with a toilet and even more of a stretch before you come across a public toilet so I guess that it is a neccassary occurance. And this was not to be the first time I would see it, but thus far the only woman (from what I hear that is considerably more uncommon it is usually males which is slightly more understandable as it is considerably easier for us)

I encountered a giant computer store and decided to wander over and take a look, there were a lot of laptops which was to be expected really and most of which were at quite reasonable up to comparable with home, however one thing that struck me a lot was I only saw high end machines with windowns.  The rest were a split between DOS (if you can beleive it in this day and age) and ubuntu which I thought was pretty cool.

I then encountered a large shopping mall I think it was called the Royal Towers which seemed quite nice (if you were into that kind of thing) hoever they had a coffee bean and tea leaf store there so I decided to stop in for lunch which proved to be a very good idea.  A couple of minutes after stepping foot in there torrential rain started outside so it was a case of excellent timing on my part.  I ordred my staple iced mocha and settled on a chef’s special spiced tuna bagutte which costed I think 160,000VND all up, slightly on the expensive side but still reasonable.

They had free wifi there so I decided to catch up on facebook and post a few pictures.  I also decided to take advantage of it and give skype a go and see if mum was online which she was.  A slight echo with the connection but overall the connection quality was not bad and we could hear each other realtively clearly for the most part which was good.  Had a decent chat before finsihing off my lunch and waiting for the rain to clear which must have been a good hour to an hour and a half. And then set off again.

One thign that did strike me was the children here, when I was walking along I would always get them saying hello to me, often running up excitedly and waving if they were on their own and saying hello, it gave me a big grin and must have been a decent highlight for their day.

It was just after 4 by the time that I finally found the museum I set out for, I paid my 15,000VND admission fee and set out for a look around.  The displays of military ordinance in the open area out the front was quite impressive and I believe that I got some decent shots of the planes and tanks but this was not the most striking and impacting part it was all the displays.

They had a replica of a prison in there and the conditions and pictures to go with it were certainly deplorable.  Whilst I am not naive and I realised that all the displays were biased towards favoring the plight of the north vietnamese fighters and that they were guilty of at least as much of the horrors that were shown it unfortunately does not detract from the fact that they were still true.

There was a hall of mostly propoganda towards the north vietnamese in their fight however it did portray the massive outcry from all over the world in regards to that war, there were numourous posts thanking those around the world for their support in the struggule and numerous historical records of demonstrations and the like.

I didn’t go into the agent orange section as I know I never would have been able to get those images out of my head, however two of the most moving things I saw was a complete set of service medals from a US Armyman and accompaning letter saying I was wrong and I am sorry.  The other was from the establishment of friendly relations with US – Vietnam in the Clinton administration and their desire / commitment to move forward from the horrors of the past to work together for a better world in the future.

It is amazing what the fear of communisim did to the world.  Outside the museum I broke one of my usual standing guidelines when travelling, I don’t travel to shop I travel to experience, I really wasn’t interested in buying a hat or a fan at this point but she was practically begging me to buy at least something as she hadn’t sold anything during the day.  I realise that it is potentially an effective ploy for sympathy but based on her compliment not appearing diminished I believed it and $5 was not really a great deal of money to me so I ended up buying a hat to a profuse array of thank you’s.

With my time there coming to a close I decided to head back towards the hotel for a shower and to cool off before dinner.  On the way back I passed a local coffee chain, I was having a smoke at the time so I was planning on just walking past however a guy upon noticing my glance came out with a menu and took my order so I ended up stopping there to watch the traffic and have yet another coffee.

I must admit I do quite like the cofeee here.

I took a lot of photos on the walk back to the hotel and look forward to seeing how they all turn out.  I have never once felt threatend or unsafe at any point during my time here which does make it easier to relax, most people seem to look at me with curiosity.  I do seem to spark many conversations on a few points about me, however they are not in the order that I was expecting.  The most common commented on feature is my beard, followed by my height and lastly how much extra weight I carry, I must admit I did expect it to be the reverse order.

On the way down I noticed someone fiddling with a camera and it happened to be the first Canon shooter that I had encountered so I struck up conversation.  He was an older German bloke that lives in Vietnam for work and he only had a day and a half in Ho Chi Minh City but like myself loved taking photographs.  He had shot with an Olympus OM2 for a very long time and was not a big fan of the canon that he was now shooting with.

The Olympus apparently had a feature that was split screened images in the viewfinder that each had a line and when the lines met your image would then be in focus.  He was shooting with an older 450D however even my 7D does not have a feature like that which actually sounds like it would be useful.  The reunification palace apparently closes at 4pm so we were past that point already so had to settle for some shots from out the front of the building and the tanks through the bars, I think they turned out ok but won’t really get an accurate judge until I am back home.

The next building however looked considerably more colonial and we could go past the gates to get some shots, it was a very interesting shade of yellow and a beautiful building overall, it looked like the kind of building a leader could stand up on the balcony and deliver addresses from.  We made conversation on the way back down towards the market which was subsequently near where I  was staying regarding photography and what vietnam was like overall.  Apparently Ho Chi Minh is very different to Hanoi where he had just come from and if I thought there were a lot of little cafe’s and crazy traffic here apparently it is nothing compared to Hanoi.

We parted ways at the Ben Tranh market which was certainly an interesting sight.  It was here I encountered my best local english speaker, a girl maybe 8 – 9 years old trying to sell me a fan, aside from slight conversation as to where I was from and why I was not interested in purchasing a fan from her she then moved on to other punters.

There is a beautiful mix of old and new here that overall seems to mesh well and I was heading towards the tail end of my day feeling happy at what I had seen and done throughout the course of the day, I think I walked between 20 – 30km overall.

By the time I got back to my hotel I was well and truely beat, I figured shower and short nap before dinner however ended up waking up at 4:30am well and truely killing that evening and subsequent dinner.

Thoughts / Observations for the day:
– My beard seems to be a topic of hot comments / curiosity
– English really does not have much penetration here, 95% of the people I have encountered you are lucky if they understand two words
– People piss in the streets
– The vietnamese even in the city seem to be a gentle and friendly people

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