Friday, August 12, 2011

The month away (part 7)

Here is the final part of my Vietnam travel pictures, I hope you are enjoying them so far.

Goodbye Vietnam!

You must be quite sick of me whingeing about the high costs (with close to everything charged in US dollars) of Ho Chi Minh City but this is the last you’ll hear from me regarding this. A funny thing though—I saw a Standard & Chartered ad in the local newspapers offering an online account with a 12% p.a. interest rate! That kind of intrigued me for a while (even after reading the fine print). Should I or shouldn’t I?

Typical street scenes of the chaotic city. The only way to navigate the mayhem without worrying that you might lose your life is to get to your destination (regardless of how near it is away from your origin) in a cab. In a four-wheeled enclosed vehicle, we seriously felt like we were in an impenetrable fortress and every single one of those pesky motorbikes and scooters had to give way to the king (and they did). Just make sure you get into the right cab.

People carried all sorts of cargo on these 2-wheelers, including 2 wheels! I found a photo book capturing the amazing things people transport on the back of scooters in Vietnam and I must say it was an eye-opener.

In a city where there is one scooter for every two inhabitants, you can imagine the demand there must be for helmets (I am surprised at the level of adherence to traffic rules in this regard). With high demand comes great supply and an advanced evolution of fashionable designs. Shops selling nothing but helmets were a commonplace and the top picture shows helmets sold in a place as unlikely as a supermarket.

In the top picture, you can see some unique Vietnamese infrastructure. From the left to right, there is accommodation for larger motor vehicles, smaller motorbikes and scooters and then for pedestrians. It was not uncommon to see users of the middle lane switch over to the either sides as if they were the sole users of the roads and pavements. In the bottom picture you will find one of the VERY rare sights of Ho Chi Minh City—a traffic light!

This shot was taken atop the highest floor of the Reunification Palace. The long road that stretched to the horizon was the infamous route the tanks took as they tore down the gate and charged into the premise (the then presidential palace) heralding the end of the Vietnam War.

You would think that as an armoured infantry section commander in the army who sometimes drove these things, I would be so sick of tanks right? Yes I am but I also like photo ops (especially illegal ones where you were not allowed to climb onto display vehicles. Hehe). It has been such a LONG time since I had to go back to the army now that I live overseas so I think my abhorrence of these armoured monstrosities has dropped somewhat. Being at the War Remnants Museum where I got a taste of military technology and strategies circa 1960 - 1970, I finally got the proof I have lacked for many years that the Singapore army is still using (and very proud of) the same technology ie. one that is way past its prime. Singapore does try to develop its own armoured vehicles though so I should at least give them some credit.

Compare the second item and the last item in this beverage menu.

When you travel in a tour group, you will have to accept the fact that you will be brought to tourist traps against your will. However I did not regret visiting this one where victims of the Vietnam War (including those in the generation after the War due to the mutagenic effects of Agent Orange—see the bottom left picture) worked in an assembly line of sorts (crushing, fitting, cutting, washing, polishing, etc) creating works of art from crushed shells of eggs and shellfish (of seriously-minute sizes). The very detailed and meticulous effort put into the intricate pieces amidst the harsh working conditions really impressed me.

Me at the Mekong Delta having one of the many boat rides (ranging from rowing- to motor-types). As for the traditional hats that scream Vietnamese, I finally understood their significance—you got to have them in this heat!

The torture techniques used during the Vietnam War—gruesome and graphic. The War Remnants Museum was originally named Museum of American War Crimes but was changed so as not to hurt American tourists’ sensibilities. Well for what they have done, I think we are kind of comparing apples with elephants. WARNING: the next picture might be a little too much for some.

Together with the captions, you will very quickly get past the self-righteous, sugar-coated warm-and-fuzzy messages warmongers inevitably spew trying to rationalise what they are doing and be overcome with the actual severity of war, the collateral damage then, now and in the future. There can never be a justification for this. Never, period. It was a solemn time in the war crime exhibit in the War Remnants Museum—everyone was engrossed with what they were looking at which first filled them with repugnance and then sadness. This was the first time ever that I have read every single caption of every single item being displayed in a museum.

The biggest atrocity of the Vietnam War was the use of the defoliant called Agent Orange in order to destroy the canopies and vegetation hiding the Viet Cong guerrillas. No one knew exactly at that time how far down the human life cycle the adverse effects would linger but they deployed the chemical anyhow. If Americans could unleash such hell with 1960-technology, do you seriously think that they have not already created monster agents of chemical- and biological-warfare with the technology of this century? It sends a shudder down my spine to think that a repeat of this episode is allowed today and can indeed happen again.

During the boat ride at the Mekong Delta shown in the clip below, I was given the oar by the boatman I guess to allow me to fully-immerse myself in the tourist attraction. I did feel that the other reason could be to spare him some of the paddling effort (it was a very tough job—I did row for a while only to give up about a minute into it).

The video below sums up my trip—“pandemonium at its best”. I couldn’t understand how without any traffic lights could the vehicles from four directions co-ordinate their timings. That being said, there were many junctions where four directions go off all at the same time! Also on the bottom right you could see something reminiscent of a zebra crossing—they might as well save the money painting and maintaining them because they were practically treated as invisible by motorists (in this regard they will actually do more harm than good if pedestrians (especially tourists) think that they are supposed to work)!

Well, there you have it—Ho Chi Minh City in a series of pictures. To be honest, this city is not one I will visit for a long time or maybe ever again. But like all things in life, we need to try them at least once before making a judgement. My friends told me Hanoi is much better but I don’t think I will take that chance anytime soon.

This is not the end of my vacation-blogging, stay tuned for a little bit more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your journey was Amazing !