Saturday, September 17, 2005

Cambodia, here we come!

Faithful readers, I can't wait until I've got free Internet access again, because wow! do I have a lot to tell. I need to keep this brief because I'm paying 100 dong a minute.

After leaving the idyllic and laidback Jungle Beach where we spent our time in hammocks and rustic beach huts, Jeff and I found ourselves in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as it used to be called. Thank God we're leaving Vietnam tomorrow, because I don't think my nerves can take much more of urban Vietnam. Motobikes rule the roads in Vietnam, and traffic signals and signs are either non-existent, out of order, or ignored. However, drivers are required to use their horn when passing and for countless other reasons, so my ears are constantly filled with the beeps! honks! and toots! of horns. There's close to eight million people in HCMC, and I think nearly all of them drive a bike. Simply crossing the street requires you to step out into traffic and just start walking -- you just have to trust that traffic will flow around you, which somehow it does from all directions. For those of you that know how awful I am to drive with since the car accident last year, I'm hoping that after this I won't be such a panicky freak.

Jeff can't believe this, but the highlight of our trip for me came yesterday, when we toured the Cu Chi Tunnels that the Viet Cong dug, lived and fought in during the American War. We watched some war propoganda film, were shown some awful primitive, yet effective death traps that the VC created for the American soldiers, and then got to shoot guns. Yes, you heard me, we bought 10 bullets at 18000 dong apiece and tried our hand at shooting Vietnamese-issue assault rifles. Oh the pictures! Frankly, after my initial enthusiasm I was pretty scared to actually pull the trigger, although there was a shooting range guard standing right next to me. Surprisingly, I was a pretty poor shot (for some reason, I thought I'd be a natural), but Jeff came "this close" to hitting the target.

After target practice, we crawled through a 30-meter length of tunnel that was terrifyingly small and dark and left my heart pounding with claustrophobia and an overactive imagination. Our tour guide then rewarded us with fresh tapioca root with ground peanuts and tea, an everyday VC snack I'm guessing.

Despite, or perhaps because, of all the entertainment value at Cu Chi, it gave me the evidence of the war that I needed to more real, more tangible, for me. As someone born after the conflict, I really couldn't grasp what happened here, and to look at it today, you might think this was simply another developing nation. I also just finished reading a biography of Kim Phuc, the little Viet girl in that famous picture running naked after being hit with napalm. Experiencing present day Vietnam makes me wonder how many years and generations it will be before we know the truth and facts about what we're doing in Iraq and the true situation there.

But now it's time to make my pack hold for one more journey (the blasted thing is falling apart and I'm too cheap to buy a new one). We've heard mixed opinions on Cambodia and Siem Reap, so we're curious to go check it out for ourselves.