Welcome to Weirdville

Monday, March 31st, 2008, 10:04 pm

Posting remains difficult so I must be brief. Our first day in Saigon we did indeed drive out to the Cu Chi tunnel complex outside the city. During the wars against the French and the US the people in that area of the country built a tunnel system to shelter them against enemy soldiers and bombers. Over the years the system grew to over 250 kilometers of tunnels, and the people there survived by hiding in them for over 20 years. Now, think about that–it ain’t gonna be easy to defeat people who are willing to live, for decades, underneath the ground they’re fighting for.

Before the tour we were shown a movie made by the Vietnamese back in 1967. The propaganda was about as subtle as an anvil dropped on your head–a heroic female sniper was shown sneaking up on American tank with a rifle-mounted grenade. She shoots…and the tank blows up. Uh, probably not. But there were shots of dead American soldiers lying on the ground after being hit by booby traps, and as our group includes a number of Vietnam veterans it was more than a little uncomfortable. And more than a little surreal.

Our guide (a very personable and likeable young guy) then led us along a path that had different exhibits showing what the Cu Chi fighters did to hide from enemy solders. There was a spider hole dug in the ground and a man dressed in green fatigues jumped in a hole about as wide as a phone book and pulled a wooden plank over his head, completely hiding him from view. We saw bunkers with thatched roofs and deep foxholes. There was one tunnel that was expanded so tourists (who are usually of, ah, larger build) could get an idea of what it was like living in those ghastly conditions. I figured I’d take a shot, but before I got down the ladder some members of our group were coming back up, unable to deal with the tight conditions. A few made it through, and they said there was probably no way my fat ass could’ve managed it. "It was TIGHT down there," Tom said.

The strangest part of the tour came when our guide showed us examples of booby traps that were set for enemy troops. There were several rectangular holes dug in the ground and covered with wooden planks. Our guide tapped each one with a pole and the plank would fall through revealing some manner of medieval maiming device. Some had wooden spools festooned with spikes, so a soldier falling in would be pierced and torn in several places. Another had a vertical spike that would impale your foot while other spikes dug into your calf, which would make extracting the impaling spike extremely difficult. One particularly nasty device had a hinged rod that would swing down from a tree when triggered. The top part of the rod would stab you in the face and chest–the lower, hinged section would swing free and then snap UP, right into the most tender of parts.

Painted on the wall behind these exhibits was a mural showing the traps at work, and many of the figures painted were of U.S. soldiers, their faces contorted with fear and agony as they suffered. I thought about taking a picture of it, but I thought doing so bordered on the pornographic. I didn’t even like looking at it.

Making the whole experience a complete visit to the Twilight Zone was how friendly our guide was, and the large group of Asian tourists right behind us taking the same tour. I think (though I’m not sure) that some of them were Vietnamese, and the whole them they were all talking loudly and laughing even louder. Here I am looking at gizmos out of the Marquis de Sade’s wet dreams–gizmos that were directed against people from my own country, from my own tour group even–and there’s a gang of guys yukking it up like we’re in an amusement park. Crazy.

Losing power, more if I get charged.

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One Response to “Welcome to Weirdville”

  1. Janetta Says:

    MY friends and family continue to enjoy your postings. Ed is sending pictures so your blog makes the narrative complete. Thanks for your insight!

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