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Wednesday 22 February 2017

[2017]
[Tuesday 21 February 2017]

Saigon, Vietnam
Golden Central Hotel, 140 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Saigon

Janet got up ca.6.30am. I shaved and showered after Janet vacated the bathroom. Had a short session on the computer; e.g. did a search using the search-engine website that opened by default: “www.google.com.vn” (07:11).… We went up to the 17th floor to the “Golden View Panoramic Restaurant” for a disappointing breakfast. (I did take a look at the oriental foods on offer, but settled for “English”.) The corn flakes were sweetened, which I didn’t like, but I ate them. The mendaciously labelled “orange juice” was brightly coloured orange squash. Usually, when there is an “English” selection, one finds baked beans, but there were none. The bacon appeared to be dyed pinkish red, and was in small fragments and tough as boots. There were tiny ovoid things in skins labelled “sausages”. The coffee tasted strange, but it was strong and the most acceptable one of the breakfast items I consumed. We went back down to the room, where I transferred the three photos from yesterday from the camera to the WD Elements HDD (07:46). We went down to the lobby, ca.8am; we met P and Y, and Tien, then boarded the minibus for the journey of nearly 40 miles north-north-westwards to visit the tunnels of Củ Chi. At the ticket office-cum-souvenir shop at the entrance, there was a display advertising an hour-long show at Saigon Opera House starting at 6pm; and Janet and I decided that we’d like to go. The price was something like $30 each, and although we didn’t have the money on us to pay for it, with the help of Tien we were nevertheless able to reserve seats for this evening’s performance. Entrance to the Củ Chi tunnels site was through an underpass-style tunnel, though I didn’t see what it passed under.



Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 09:51:02
Tunnels of Củ Chi: entrance


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 09:51:02 (detail)
Tunnels of Củ Chi: entrance

We were taken first to a shallow rectangular pit with a ridged roof roughly thatched, which proved to be a small auditorium furnished with seats, where a young woman pointed out locations on a map of the area, showed a model of the tunnels in cross-section, and played a propaganda video on a TV screen overlooked by a portrait of Ming the Merciless — oops! Ho Chi Minh, I mean. In the video, examples were given of the revolutionary heroism of named Viet Cong soldiers, including teen-aged girls, in killing specified numbers of American imperialist invaders.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 09:53:50
Tunnels of Củ Chi: presentation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 09:56:26
Tunnels of Củ Chi: presentation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 09:57:54
Tunnels of Củ Chi: presentation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 09:59:32
Tunnels of Củ Chi: presentation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:05:38
Tunnels of Củ Chi: presentation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:07:32
Tunnels of Củ Chi: presentation

After that, we were led along a jungle path.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:18:30
Tunnels of Củ Chi

We stopped where a number of gruesomely ingenious booby-trap devices had been mocked up.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:20:18
Tunnels of Củ Chi: booby trap

We stopped again just in time to see a tourist emerge from a trap-door that moments before had been invisible.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:22:20
Tunnels of Củ Chi: concealed exit


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:22:22
Tunnels of Củ Chi: concealed exit


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:24:12
Tunnels of Củ Chi: ventilation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:27:40
Tunnels of Củ Chi: tunnel entrance


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:29:18
Tunnels of Củ Chi: tunnel entrance


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:31:40
Tunnels of Củ Chi: Viet Cong soldiers


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:31:58
Tunnels of Củ Chi: Viet Cong soldiers


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:32:06
Tunnels of Củ Chi: Viet Cong soldiers


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:36:34
Tunnels of Củ Chi: “American M41 tank was destroyed by a delay mine in 1970”


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:37:10
Tunnels of Củ Chi: “American M41 tank was destroyed by a delay mine in 1970”


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:45:46
Tunnels of Củ Chi: location of concealed tunnel…


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:46:02
Tunnels of Củ Chi: location of concealed tunnel indicated by a secret mark

From time to time we kept hearing the banging of repeated gunfire, which I assumed to be “atmospheric” sound-effects. But no, we came to a shooting range, where visitors could fire Vietnam War-era weapons. We declined to participate, though — although P remarked that his son would have loved to be there to do this, to fire an — M16, was it? I didn’t know that assault rifles could be so loud! The cafeteria adjacent to the shooting range was not ideally placed, I thought!


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:49:08
Tunnels of Củ Chi: assault-rifle shooting range


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 10:49:56
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:01:28
Tunnels of Củ Chi: tunnel entrance


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:01:40
Tunnels of Củ Chi: tunnel entrance


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:02:12
Tunnels of Củ Chi: tunnel entrance

Nor did we line up to go through any of the available tunnels deemed safe enough for tourists, though I did bow to pressure to be photographed coming out of one.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:11:12
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:11:24
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:11:30
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:11:36
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:14:44
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:14:52
Tunnels of Củ Chi

We passed a kitchen-cum-refectory, again in the form of a pitched-roofed rectangular pit, the flue of which was located several yards away.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:17:38
Tunnels of Củ Chi: kitchen/refectory


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:18:26
Tunnels of Củ Chi: kitchen/refectory


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:18:58
Tunnels of Củ Chi: kitchen flue

On a table in a nearby structure was a bowl containing cassava (more familiar to me in the form of tapioca) and ground, salted peanuts, into which pieces of cassava could be dipped. This formed the diet of Viet Cong soldiers, who were not afforded the time nor the environment (a war-zone) to cultivate rice.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:21:10
Tunnels of Củ Chi: Viet Cong diet: cassava and ground peanuts

Another pitched-roofed rectangular pit was a hospital bunker.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:25:08
Tunnels of Củ Chi: “The Health Bunker”


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:25:26
Tunnels of Củ Chi: “The Health Bunker”


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:26:28
Tunnels of Củ Chi: “The Health Bunker”


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:30:42
Tunnels of Củ Chi


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:32:38
Tunnels of Củ Chi: “Visitors’ Book”

Not long after we re-boarded the minibus, we stopped briefly at a rubber plantation and got out to look at one of the trees that had been tapped for latex. We’d seen similar scars of tapping for chicle on trees in Mexico 13 months ago (23 January 2016).


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:53:18
Rubber plantation


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:54:10
Rubber plantation: tree, tapped for latex


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:54:24
Rubber plantation: tree, tapped for latex


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 11:54:32
Rubber plantation: tree, tapped for latex

Back in Saigon, we went, ca.1.30pm (according to Janet’s journal), to a restaurant for lunch.… We re-boarded the minibus, and were taken to the Independence Palace, the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, built 1962–1966 on the site of the former Norodom Palace, after it was destroyed by bombs dropped in an assassination attempt. We filed past large rooms such as the ministers’ cabinet room (14:34:32), the banquet chamber (14:36:08), the National Security Council chamber (14:42:14), the presidential office (14:44:30), and various reception rooms, before going up to the top floor and seeing the private apartments; then we went down to the basement bunker, with its command centre, communications rooms, etc., before finally visiting the kitchen which had been used for state banquets and other grand occasions.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:21:36
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:21:36 (detail)
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:23:20
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:25:42
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:26:12
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:27:18
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:27:58
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:29:40
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:30:24
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:30:24 (detail)
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:32:00
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:32:18
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:34:10
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:34:32
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:36:08
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:36:24
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:36:34
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:36:42
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:38:16
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:38:48
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:42:14
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:42:54
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:44:30
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:44:54
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:45:32
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:46:50
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:48:34
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:48:42
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:49:02
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:49:16
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:49:22
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:49:54
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:50:12
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:50:38
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:52:30
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:53:10
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:54:06
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:55:46
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:56:24
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:56:58
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:57:18
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:57:40
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:57:50
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 14:58:26
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:00:16
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:04:52
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:05:26
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:06:36
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:07:20
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:07:56
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:08:04
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:08:14
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:08:32
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:09:06
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:09:22
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:09:32
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:09:58
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:10:26
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:12:18
Independence Palace


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:12:40
Independence Palace

We re-boarded the minibus, and because we all needed a post office we were taken the two or three blocks to the grand 19th-century Saigon Central Post Office and dropped off there. “Wonderful!” Janet commented. “We’d never seen a post office quite like that before.” I bought two stamps, for postcards to Chris and to my Mum, which I hadn’t bought yet.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:20:30
Post Office


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:22:48
Post Office

Then we crossed the road and visited the, again 19th-century (earlier, though, than the Post Office), Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon (or “Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception”). “Very plain inside, surprisingly,” Janet commented, “although there were some beautiful stained-glass windows.” Janet covered her head, as she always does when visiting churches and mosques, but the attendant asked her to remove it. I explained to her that the covering had been intended to show respect, as was the practice in the West.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:28:36
Notre Dame Cathedral


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:31:24
Notre Dame Cathedral


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:35:12
Notre Dame Cathedral


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:36:36
Notre Dame Cathedral


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:37:04
Notre Dame Cathedral

After that we were taken half a dozen city blocks — a little over half a mile — to the “War Remnants Museum”. It used to be called the “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression”, but the name was changed in 1995 following the normalisation of diplomatic relations with the United States.[i] Janet wrote: “I didn’t like that. It upset me.” Mostly she waited for me as I looked in the rooms of exhibits on three floors, the most striking of which were horrific photos of people affected by, or born to those affected by, defoliant sprays such as Agent Orange. I didn’t photograph any of these, so the photos below don’t reflect the sour impression the place gave. Like the presentation at Củ Chi this morning, it was very propagandistic.
[i] I think that Tien told us it was changed for the visit of President Bill Clinton, but that first visit by a US president since the end of the Vietnam War was in November 2000.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:45:08
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:46:08
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:47:08
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:54:10
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:54:36
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:57:56
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 15:58:16
War Remnants Museum

After leaving the main building, Janet waited for me while I looked round the exhibits in the yard of captured or left-behind US military hardware. These included a Chinook helicopter, which was smaller than I expected. Afterwards, I jokingly said to Tien that I was disappointed they didn’t have a B-52 bomber!


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:16:00
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:17:34
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:18:26
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:19:38
War Remnants Museum

Janet also waited while I went next door to see the “tiger cages” in which the South Vietnamese kept political prisoners. There was also a guillotine exhibited there that had been used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:21:10
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:21:18
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:22:14
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:23:54
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:24:10
War Remnants Museum


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 16:25:02
War Remnants Museum

Just beyond the walled “tiger cages” enclosure, I noticed, there were some souvenir shops, so Janet and I went there and we bought the two postcards that I needed (as I mentioned earlier in the context of buying stamps). They were both the same, with a long-exposure night-time aerial photo of Notre Dame Cathedral. We were deposited back at the hotel by 5.00pm. Rather than use the minibus, we’d decided to walk to Saigon Opera House for the show, and had arranged for Tien to accompany us there, both because he knew exactly where it was, and also to help us to get the tickets from the booking office. Because of the heat of the day, we needed to shower and change clothes, but we only had about half an hour in which to do it. My quick shower was compromised when the dressing on the right elbow breached and I had to replace it. The walk was a little over half a mile, most of it in a straight line north-east, with a right turn for the last 300 yards or so; but there were perhaps five streets to cross on the way, so we were glad Tien was with us. “The traffic was horrendous,” Janet wrote, “and we wouldn’t have wanted to do that alone.” The main thing about the walk that struck me, though, was not the traffic, it was the low tubular-steel barriers that had been constructed across the sidewalks to stop cyclists going along them. Evidently, then, no Ho Chi Minh City-dwellers are wheelchair-users! Like Saigon Central Post Office, the Opera House is an example of “French Colonial” architecture. Getting the tickets wasn’t entirely straightforward, but we eventually did get them, and Tien left us. (This seemed to take longer than it actually did take, for the photo of Saigon Opera House from across the wide street and the photo of the stage were taken within 12 minutes of each other.)


Ticket, front




Tickets, rear


Theatre Pass, front




Theatre passes, rear
Why we needed two sets of documents, tickets and theatre passes, escapes me!

Our seats were up on the second floor. Photography wasn’t allowed during the show, which was titled “Teh Dar”. The stage was circular, and much of the action involved acrobatic and balletic activity on and around long bamboo poles in various configurations. It was obvious that a folklorish or mythical tribal story was being told, but the precise meaning escaped us; e.g. what was the significance of wearing masks on the backs of their heads? Afterwards, Janet wrote: “The show was awesome. One of the best things we’ve ever seen. Wonderful.… We were so glad we’d decided to see the show.”

video
Teh Dar promotional video. Below, the uncaptioned images are screen-captures from it.


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 17:47:14
Saigon Opera House


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 17:47:14 (detail)
Saigon Opera House


Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 17:59:04
Saigon Opera House: our view of the stage




























































































Wednesday 22 February 2017 — 19:11:48
Saigon Opera House: the Teh Dar company

Tien met us outside, ca.7.15pm, and we joined P and Y in the minibus to be taken to a downtown restaurant. We enjoyed this, as always; but… we liked [the lunch-time] venue more than this one. We were back at the hotel a little before 9pm. “It doesn’t cool off much in the evening,” Janet wrote, “and the traffic never seems to stop.” P had told me that he’d managed to print their boarding passes; he’d used the computer in the hotel lobby. So back in our room, I looked up Vietnam Airlines (21:00); but it proved again to be troublesome. First of all it complained that my installation of Adobe Flash Player was out of date, so I downloaded and installed that (21:04–21:12). Then I started again (21:13). I got as far as “Online Check-In” (21:14), “Welcome to Web Check In” (21:15) — so far, so good — but not far along the process, I got the “error” screen once more. So I went down to the lobby and managed, on the computer there for guests’ use, to do the task quite straightforwardly and print boarding passes.[ii] I transferred 131 photos from today from the camera to the WD Elements HDD (21:25–21:29), and using Windows Photo Viewer rotated six that needed it (21:32–21:37). As I was getting ready for bed I noticed that the dressing on the left elbow was about to breach, so I replaced it. Janet and I were in bed just after 10pm.

[ii] Ten minutes (“21:15” to “21:25”) doesn’t seem long enough to get the left down to the lobby, log on to the Vietnam Airlines website, go through the necessary pages, then pick up my prints from the printer at reception and return upstairs to my computer. I’m conflating two or three different sources here, a couple of months after the event.

[Thursday 23 February 2017]



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