Monday, 27 July 2009

Saigon: Worth Many Thousand Words

On arrival in Vienam it became apparent that we were really going to be up against it it terms of time. Having entered from the very deep south and leaving (in four days) from the north there has been a lot of ground to cover, and a huge amount to see on that ground. As we have been on a bus every two or three days the blogging has been falling to pieces, so I figure that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then uploading a buch of pictures should adequately cover my shortcomings in the writing department. That, coupled with the fact that we stumbled upon Bia Hoi Hanoi last night and a glass of fresh draught beer cost about 6000 Dhong -or 20 pence. The locals love to shout "100 percent" as a toast. This translates as "Finish you glass now." Juvenile? Maybe. Fun? Hell Yeah! Writing would be an insurmountable task today so have some pictures instead.

First up is a sculpture from the Museum of American War Crimes in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is mostly referred
to. Saigon was fantastic. The city was constantly alive and had all the sophistication of a modern, first world city combined with all
the bizarre things that you see in Asia. It had highways and alleyways, fine dining and stalls on the road serving dog and weasel coffee. But back to the museum, it is chilling. I cannot say that it is entirely un-prejudiced, but it does showcase the brutality of the Americans in Vietnam. There are photos of grinning goons holding up decapidated heads and horrific pictures and preserved foetuses of Agent Orange victims. It is sombre to say the least. It also offers a timeline of the Vietnam War and a remarkable photography exhibition dedicated to the photojournalists that were killed in the Indochinese Conflict and Vientam War. I got to see photos by some of my heroes including Robert Capa, Nick Ut, Larry Burrows and too many others to mention. Pictures that I have only seen in books until now were hanging from the walls in abundance. They had to kick me out at closing time, and I vowed to return the next day but time was against us and we ended up in the Cu Chi underground tunnels, the underground networks of tunnels that the Vietnamese used to defeat the Americans. There is more here:
I found them horribly claustrophobic and they had me gagging for fresh air, but then again if the other options was Napalm exploding overhead then I think I could have been persuaded to stay down there a little longer.

Ok, this is really two pictures but I make the rules here and I am counting it as one. Not the best diptych in the world but down and dirty and quick, which is what we need at the moment. Saigon, as mentioned, has all the contradictions you can think of. Traffic is just one of these, and if the joke was to be re-written it would go something like "How did the chicken cross the road." And then, just five minutes away from all the congestion and chaos you have alleyways with markets, locals scurrying through narrow walkways carrying coffee pots and the occassional motorbike barging its way through, hooting and erratically accelerating.

Quite by chance we ended up at the Hindu temple in Saigon. We were on our way to a museum when our cyclo rider asked Nipun if she was from India. She affirmed this and he pointed across the road at a colourful building which is Saigon's which he explained was the only temple for Hindu's in Saigon. We ventured inside and soon got talking to the priest, a Vietnamese of Indian descent. He was such an aimiable man, gregarious and yet also sage and full of warnings about Saigon for us. Among these was do not buy anything until you have been given a definite price, and not let anyone put something into your hand or over your shoulder, because if you do, you will have to pay for it. We spent a good half hour with him nattering away before he bestowed a small gift of fruit (prashad) on us and we were on our way again. The temple was beautiful and his friendliness completed the experience. What was most interesting is that a lot of Budhists were present in the Hindu temple and praying to Hindu deities, which I thought was kinda cool. They embraced a different religion and looked for similarities instead of differences. And in turn they were welcomed inand let to go about their prayers without any chiding or proselytsing. I found that acceptance and common respect of each other a breath of fresh air. If only there was more of that.

We paid a visit to the Ho Chi Minh city museum during our time in this great city. The museum traces the history of Saigon right back to when it was a primitive port town that produced pottery and eartherware and traces the places development over town. The museum was not the best that we have seen, it seemed a bit random in places. However the building that houses the museum is stunning and worth the visit for this alone. What we did not know though is that several newly weds use the place as a location for their wedding
pictures. There were about twenty couples in outfits that ranged from traditional brightly coloured clothes (she in red and he in blue) to white suits and dresses. Restless photogrpahers patrolled the museum waiting for their turn to use a desirable location. I skulked in the back ground and bounced a flash off the ceiling whilst no one was paying attention!

The Saigon Central Post Office is just across the road from the city's very own Notre Dame Cathedral. This was a bit of a find for us really, we saw it from across the road and had no idea how beautiful it was. The curved roof with its skylights are magnificent and fill the post office with soft, beautiful light that wraps around every surface. Without a tripod I was reduced to having to use a narrow table top for a support, so this picture could be sharper, but hey, it gets the message across!!! More to follow soon, we are about to be thrown out of our hotel room so gotta run!

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