Days 84 and 85: Will I Miss Saigon? The War Remnants Museum

Sorry, that’s an appalling joke. You can blame my friend Andy who asked me how I will feel when I leave.

I’ve had a few lazy days in Ho Chi Minh City since I arrived. Vietnam has been an incredible experience.

I have met some lovely people everywhere I have been and on arrival in this city that has continued.

I’ve been invited out for curry on the first night and to a Japanese bar the second night. I’ve had breakfast at a roadside cafe, chatting about life for expats in Vietnam and been cooked brunch in a lady’s house while telling her daughter about Manchester.

I’ve even learned to play poker – not that I am any good at it, so there will be no high stakes games for me!!

I’ve also explored the city.

It is far more modern in appearance than the others I have visited – glass skyscrapers abound, though not to the same extent as in China.

The moped levels are through the roof.

One of the streets has been designated as a walking area which is essential… and really should be in place across the city. The smog levels are very high.

A friend pointed out that our hotels were 5km from the airport but neither of us had seen any aeroplanes in the time that we had been in the city.

In other Vietnamese cities, the mopeds whizz around the streets, often the wrong way so crossing the roads require nerves of steel.

The start of Saigon’s short walking street.

Here there is a different approach.

The mopeds use the pavements as well as the roads. I was talking with some Vietnahade people at dinner and they told me that they think it’s disgraceful: “Wheels belong on the roads, feet belong on the paths.”

I visited Notre Dame Cathedral.

It was closed for renovation.

Visiting the War Remnants Museum was a moving experience and a difficult one.

Other museums across Vietnam glorify the actions of the North during the American (Vietnam) War. There is triumphalism and celebration in the language used.

The War Remnants Museum was a more muted experience in contrast. It does not discuss the actions of the North.

It very much focuses on Agent Orange which is one of the hardest hitting exhibitions I have ever seen. It is harrowing.

The environmental and health damage are still felt today – with babies still being born with defects. Maybe, this longterm effect should be considered before military action is taken.

The other elements of the Museum’s displays are less critical of US actions (other than dispassionately describing the effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals – the photos are eloquent) than other museums.

The main display about the US is actually focused on the peace movement and the soldiers who refused to fight. Their newsletters and the books they wrote are presented here.

This is a fascinating exhibit. It clearly was not easy to object to fighting in this war.

A third display focused on the photography of the war and serves as a memorial to those journalists and photographers who were killed or went missing during the fighting.

My visit to this Museum was challenging. I found myself needing to take a break between viewing the different exhibits. A friend told me that they had felt the need to visit on two separate occasions.

One of the elements I struggled with was the fact that in one of the rooms were children who were born with disabilities. One boy had been born without eyes and was playing a keyboard.

On the one hand, I felt deeply, deeply uncomfortable about this because it seemed like a modern day, and I hate this term, “freak show”. On the other hand, the presence of the children shows very clearly, the reality of the impact of Agent Orange.

While the numbers of children being born with disfigurement and disabilities as a result of the War are reducing, this is still an issue for the country.

This was an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.

Categories: Environment, Public Health, Travel, VietnamTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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