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Miss Saigon and her sad history…

Today I did get to know Miss Saigon better, I travelled by foot and by xe ôm (which is a motor cycle taxi but literally means ‘hugging vehicle’) to explore the dense streets and the expansive city that has been laid out before me.

I wove through large markets in search of great buys – but the clothes here are really ugly, so I moved on to more interesting things – the weird food that is sold in the markets.

Not being able to read Vietnamese is definitely makes it more difficult to figure out what it is exactly that everyone is selling, but the smell is unmistakable. In the produce section of almost every market I have been in throughout South Vietnam the smell is the same, it’s the smell of Jackfruit mixed with ground coffee and raw pork… Sweet and dense and bloody. And I swear it mixes into your sweat and you can smell it on your skin hours later. Rough fingers chop thick pink meat on mats and boards and tiles, no part of the animal is wasted. Every part is served and every part is sold.

rat meat, before the satay sticks and peanut sauce...

I tried rat in one of the markets – it was not the best meat in the world. But it’s not terrible either – if you don’t look too closely. They eat much of everything here, I’d try dog – as it is widely available but strangely enough it is actually one of the most expensive meats on the market – along with snake.

I wiped the heady scent from my skin and closed my eyes for a moment before I visited the War Remnants Museum north of the main drag in Saigon, and when my eyes opened I was exposed to the local truths of the Vietnam war. I wouldn’t say its an enjoyable museum to visit, it’s heartbreaking – but it is certainly educational and tests your humanity.

the scenes of innocent death are heartbreaking

Spanning over two large floors, the museum lays out the history of the loss of life in Vietnam during the war – and I warn you, the pictures are extraordinarily graphic. You wind your way from one corner all the way around so that it is in chronological order of death and destruction. There are photographs of children screaming, and others laying dead on the dirt roads between rice fields, having been executed. A lot of the pictures are paired with stories from the photographers, about photographing children and turning around only to hear a barrage of gunfire… and then the children were dead.

There is also a photographic display of the effects of Agent Orange which was dropped on parts of Vietnam to poison and kill the locals… It truly was a horrific war – and there is no better way to understand how it effected Vietnam than to visit this museum.

The Peace Boat - drawn by a 10 year old Vietnamese student

My skin prickled with sweat and my eyes with tears as I spent a couple of hours pouring over the photographs and looking at the gallery of pictures drawn by Vietnamese children praying for peace.

Upstairs is an exhibit of photographs taken by photographers from all around the world who perished during the warfare, there is also a chronological outline of the end of the war.

Outside there are replicas of the American fighter jets, bombers, tanks and boats that were used during combat in the Vietnamese Jungles and shores. I felt the heat on my skin and in my heart as I tried to understand why these wars happened in the first place.

the heart ache of war...

On the 19th of December, 1946, the president of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, made an appeal for Nationwide resistance to the war. He coined the slogan, ‘Independence or Death,’ which was shown on banners and streets throughout the cities of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh said the following:

We want peace, but the more concessions we make, the more aggressively the French colonists move forward because they are determined to reconquer our country. No. We would rather sacrifice all than lose our independence and be enslaved.

I wonder what sort of parallels we will see when the war in the Middle East ends – whenever that might be – and maybe in 100 years there will be a war museum in Baghdad, where our great-grandchildren will visit, and wonder, why we all stood by and let this happen… as I wonder about the Vietnam war.

Barefoot, angered and holding the hand of Miss Saigon.

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