Walking Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is named after the communist revolutionary leader of Vietnam and its first president, Ho Chi Minh. The name means Bringer of Light. During his early life he travelled in England, America and France, doing odd jobs like working in a bakery (Ho Chi Biscuit), as a waiter (Ho Chi Whiskey) and stoker (Ho Chi Fire).

I found a room with a family for 9 dollars, which had a balcony of sorts, a bathroom and a television. It had been ages since I had watched television and after seeing two dumb movies, I decided I could live ages more without it. The family that lived downstairs seemed to boil shrimp all day long, so the smell in the hallway was less than appealing but, since it didn’t reached my room, I thought it a small price to pay for otherwise comfortable lodgings. In the bathroom was a sign that asked me not to throw my clothes in the toilet.

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City was intense but not as bad as I remembered. It was less of an anarchy than the mess in Phnom Penh. Still, when walking the streets one has to be careful at all times. Zebra crossings are much appreciated as a pretty decoration and many Vietnamese seem to feel it lends a certain respectability to their streets, but it would be foolish and dangerous to think any more of it.

In the park I had an unexpected encounter with a blue headed lizard. It was sheer luck that I had taken my camera with me because I was on my way to the War Remnants Museum and was hoping to shoot a few pictures for the blog.

When I was trying to identify the species, I found out that it was a newly discovered species, Calotes bachae, which was long thought to be identical to a similarly blue headed lizard in Thailand and Myanmar, but it wasn’t. You can read a National Geographic article about it here.

The War Remnants Museum was very impressive. It showed that besides baguettes and coffee, the French also brought a guillotine with them. Thanks France. But  most of the exhibition was about the Vietnam War, or more accurate, the Second Indochina War. Obviously, the museum was one-sided and propagandistic, but hey, vae victis, and all that. After all, the US government has the biggest propaganda machinery in the world, so it’s time to see the Vietnamese side of it. The day before, I had been reading about the My Lai massacre and the museum had a lot of material, mostly photographic, that provided more background. It is estimated that some 500 civilians, many of them mothers with their babies, infants and old men, were killed at short range. Women were raped and tortured. It took the better part of a day and the men of Charlie Company had a lunch break amid the carnage. That day not a single shot was fired at Charlie Company… The atrocities were nauseating, but what was astonishing was the aftermath in America. Many of the enlisted men that were involved in the war crimes went unpunished, just 26 were charged and only Lieutenant Calley, the commander of Charlie Company was convicted. He was sentenced to life. This was later appealed and consequently reduced to 20 years imprisonment. After three and a half years of house arrest, he walked free… Calley had maintained that he had followed orders, but of the higher ranking officers, only Colonel Henderson stood trial. He was acquitted.

Of course there’s tons more, but I don’t want to write more about it.
Maybe I write another wrap up later.

My second day in the city, I walked over to the Pagoda blum bluc something, and it was a lovely temple with intricate wood carvings. It was quiet with the smell of incense. Little kids running around trying to kick the shit out of the pigeons that were feeding on rice strewn by the pious, and of course, the faithful praying and tourists thumping their smartphones trying to find out where the heck they were.

After that I visited another museum, this one about the history of Vietnam. It was aptly called the History Museum. It showed some charred wooden stakes that allegedly were used by the Vietnamese to keep the ships of Genghis Khan at bay when they tried to invade the country in 1285. The painting that hung behind the stumps showed the ships of Genghis Khan that looked remarkably like Spanish galleons…. The museum also boasts the best collection of Champa art after Danang and included some artefacts that would look good in an Indiana Jones movie. It belongs in a museum….

On the way back it started to rain.

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