We fly up to Central Vietnam

Hue. No Hue. Yes Hue. – Wayne and Garth
Here’s why travel is so cool. No other activity in all creation affords the opportunity for certain kinds of miracles to happen, in both major and minor keys. As Lori and I left Montreal on the first leg of our flight a couple of Fridays ago, we ran into Robert Josephson who was just coming home from a grueling week in Toronto. We exchanged a few words and I indicated to him where we were ultimately heading. “Oh, Jimmy Garfinkle is heading to Vietnam to visit his son”, he informed us. “I’ll be sure to say hi from you when I see him” I threw back. He wished us safe travels and that was that. Fast forward to yesterday. Lori and I were concluding our overnight stay at a guest house on an island in the middle of the Mekong Delta. We visited the floating market,
where purveyors of all kinds of foodstuffs gather together daily, selling their wares (wholesale) to shop owners who come down from as far away as Saigon to pick up a truck full of pumpkins, coconuts, and turnips and drive back to sell them at their roadside stands.
Next stop for us was the mainland where our driver had headed to earlier to pick us up for the return trip to Saigon and what was to be the end of Phase I of our post-volunteering tour. We idled 10 minutes at the dock, waiting for 2 other boats to fill with tourists and head off on their own expeditions. Eventually, it was our turn to tie up. I hopped onto the jetty and walked up toward the parking lot when lo and behold, there stood the Garfinkles.
“Robert Josephson sends his regards” I said to a bemused Jimmy. We stood around, exchanged various highlights of our respective tours and they were off. Understand – we were standing on the docks of Vinh Long, not in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. There was only one person from home who I knew to be in the country. If our boat was not held up by other traffic; if whatever events got them to the pier at that exact moment did not occur precisely as they had, our paths would not have crossed. What are the odds? Well, given my 30 plus years of traversing strange corners of the planet, I’d say about 50-50. This type of stuff happens all the time! And the feeling never goes stale. It is always a hoot to run into a friend – and the more remote the locale, the larger the hoot factor.
Two hours later, we are back in Ho Sai Gon City eating Pho with Quon and saying our good byes. He drives us back to the hotel, we check in, drop off our luggage; he drops us off at the War Remnants Museum, we hug and say farewell.
Located in the former US Information Services building, there stands no greater monument to pure propaganda. They really do it so well. The courtyard contains specimens of the defeated US War Machine. An F5 fighter jet,
 an M-41 tank, a Chinook helicopter, a Huey chopper, and other implements of death and destruction that Goliath heaped on David Nguyen. Adjacent to the ordinance was a small stone building with full coloured wall mounted story boards that described in words and pictures, the various atrocities visited upon the freedom fighters by the American backed South Vietnamese. Barbed wire ‘tiger cages’ measuring 6’ x 3’ x 2’ that simultaneously housed 3 or 4 prisoners as well as a guillotine were part of the permanent display. This was all before we walked into the main building. Once inside, the main banner indicated a temporary photographic exhibition of the effects of Agent Orange, from those wonderful people at Dow Chemicals (proud sponsors of the Bhopal disaster) and the folks at Monsanto. Now, nobody who knows me would ever refer to me as a Commie sympathizer, but the effects of Agent Orange, a powerful defoliant that served to turn jungle to desert overnight and altered the DNA of those who came into contact with it gives one pause to ask – even in war, should there not be a limit? Parenthetically countless American Vietnam Vets have either died early from cancer related to ingesting Agent Orange or have produced a statistically significant percentage of offspring with severe genetic birth defects. The manufacturing companies, in response to a lawsuit launched by the former soldiers, without any official support from the military (Isn’t it great how the US Government did such a wonderful job in providing absolutely no support to those poor US kids who came home to no parades, were considered social pariahs and evil child killers, and were subsequently found to have physical and psychological scars that never went away?), ultimately admitted guilt and have offered restitution to soldiers and their families. The Vietnamese have been awarded similar damages from the

World Court

, but it seems that Dow and Monsanto have misplaced their cheque books. They were in the top drawer on the right side just yesterday, but nobody seems to know where to find them now.

Realizing that photos of barren lands and kids who looked like they belonged in circus sideshows wasn’t powerful enough, the Vietnamese government had three or four of these unfortunate deformed, maimed, retarded children in wheel chairs on display next to the exhibit. They all wore orange shirts just in case the connection was too subtle for the average visitor. The level of exploitation was physically sickening and repulsive. It served to underline the fact that there were no limits self-imposed by either side during or after the war. Ask John McCain. He spent several years as a guest of the Viet Cong in a prison known as the Hanoi Hilton. To this day he is unable to raise his arms above shoulder level as a result of the tortures inflicted on him. Then there were the bamboo traps that were just large enough to contain the average American soldier. They were kept immersed in water up to their chests for several days at a time. The water rats were particularly pleased with the chance to nibble on the occasional toe. I did not see much in the way of reference of northern atrocities anywhere in the exhibition and could not find a sympathetic looking guard to go to with any questions that I had which required answering. Bottom line – the whole thing was a massive fuck up. The level of inhumanity is incomprehensible. Nobody was right, nobody deserved exoneration, and I just get sick and embarrassed as a human being that our species can act in such a barbarous fashion. Not only do we kill for stupid reasons (greed, money, power, the other guy is taller than me), but the sickest part of all that I am having great difficulty dealing with is the creativity humans find to maximize the infliction of pain and torture on fellow humans. Having never been exposed directly to warfare, I have no right to comment on what happens to a person’s sense of reason, justice and propriety under such stress. That said, why anybody should have to be exposed to such a damaging surreal mindset such as war? What will it take to get past this? Education, huge geophysical disasters, a visit from outer space? We need a serious mid-course correction here, folks.
Today we are in Hue.
We flew up to the middle of the country and after checking in to a supposed 5 star hotel (only worth 4, but compared to where we’ve been putting up for the past 2 weeks, it’s an 11), we spent a couple of hours chilling out on the beach
with an occasional plunge into the South China Sea. 
She followed me home. Can I keep her?
Chilling being the operative word since it clouded over and dropped about 5 degrees within half an hour of our arrival. Julian, where are you when I need you? Nonetheless, the quiet time was lovely and, it being Lori’s birthday (93)
, knowing how much she likes the seaside made it that much more special.
Coming back from the seaside, we stopped at the local market.
All they had there was everything.
You want shoes? They got shoes.
You want fruit? They got fruit.
 You want spices? They got spices. I picked up about half a pound of saffron (I’m just wild about saffron) for about fifty cents. Don’t buy any, come over and take – I have plenty.
Our new guide is just a few years younger than us. He is from the south. His father was a doctor with the ARVN during the war, as was his mother. When defeat came, his father was sent to the countryside in order to be ‘rehabilitated’. As was usually the case, that meant imminent death. His mother died of a broken heart soon after. Orphaned at 18, our guide had hoped to follow in his parents footsteps and attend medical college. As a result of his parents association with the south and the US, all doors to highest level advancement were completely shut. He was permitted to attend university and graduate as a chemist. He is the first person that we have met who has provided a different perspective on the war and its aftermath. Apparently there were two sides to the conflict. My understanding is that what had ostensibly been an agrarian society became radicalized as they took the next generation off of the farms and sent them to universities. The allure of political theory, taught within the vacuum of academia presented a compelling and positive argument for societal restructuring along egalitarian guidelines. Look at Quebec, look at Iran, look at France; it happens all the time. There is a compelling argument not to force education on elements of societies that are unprepared for it. The trouble is that the gap between theory and reality is cavernous and, by the time a revolutionized socio-political intelligentsia wakes up and realizes that people are starving, hundreds of thousands have died and the nation’s cultural history has been wiped out, it’s too late. Fortunately for the vanguard who are in charge of the whole shootin’ match (literally), they’ve been ensconced in positions of power and are able to continue to line their pockets with graft and bribery, and become the only group to financially benefit from the wholesale destruction they have visited on their nation. With a single party system, accountability goes out the window and they become gross caricatures of everything they preached against in their earlier years. On that depressing note, I think I’ll get a gun and shoot myself. It’s been fun.

  • michael
    Posted at 13:21h, 04 January Reply

    So clearly you are having a wonderful, happy fun time! It's nice to get away from all your troubles at home and just chill, isn't it?

  • stevo_
    Posted at 15:01h, 04 January Reply

    And somehow I would think Jimmy would want to name a monkey, too!

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