We took a day trip on board a passenger van for a trip to the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh and the Tunnels of Cu Chi exhibit located near, naturally, Cu Chi, which is about halfway to Tay Ninh.
We weren't there ten minutes before I started calling it "Cong World" -- as in Disney World. For some reason, I am told, The Tunnels of Cu Chi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the former South Vietnam. Go figure…
As was usually the case on this vacation, we didn't see a lot of Americans on this side trip. Our 16-passenger van was filled up with people from England, Malaysia, China, and someplace else in Asia, plus Sandra Wienke, a lone female traveler from Austria (what is it with those Germanic women, anyway?), with whom Minh and I became friends as the day went on. It turned out she was a fan of Vietnam movies and fiction – we were feeding each other lines from Apocalypse Now -- and when she found out I was the author of the world-famous A Bad Attitude: A Novel from the Vietnam War, she had to have a copy. Of course I didn't have a copy with me to sell her, but I promised to send one to her when I got home (I should have gotten postage from her as well, since the postage between here and Vienna was almost as much as the price of the book; of course she also could have ordered one from Amazon Europe, but it wouldn't have been personally autographed). She took a walkabout of downtown Saigon with me the next day and was naturally eager to learn what things were like forty years before.
The road between Saigon and Tay Ninh was, of course, unrecognizable after 40 years. We ran convoys over that road back in the day, and back then it was a nothing but a lot of open space with rice paddies and rubber trees on either side of the road, the vastness broken only by an occasional small village. Now it is like every other major road in the Saigon area, almost solidly packed on both sides by small businesses, repair shops, etc.
I also wanted to see the site of the 25 August 1968 ambush on our 48th Trans Group convoy that left a number of our drivers dead, including truck driver and posthumous Medal of Honor winner William Seay At one time I knew the exact location of that ambush, having been over that road myself both before and after Aug 25, but the whole countryside was literally unrecognizable. I think I got it within a half a mile or so, but there's no way to pin it down without doing a lot of ground-pounding triangulation, and even then there's no guarantee that you could find it.
Anyway, after the trip to the Cao Dai cult HQ in Tay Ninh, we stopped at the Tunnels of Cu Chi to see the Vietnamese equivalent of Disney World.
I really wasn't expecting what I got. Things would have been okay, I think, if we hadn't been forced to watch a fifteen-minute film outlining the horrible atrocities committed by Americans against the peace and freedom loving Vietnamese.
Okay, I get it. Americans committed atrocities. It wasn't like we were the only ones, though, and I got more than a little pissed off with the one-sided presentation. No mention of the mass murders that took place in Hue during Tet 1968, for example.
And they were so fucking proud of their display of deadly booby traps. I had to admit that they were ingenious constructions, but still… I was on vacation and the last thing I needed was to be hit over the head with American atrocities and war crimes, the pride of the indigenous peoples in resisting the American invasion, blah blah blah.
I suppose it could have been worse. I've been told that until fairly recently any American citizens visiting Vietnam were forced to tour the American Atrocity Museum and get slapped around, verbally and emotionally, by seeing what the US did to Vietnam during the years of "The American War".
Like I say, I get the picture. Atrocities happened, no one disputes that. Both sides committed them. Now can we please move on?
Of course, as I've said before, they won the war, so they can pretty much set up the historical revisionism in their favor…
Anyway, while we were at Cong World – complete with rudimentary animatronic robots showing VC in various stages of booby-trap creation, etc. – I had the chance, which I passed up, of shooting an actual live AK-47. I'll admit I was tempted, but when I found out that it was something approaching a dollar a round, and the only real fun in shooting an automatic weapon is to have it on "rock and roll" mode, i.e., full automatic, I decided that I'd be better off spending that dollar per round on beer, which was also a dollar a can.
You could also go down underground and work your way along one of the tunnels, only to pop up fifty yards away. I gave it a try, but I am claustrophobic. I managed to get down two ladders, each of them in a smaller space than I was comfortable with, and when I finally got to the bottom and the entrance to the tunnel I knew that the only way I'd be getting out would be on a stretcher with a hefty shot of thorazine. Discretion the better part of valor and all that, I popped back up from underground. I was willing to put up with any amount of razzing and shouts of "Pussy!" that might come my way. However, Minh remained the perfect gentleman and didn't do it. Of course I didn't see him going through that tunnel either.
On the way back from Cong World I was sitting in the very back row of the van, looking out the window at the crowded roadside, when I felt something in my hair. I figured it was some kind of bug, so I did the whole "finger brush" thing, but when I brought my hand down there was a little gecko on it. He seemed really tame, so I spent the next twenty minutes or so petting him and showing him to my fellow passengers in the immediate area. The men were blasé, of course, while the women were suddenly skittery. Yeah, like they've never seen a lizard before. I was tempted to toss him forward and watch the excitement, but I was afraid he'd get stomped in the panic.
Finally, right before we were let out at our hotel, I deposited him behind the seat. I don't know what his story was, but he seemed pretty tame. I hope he found his way back home.