Ever have those moments where you laugh at something (internally, of course), and then think “Well crap, I’m going to hell for that”?
I did that yesterday.
Our group is currently in Ho Chi Minh City. When not sweating off pounds (hopefully) from the high humidity, or marvelling at the millions of scooters crammed in the streets, we’ve been fitting in some site-seeing. Yesterday we had a very educational (nerdy, hurrah!) day learning more about the Vietnam (or “American”) War. We spent the morning exploring the Cu-Chi Tunnels, a massive network of tunnels used extensively by the Viet Cong during the war. I had heard a bit about the tunnels in history class, and found it fascinating to see the many uses that these had and how well-planned they were.
As part of the tour, we were able to explore the tunnels, which have been widened for tourists, quite considerably in some spots (such as the one I’m squatting in). Despite the widening I found it EXTREMELY claustrophobic – I only went about 25 metres before bailing at the first exit (and we were also creating a bit of a hilarious traffic jam down there as it was pitch black and we kept slamming into each other’s behinds). To get through the tunnels you essentially walk in a crouching position – imagine living down there while hearing all the chaos of war above you. Just incredible.
In addition to wandering the tunnels and seeing how the typical way of life would have been at the time, you could also try to squeeze into one of the original entrances, sneakily hidden on the forest floor. A few group members took the plunge and sunk down into the hole. Then one of the Americans piped up that she wanted to try.
Bless her. She’s a sweet lady, but a bit on the heftier side. I looked at the tiny rectangular opening and debated whether my shoulders and hips would fit. This woman is…quite a bit larger than me. So when she excitedly hopped over to the hole, I looked at her, looked at the hole in the ground, looked back at her, and imagined a life-sized version of that game we all played in our early days of school with the square holes and the round pegs. And I thought to myself, “this…may not work out so well.”
And it didn’t. For she got stuck in the hole from the waist upwards. And we all just stood there, dumbstruck as to what to do, with my granny roommate yelling “Pull her out by the arms!” and a Vietnamese guard yelling “Get out! Get out!” which clearly wasn’t helping the situation. The irony of an American getting stuck in a tunnel used by the Viet Cong to decoy Americans didn’t escape me. But I bit my lip to keep from laughing, because man she was really stuck. A little girl ran over and tried to pull her out which added to the hilarity – the guard yelling, Joanne barking useless orders, and a tiny little girl in pigtails tugging with all her might on her arms.
During this time, my first thoughts drifted to the area around the hole, and I actually wondered if they had any leftover explosives and/or digging tools from the tunnels that could be useful for an excavation of sorts. This is HONESTLY WHAT WENT THROUGH MY MIND. I also thought perhaps we’d need to grease her up a bit. Therefore, why I am going to hell.
After an awkward few moments, she finally popped out, probably aided by all the sweat (so perhaps my mulling over how to grease her up wasn’t so bad after all).
All jokes aside, if you’re ever in Ho Chi Minh City, I highly recommend a trip to both the tunnels and the War Remnants Museum which has an outstanding collection of photos and documentation from the war. While I’ve felt that some coverage I’ve seen (particularly in Hanoi) has been borderline (or blatantly) propaganda, the photos on display captured moments that go beyond description. It’s graphic, emotional and hard to look at, but completely illustrates the atrocities of war in a balanced and surprisingly non-judgemental fashion. And that’s one of the things that has struck me most about Vietnam – for a country so hammered by war, the people are friendly, positive, and welcoming. Granted they may not smile as much as the happy-go-lucky folks we encountered in Laos, but considering all they’ve been through (and are still going through, as effects of the war linger on) it’s pretty darn amazing that they’re open to tourists at all.