Jan. 4th, 2017

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After our lunch, we ignored the rapidly darkening sky and headed west in an attempt to finish the walking tour. D Ham Nghi was quite lively, with a range of street eateries disgorging a range of scintillating aromas onto the street, many of them packed with hungry diners. Halfway down the street, we stopped at a rather confusing supermarket to pick up some bottles of water, and here I also tried to pick up some strong factor suncream, fearing that I was going to run out of my supply pretty quickly. Alas they had everything but so I had to leave the store empty handed. Further down the street, we spotted 23/9 Park, a small strip of land between two rather busy streets, the southern most of which fringing the backpacker area replete with cheap digs and cheaper restaurants. The park used to be where the old railway terminus stood, hence its long thin shape, but there is little evidence of this these days as the area has been cultivated with pagodas littering it. This was quite fortunate as the heavens opened as soon as we had arrived, forcing us to dodge the torrential downpour by sitting underneath one of the wooden structures with around thirty other people. Many people were standing but after a three hour walk (albeit with a lunch break in between), I opted to sit as young kids played around us. A couple of the snack sellers also dived for cover, and the atmosphere was rather convivial, with a good mix of backpackers and locals waiting for the rain to abate. We were waiting quite a while, around forty minutes in the end, with the rain deceptively easing up on occasion only to become more of a downpour once again. There wasn't too much to see in the park in all honesty, and as soon as the rain did eventually stop, we navigated our way around the huge puddles which had formed on all of the pathways before heading out of the area and towards Ben Thanh Market.

Outside the market there sits a roundabout and here is where the imposing gold statue of Tran Nguyen Han, a general of the fifteenth century leader Le Loi, should have been. Alas it had been removed for cleaning or some reason, meaning that we could not get to see it, nor the small white bust of Quach Thi Trang, a fifteen-year-old girl who was killed in the area during anti-government protests in 1963, that sits below it. In the background sits the market, with the belfry and clock definitely having a French colonial feel about them. The exterior of the market looks very much like a Victorian railway station. Inside, however, it's a far more sober affair, with rows upon rows of market stalls offering a range of produce, with tacky souvenirs and food being the main two things on show. It was quite pleasant strolling around, despite the number of vendors who were desperate for me to buy things, and although we didn't stay long underneath the concrete roofs, I did enjoy our rather short stay here.

We emerged from one of the side entrances of the market and set our sights on the War Remnants Museum, which was about half an hour's walk from where we were in the same area as the Reunification Palace, which we had visited the day before. On the way, we spotted an unidentified statue of a chappie on a horse wielding a bayonnet, which certainly added a lot of character to the roundabout upon which it was situated. As we pressed on, I recognised a lot of the buildings we had zoomed past on our motorcycles the day earlier, meaning I had started to acquire a vague sense of geography about the city. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of our way to the Museum, the heavens opened again and we were suddenly deluged, being forced to dive under a canopy of an electrical appliance shop along with fifteen other people. These guys were quite friendly, with one lady even offering us some sugared nuts, which we politely declined. With the Museum set to shut at 5pm and the time already pushing 2:45pm, waiting for the rain to abate was incredibly frustrating, but it did relent in the end and we were soon pushing on to our destination.

In the end, we didn't have time to see everything at the Museum, although we did see around two-thirds of it. Formerly the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, it's very name tells you that the accounts were far from unbiased, but the harrowing images of the horrors of the Vietnam War often made the text associated with them justified. The brutality of the wars against the French and Americans, particularly on the civilian victims, was detailed in disturbing detail and some of the photographs on display will forever live with me such was their disturbing nature. Many of the atrocities highlighted are well-known in the West and indeed many of the more graphic imagery came from American sources, including those of the infamous massacre at My Lai, but this didn't detract from their impact or the sheer sense of futility about this failed endeavour. Even more poignantly were the life stories of some of the men behind the cameras, men like Henri Huet and Larry Burrows who were killed reporting from the front line. Many brave photographers died trying to relay the full scale of what was happening to audiences back home and the Requiem Exhibition was a tribute to these fallen journalists. Being a journalist myself, I have nothing but respect and admiration for these men and women, with certain sections of the exhibit bringing me to tears. The final shots some of these people took, literally seconds before they were killed, were particularly heart-wrenching and made you think about the nature of humanity itself.

Agent Orange and other dioxins was used as a means of clearing the jungle during the American War and in another part of the museum, there are photographs of the people who have been deformed by their exposure to such toxic chemicals. The pictures of the children in particular were incredibly tough to view and some of these powerful images have been scorched on my memory. The same could be said in the outside area, which is devoted to the notorious French and South Vietnamese prisons on Phu Quoc and Con Son Islands. Here a vast range of tortures were inflicted on the detainees including the infamous tiger cages which were used to house Viet Cong prisoners. There is a guillotine present here too, while images of the injuries sustained by torture victims accompany gruesome accounts of each of the techniques used. On the other side of the outside area there sits a range of US armoured vehicles and military hardware while the downstairs area is devoted towards anti-war movements internationally, which adds a little respite to the sheer horror of the rest of the Museum. I have never been to a Museum that was so uncensored and so brutal in detailing what happened during this twenty year period in the mid-twentieth century and while it was certainly necessary, it also challenged my perspectives on a range of deeper issues.

We left the Museum as it closed at 5pm, with M-Wolf walking me back to my hotel, where he suggested I get a shower before heading out for the evening. The plan was to meet Graffiti Rabbit at the Pasteur Street Brewing Company, a craft brewery in the heart of the city that was on my request list and a place that Graffiti had kept meaning to try. They picked me up at my hotel at around 6:30pm and we arrived shortly afterwards, parking our bikes in the little garage underneath the first story bar. The narrow room was quite busy but there was fortunately one free table, which we occupied before deciding to order one of their tasting sample trays so we could try as many of the beers as possible. This was quite useful as Graffiti wanted to try them all too, while M-Wolf wasn't really a huge fan of beer but I thought I may be able to find something he would like. A lot of the beers were quite similar to those you get back home, but a few were brewed with local produce such as jackfruit and these were definitely worth a try. A 13% chocolate and vanilla porter also caught my eye so I grabbed one of these too, as well as a tasty looking spicy chicken burger as we had not eaten dinner. Once the beers arrived, I took my friends through all the different styles, and indeed some were more preferred over others so I let them finish off the ones they liked and I had the rest. They had thirteen different beers on the board and as we downed the ones we had originally ordered, temptation got the better of me and I started ordering some of the others. This was partly at Graffiti's insistence as she wanted to try some more beers too, while the conversation was good and we wanted to prolong the evening as long as possible, knowing that this would be the last time I would see Graffiti at least until I don't know when. She had just come from work and thus was in smart clothes, not to mention quite tired after a gruelling day, so we decided to wind up at around 9pm, with me opting to walk back to my hotel as it was literally just around the corner. I gave them some Cadbury's chocolate as a gift from England before we went our separate ways, with me thanking Graffiti for all of her work in arranging the furmeet the previous day. She was exceptionally helpful and great fun to be around, and I was quite sad when we had to depart. Hopefully I will see her again real soon because I had a great albeit short time in her city and with the furs there.

August 2017

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