One of the big perks here is the company-provided transportation to Ho Chi Minh City on our day off. The area is very rural so the change of scenery and opportunity to wander the city is welcome at the end of a six-day work week. There is so much to see, do and eat that I usually take the shuttle after work on Saturday to stay the night and explore until our return Sunday evening. The initial visit was just for the day though, and given how overwhelming the first trip to the grocery store was I don’t think I could handle much longer.
A picture cannot do justice to what the traffic is like here, even in the rural areas. The vehicle horns are used more like turn signals than emergency noises and the painted lines and traffic signals appear to be little more than suggestions. There are over 20 million people in the HCMC metropolitan area and over half of them ride scooters, which makes for moments of total insanity for an outsider but at the same time seems to work for them. I certainly don’t think I could ever drive here, but it keeps the 2.5 hour ride interesting!
The first stop was the former capitol palace of Saigon, still furnished as it was the last time it served its original function. It is accessible for viewing with each room displaying a placard describing the events and foreign dignitaries that once filled them. It felt like a participatory time capsule and picturing former US presidents or officials walking these very halls was pretty amazing. From the presidential office and bedroom, down to the kitchen and shooting gallery in the basement it seemed for the most part exactly as it must have been over 40 years ago.
Our group consisted of myself, several Taiwanese expats, and Chris Keefer, the other SPM intern stationed with me. Chris left a 16-year law practice to make a major career change and pursue this degree. And if that sounds brave, it pales in comparison to his wife who stayed in Indiana to handle the sale of their house and moving with three kids from South Bend, IN to Portland while we take in some amazing sights and opportunities Vietnam.
War Remnants Museum
Our next destination was the War Remnants Museum, a place equally rich in history but much more somber. The courtyard is adorned with restored armaments from the US military—tanks, artillery, airplanes. (pic of museum courtyard) Once inside there is an obvious tone of anti-US sentiment in most of the text. The victors write the history books as they say and it was very much on display here. What couldn’t be questioned however was the striking imagery, some of which was very graphic and powerful.
The deeper we went into the museum, the heavier the experience got, culminating in the Agent Orange room where the atrocities of the war were on full display. This defoliant, along with several others, was sprayed all over Vietnam in an attempt to strip leaves off jungle trees and expose hidden encampments. Many of these compounds contained dioxin, known to cause various birth defects, which are still found in high concentrations in soil around Vietnam. One display showed all the areas of Vietnam that were sprayed with Agent Orange, which included Tay Ninh, the very province we’re staying in. I’ve come to learn some of the heaviest fighting took place here due to its location near the Cambodian border and north of Saigon, which often served as the front lines of the war. According to this display, 36 percent of the province had been sprayed at one point giving the quaint, serene rice paddies I see from my balcony a much different feel now. I often find myself peering out at them to imagine soldiers much younger than myself slogging through the mud and rain and mosquitoes in those very fields.
Walking amongst that imagery as an American was very difficult, but it felt like something I needed to see, despite the urge to look away at times. I’ve found myself steeped in reverent perspective, wonder and amazement so many times while here. Wondering how this beautiful, peaceful place was ever the stage for such horrors and amazed that I’m here now to have these profound experiences, 40-plus years after my dad was hoping he’d never have to see this country. So far my time here has been a series of breathtaking and unexpected moments--experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything and that I never would have had staying in my comfort zone back in Oregon.
—Brian Warner, MS '17, UO Sports Product Management
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