FOLLOWING the trip to Houston, where I was ringside spectator to what is probably the most historic thing to ever happen to the US economy since The Great Depression—the debt downgrade—I had a chance to savor the relative calm of Manila. However, this was only to be for a few hours.
After a brief flurry of work at the office, to catch up on some backlog, it was off to the airport again, this time with my family in tow. As it happens, my son was on the tail-end of his summer vacation—with the first term of the year beginning in August for international schools—and so we took the opportunity to take him around for a quick getaway, before school started. Of course, he was also itching for some “reward,” as his GCSE grades all returned with “A” grades. So, even with my body still on US time, I had to happily go along with the trip.
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First stop on this second journey in a fortnight was Ho Chi Minh City, the rechristened name of the old Saigon. This once war-torn city, where the last days of the Vietnam War were played out, is now a bustling and vibrant metropolis—a city eager
to make its mark on the world.
True, the traffic situation is rather still chaotic and disorderly. True, too, that there are by far many more motorcycles than there are cars in its streets. But one can readily see in Saigon the resolve of a new nation to create a name for itself.
For the most part, everything works. Taxis are honest, and not once were we ripped off in any serious way. Restaurants too, were friendly and accommodating. And the hotel where we were? Well, although my son insists they did not merit the top stars they were rated with, it was still a pleasant place to stay, on the whole.
Of course, what is a trip to Vietnam that does not include some educational detour to the historical sites made famous by such movies as “Apocalypse Now”? So we did visit the Cuci Tunnels, a maze of interconnected underground hiding places for the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese army, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers, and going all the way to Cambodia on the one end, and the outskirts of Saigon on another.
There we were given a glimpse of how the Vietnamese “American killer heroes”—their term for their soldiers who registered the most enemy kills—were so successful in running rings around American defenses, and how they were seemingly able to appear and disappear at will during firefights, as if almost by magic.
The tunnels site also featured other attractions, such as a shooting range where one could take a pick and test fire various weapons used during the war, from M16s and AK47s to heavy-caliber machine guns.
But of course, amid the now touristy feel of the place, one cannot but help and be amazed at the recovery powers of the Vietnamese people. Once in an almost hopeless situation at the end of the war, theirs is now a nation that is poised for better things, and even in a place like Cuci, this is only too evident.
On our second day in the country, it was the Mekong Delta that became our next stop.
Spanning several countries, and being one of the longest and largest bodies of water in Asia, the Mekong is indeed the giver of life in this part of Vietnam.
Teeming with fish, and used as a main navigation artery to transport goods up and down the South Vietnamese countryside, it is a godsend to the Vietnamese people.
In fact, as an aside, the fish we know as “cream dory” is an inhabitant of the Mekong.
A hardy and rather tasty fish as well, it is now a staple of the Filipino diet, and one of Vietnam’s better-known exports to the world.