Sunday, April 04, 2010

Saigon: Hope & Rebirth

We arrived in Saigon (the centre of Ho Chi Minh City) to the rush of scooters and motorcycles carrying everything from cases of beer, families of four and bundles of flowers. Everyone wears personalized balaclavas along with their own choice of helmet accessories, which can range from cute ladybugs to the more patriotic variety.

The city has a wonderful buzz, still riding high on the filthy lucre of the last decade.

As our guide, Luc, said, "you can find one of everything in the world in Vietnam." Unfortunately, in the case of war and its "science of destruction" that's the truth. The country was at war with the Chinese for a millennium, then the French, the U.S. and finally Cambodia and China again from 1975-1979.

"An American soldier with the skull of a Vietnamese Patriot"
One of AP photographer Henri Huet's best known images

At the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Exhibition House of American War Crimes) we revisited some of the atrocities that occurred during the U.S. "campaign" from the perspective of the Vietnamese, such as the vast amounts of Agent Orange and other chemicals that were dumped on the country. The Vietnamese government estimates that there are over 4,000,000 victims of dioxin poisoning, but the U.S. still denies any conclusive scientific links between Agent Orange and any of the victims.

Off in a separate room is this exhibition of children's drawings completed after a visit to the museum. Bursting with colour and hope, it's such a contrast to the gun-metal gray despair of the rest of the museum and is a much needed reminder of the healing power of innocence and of the country's phenomenal rebirth.

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