Massage, Museum, and Mekong

Day One – A few days ago we touched down in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, but still referred to as Saigon by most people here) in Vietnam. We easily found our hostel, centrally located with the friendliest staff imaginable. After putting down our packs and consulting a map, we headed out in search of a particular massage clinic. After navigating around several blocks worth of muddy puddles, broken sidewalk, fruit rinds, and staying clear of the motorbikes careening on and off the walkway, we found the building. The Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Institute offers hour-long massages for a mere $2.50, but what is even more significant, is that all the masseurs are blind. If I’m being honest, initially I was a little uncomfortable upon entering and being hand-led to the massage table. My female attendant instructed me to undress and exited through a curtain. Despite the obvious fact that this was unnecessary on her part, I suppose that to do so is just proper masseuse etiquette. My discomfort quickly subsided once the massage began. She was proficient with a definite no-nonsense quality, as she quickly dabbed menthol oil from a jar in her pocket and swiftly rubbed it in, before going to work on my muscles with some (very) strong kneading. As she worked, I listened to the lively chatter and the sound of palms rapidly pounding away through the curtains. While different from the tranquility and zen-like atmosphere that spas attempt to create (in the few times I have been in a spa), I enjoyed it. Plus there was something eerily comfortable knowing that my body wasn’t being visually scrutinized. We left feeling relaxed and with a feeling that it was money well spent.

Day 2 in Ho Chi Minh was spent walking around the city and visiting the War Remnants Museum. After our free breakfast at the hostel, we walked toward the museum. As we navigated the city streets, I tried to prepare myself for exactly what it was that were going to see. No amount of mental prep would make taking in the exhibits any easier. It was heartbreaking. What I came away with was that regardless of politics and beliefs, to see the war through the eyes of the country where it all took place was horrifying. The pictures were hard to look at, but I forced myself to look at each and every one, to read each and every name. Some may argue that the museum does not provide a balanced view of the war-that it is weighted with propaganda, and maybe that’s true. But to be fair, maybe that’s justified, given that the museum is housed within their homeland. Although Vietnam as a country is recovering, many of its people are still reeling and the effects of the war continue to be felt and seen everyday. I walked through several exhibits with a lump in my throat, and at times the tears spilled over. As I learned more about the personal stories of the war, I couldn’t help but feel what we all know as fact-that in war there are no winners. It’s one of those simple truths that we all take as a given, but at this moment I actually felt it to my core. In this museum, the way it was portrayed, my heart broke for the people of Vietnam, but also for the Americans, the French, the Laotians, Japanese, Australians, and everyone else, military and civilian alike, who had no choice but to see and experience what no one should have to-the consequences of war. One of the most touching pieces was a recent addition to the photo exhibition, an enlarged copy of a letter written by a young Vietnamese man to President Barack Obama. In his well-penned letter, he commends our current president for his beliefs, and his hopes for his children to live in a world of peace. He also asks for assistance for victims of Agent Orange, including the author himself. Despite the best of intentions, I had a heavy feeling of hopelessness, knowing that in all reality his pleas may not be answered, at least not in his lifetime. The museum closed for an hour, just as the afternoon deluge began. But we bought ourselves ponchos, had a pensive lunch, and went back to the museum to see the rest.

Exhibit in War Remnants Museum

Exhibit in War Remnants Museum

Day 3-4 were spent not in Ho Chi Minh, but instead on a tour of the Mekong Delta. I feel a bit hypocritical after the stance we’ve taken on tours, but sometimes they are truly unavoidable. Plus this two-day tour was $20 including transportation, hotel, and most meals. The first day was worth-while and included a boat ride to several smaller islands, a canoe ride through the delta, a trip to a bee farm and candy and wine making factory where we sampled the wares and Jeff drank snake wine.

Snake wine

Snake wine

We enjoyed some live local music and dancing, and took a bike ride through one of the villages. The best part of the bike ride other than hopping off, was that I didn’t crash into anything, since it has been well over a decade since I’ve ridden on one of those things. That night we stayed at a hotel in Can Tho where we tried snake for dinner (chewy), and woke up at 6 in the morning to go to the famous floating market, Cai Be. It was slightly underwhelming, compared to what I had conjured up in my head, but nice seeing the fruit and vegetable-laden boats floating around selling their wares. What was less fun was the two-hour boat ride after to the ferry, and the five-hour bus ride back to HCMC to end the day. The one-day trip would have been the better option. We had a great cheap dinner at the night market in Ben Tranh (my favorite meal so far) to wrap up our stay in HCMC. Now it’s off to Mui Ne to get away and back to beach life.

Yummm....snake

Yummm....snake

Posted: October 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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