Wednesday, June 17, 2009
A Trip to the Tunnels of Cu Chi
Our first full day in Vietnam did not disappoint. Most of us began the morning with an early stroll to the local market. The place was hopping by 6:30 AM, as locals put out fresh flowers, produce, meat, and seafood. It was fascinating to see an entirely new way of shopping, and also to see some food you just can't get at Sendik's or Pick and Save (cuttlefish, pig brains, some crazy looking fruit ...) The city is huge - 8.5 million people, all of whom seem to be riding a scooter at any given time. You will all have to check out the pictures of what people carry on the scooters (Joe is amazed) and also the wiring system of the city.
We hopped on our coach and headed through an incredibly congested Ho Chi Minh City and went out to the countryside to Cu Chi. Our first stop was a lacquer and woodworking craftshop. We saw how the local citizens made the beautiful products and then dropped a few dollars (or dong) in the gift shop. Many of the people working at the factory are former Viet Cong or children of Viet Cong, greatly affected by the war. The proceeds of the sales help them improve their lives in a pretty economically challenged part of the city. Their craftsmanship is amazing.
From there, we traveled to the tunnels of Cu Chi. The tunnels were originally constructed by farmers during the French resistance after World War II and were gradually expanded to be used in the war between North and South after 1954. The tour, led by our personal ACIS guide Mr. D, was pretty amazing. We learned about the construction of the tunnels, their impact on the war, and the challenge the United States had in dealing with them - even with finding them in the first place. We also experienced the tunnels first hand, entering them in two different locations, including an original opening that was a bit challenging for at least one guy's American belly. Talk about walking (or duckwalking) in the footsteps of history! The tour also provided examples of booby traps and the creative weapons of the Viet Cong - one of the favorite topics of 8th graders. It was an amazing way to learn about a different perspective of the war.
We enjoyed a beautiful lunch in an outdoor restaurant, headed back to the city, and stopped at the Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral for a quick visit. From there, a few hours of free time took us all to different locations. Look for reports on silk scarves, the War Remnants Museum, and elsewhere. We are heading to a water puppet show this evening, followed by dinner and more exploring. The group is in great spirits, having a fantastic time, and so thankful for this incredible opportunity. And we are sweaty - it's hot here in the tropics.