We were relieved by our arrival at Hoi An, the town of same-day tailor shops and travel-tarnished backpackers. The town did charm me but not because of the riverside bars or the hanging silk lanterns. A gent le, matter of fact woman measured me up in her tailor shop while her children watched the Minion movie in the next room. She produced the dress that same day and I tried it on in a curtained off area where their heights through the years were marked in pencil on the wall.
THE SAIGON LEGACY – With a short flight, we left behind the Happy Hour specials of Hoi An and began an excursion into the history of Ho Chi Minh City. The stagnant smell of tourist sweat that pumped through the air-conditioning system in the crowded War Remnants Museum seemed appropriate for the harrowing subject matter. Thoughtfully curated photographs create a viscera l understanding of American misconduct, especially the use of Agent Orange. The Cu Chi Tunnels, used by the Viet Cong as a hiding place and transport network during the war, were located just outside the city and a section has been preserved.
The guide who took us there was the antithesis to the museum. A former communications officer for the Americans, and still loyal to the West, Hai recalls that at age seventeen he was happily recruited because, ‘They gave me cigarettes, hamburgers, and money for beer.” Hai showed us examples of terrifying traps set by the VC and declared the model soldiers inaccurate because ‘Communists are much uglier! ’He looked about him anxiously and whispered that he had been in a re-education camp after reunification.
The atmosphere at the tunnels is heightened by the constant drone of gunfire. Tourists can choose from a selection of surplus American guns and shoot live ammo at a target. The bullets are sold alongside ice cream and postcards. It seems a strange legacy for a bloody war. Back in Hue, the storm broke. Rain pelted down on our helmets and made the road slick. A soaked old man pedaled patiently on a bicycle loaded with building materials. Three monks on a motorbike dashed for cover. It wasn’t apocalyptic. It was delicious.