Hello, Vietnam!

Saturday, February 7, 2004
Hello Vietnam!!

We've been here in Vietnam for a few days now and despite it's
proximity to Cambodia, it's very much a different country. Plus, just
to reinforce this change, we spent over an hour actually crossing the
border! When we arrived into Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City - take your
pick!) we promptly took a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. If you are a war
buff, then you will have heard of these. If you are like me - you've
only just heard about them. These tunnels (among many other inventive
strategies) are how the Viet Cong beat the Americans in the Vietnam War
(which here in Vietnam is called the American War).

They built 3 layers of these scrawny tunnels (scrawny is defined by
12cm x 30 cm) underneath the ground and launched their operations from
the tunnels at night. So effective were they that that us Americans
didn't know about them or know where they were for most of the war. We
even built our military base right on TOP of the tunnels. When we did
find them, we couldn't fit inside!! The entrances are are smaller than
average military person. Their shoulders just can't fit!

Also, most of their weapons were born out of leftover American stuff.
They turned all remaining metal into something that either contained
explosives or something really, really sharp for us to land on. If you
care to see examples of their creativity (or me climbing into the
tunnels!) I'll let you know when I post the photos.

We also went to a Caodai ceremony at the religion's oldest temple.
This religion (if you choose to call it that) involves 10% of all
Vietnamese people and was "created" by God through sceances in the
1920's. God speaks to the religion's founders and leaders and tells
them what he wants. Here's what he wanted: one of the tackiest looking
religious halls known to mankind. He also wanted the religion to
include selected ideas from OTHER major world religions.

If you are a long standing (male) member for some number of years your
get to change your ceremony-attending garb from white to either blue,
red, or yellow. The decision on which color you get is much the same
as how Harry Potter uses the Sorting Hat to choose his house - you just
reach in and get what you get. This religion also has a pope - not THE
Pope, but another one. He died years and years ago but apparently God
is indecisive as well as having bad taste because the "pope" position
is still vacant! Hmm, I'm unemployed!

... While back in Cambodia we visited an abandoned hill station. The
description in the guidebook sounded fantastic - gorgeous scenery,
french architecture, hiking, etc. The reality is that they also
abandoned the road to the hill station - similar to MOST of Cambodia's
roads. Sitting in the back of a pick up truck is NOT how to you want
to make this journey. These buildings are well suited for a ghetto
somewhere. We had a great time anyway, but are not looking to repeat
this experience any time soon.

During the short time we spent in Phenom Penh we visited the Killing
Fields and also the Museum dedicated to this atrocity. Pol Pot and his
Kmher Rouge were much like the Nazis in the way they killed people -
systematic and very cruel. Although, the Khmer Rouge preferred to kill
their own people and often times didn't kill them before burying them.
After all this - our moto driver asked if we wanted to go shoot guns on
the military base. We said yes - and then there we were, shooting
AK47's and M16's. No joke, we really did. Were they loud! BANG,
BANG! We also had the same opportunity again while touring the
tunnels... Rob picked an M30 and I just watched with earplugs on. Once
WAS enough for me.

On a more upbeat note - no trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit
to Angkor Wat, but since I went there last year I won't bore you with
the details again. If you want to know more, check out previous
newsletters at my website!

Anyway, we are now in Mui Ne. A beach about 5 hours from Saigon. It's
gorgeous here and the windy beach is FILLED with people kitesurfing...
including Rob. What is kitesurfing you ask?!? Kitesurfing is like
surfing, but you are attached to a 30 meter kite (maybe bigger). You
use the air instead of the waves to get you moving. If you are REALLY
good, you jump and twist in the air and use the waves as well as the
wind. It looks pretty cool... from the sidelines!

Cambodia Fun Facts:
- Sometimes 3 hour ferry rides take 8 hours in the dry season.
- ALL children see you and say, "HELLO-WHAT-YOUR-NAME!"
- The shooting Gallery in Cambodia is called "The Happy Shooting
Gallery". They were right, people were very happy there.
- Angkor Wat means Temple District. Angkor Wat has 129 temples!
- The Mekong River actually reverses it's direction. When the lake
fills up in the rainy season, the water just comes right back out
- Cambodia has more holidays than any other country in the world.
- Cambodians make scarecrows for the rice paddies... they have coconuts
for heads.

PS. Happy Birthday, Mom!


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