I’m falling in love with Ho Chi Minh City, just as we are about to leave it. It hasn’t been easy. The city is overwhelming; your senses are constantly on overload. The sights, smells, and sounds can take some getting used to. But yesterday, on my third day, I began to fall hard, and it happened on the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
There is something about driving down a quiet road, in a foreign country, that makes me happy; watching people go about their daily life. Children sprawled out on the front porch eating soup. Young men collecting cattle. Older women knitting. And of course, because this is a road in Vietnam, everyone zipping down the streets on their motorbikes or bicycles. Though there is still plenty of beeping, it is a long way from Ho Chi Min City, and it is where I began to fall in love with the country.
We were on our way back from the Cu Chi Tunnels, located about an hour and fifteen minutes away from HCMC. In the middle of the jungle, we were given a picture of how the people hid from and fought against the American troops. They built a network of tunnels underground and that was were they lived throughout the war. Around the site, there were entrances to tunnels, traps, and craters left from the B52s that had been dropped. There is even an area that you can shoot off AK 47 guns, if you want, but the sound of them firing off in the background gives the place an eerie feeling, as if the fighting hasn’t stopped.
But, the people are kind, even if I was hesitant to let them know I was American. It’s just so much easier to blend in with my Irish travel companions. But, when our guide asked where we were from and I told her, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. When asked how I, as an American, felt about the war, I found it hard to choke out the words. It’s hard to figure out how to feel, especially for something I wasn’t alive for or knew very little about until here. I managed to choke out the words, it’s very upsetting, and my eyes filled with tears. She smiled, nodded, and understood. But, deep down I wished there was something more I could do to make it up to these people, those whose family members or them themselves had been directly affected by the war. I guess being here and learning about it was a start and a step in the right direction.
Far away, in the countryside of Vietnam, I began to get a better understanding of this country’s people. Not only warm-hearted, but also forgiving. And, on the car ride back to our hotel, I slowly began to feel that I was finally gaining an understanding of this country and the people who live here, though I feel that they still have an awful lot to teach me.