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Greetings from Viet Nam!

The French city design seems neverending in SE Asia. I guess the colonizers put the locals straight to work when they got here.

After cruising around Saigon I've come to the conclusion that traffic circles only add to the dangerous nature of urban motorbiking. Crossing the road between oncoming Hondas, driven by women covered from head-to-toe in a combination of silk and cotton, has become the norm here. I can't say my method is very complex. I look to the right or left, and just hope they don't hit me. Usually the men slow down to offer me a ride with the ubiquitous question "Where you go?". After a negative reply the driver cordially asks if I'd care for a prostitute or drugs. Apparently all white men are interested in only two things in life-getting laid and getting high. Ponder that thought and let me know its' validity.

Absolute chaos exists on all corners around my room, which is the 2nd floor of a silk shop. I can't go to bed until 3am, when the motorbikes and prostitutes dull down, and there are vendors hollering from 6 or 7 in the morning. Luckily I have Coltrane on the Ipod to put me back to sleep.

Yesterday I scoped out the city's attractions, which include a plethora of Ho Chin Minh statues and American War Museums. The pictures inside the main War Museum were absolutely striking-deformed babies, soldiers with limbs ripped off, forests destroyed by Agent Orange and of course, smiling portraits of the "culprits"-a succession of US Presidents, Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger.

A propaganda stunt precedes the goods of the museum, in which the "Prelude to War" is summarized to make the reader believe that the imperialist Americans were the first to take the Vietnamese land. The imperialist French and Japanese were almost completely overlooked, but I guess the main emphasis of the museum was the American War. A French guillotine was situated inside a fake torture room, which paled in comparison to the real detention center that the Khmer Rouge used in Phnom Penh. Without the work of countless photojournalists, including one skillful Japanese man (jozu desu ne!), this museum would be severely lacking. The American war vessels outside provide some real-life flair, but I believe Howard Zinn's chapter on Vietnam was more insightful than any message provided at the War Museum.

Upon entering Nam I decided to rent a motorbike for a few days and venture into the Mekong Delta. The rice bowl of Vietnam was full of picturesque landscapes-floating morning markets, women in conical hats next to shades of green vegetable crops and rice baking on the pavement. Green Mekong water was never far from the dirt roads I bumped over, and the smells always enticed my appetite. The rice-paper wraps with fresh veggies, meats and peanut sauce are just divine. The friendly nature of the Southern Vietnamese was a wonderful way to start my trip, especially considering the Saigon hawks are setting prices 10 times what they should be. Bargaining has lost much of its' entertainment value here, but I'm still up for a good-natured argument over a quarter. It's all about the 4000 dong.

Tomorrow I'm off to Dalat, an old French outpost situated in the mountains. Hopefully the cool air will provide some respite from the sweaty nights I've spent underneath countless fans. Life never gets boring on the road. There's always a new town to go to.

Posted by ggithens 02:16 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

the darker side

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here's what ive done so far

after enjoying the fun ride through thailand and laos, i came to see some of the worst of se asia's history outside of phnom penh. about 10km from the cambodian capital are the S-21 killing fields, used by pol pot's regime to kill "subversives". these people were academics, women, children and anyone deemed to be against the maoist revolution that swept the country in 1975. in less than four years the powerful khmer rouge killed 2 million people, nearly one quarter of the population!!!!

when i walked around the craters in the ground, the images of innocent cambodians being beaten and killed was overwhelming. a temple with bones was erected in the center of the grounds, and it was a moving experience.

afterwards i visited the S-21 facility, used to detain and torture civilians. the cells were barely big enough to lay down in, and the weapons used were on display. the combination of the killing fields and detention center in a single day was a tough thing to grasp after cruising down the mekong and relaxing on the beach. im sure this will be one of the most meaningful experiences on my trip.

as i see the faces of the people in the street, i think about their family members that may have been killed by the khmer rouge. one day i hope the cambodians can achieve reconciliation. there have never been war trials and many khmer rouge leaders are still silent about the acts they committed. considering pol pot's regime lost power in 1979 and he died in 1998, justice will most likely never come. this country is certainly moving forward anyway, and they have no problem showing you their true hearts. i can understand why many ex-pats volunteer to help the children here. it's hard not to feel sympathetic towards the khmer people, but finding the correct way to help them is very difficult. many people beg for money, and children are used by men to sell their products, such as guidebooks and flowers. buying a child a plate of fried rice has felt good, and writing this down soothes some of the pain as well.

here is a picture of the fields. all of the depressions are where the bones were buried in mass graves. in some spots, old clothing was still visible underneath the grass and dirt.


Posted by ggithens 21:57 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

cambodian cruise

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the hype is just for the angkorean temples here in cambodia. as nearly every traveller i've met has said, angkor wat is just stunning. the massive stone structures were built around 900 years ago, and many still stand over 50m. the steep staircases leading up to the temples, especially the one reserved for the king, are a thrill to ascend each time. the angkor wat complex is the most famous, but i absolutely love the bayon with its' 200 stone, buddha faces. as you look around there are eyes on every inch of your body and the feeling is just exhilirating.

this has been the highlight of the trip thus far, and cambodia has really impressed. phnom penh's downtown is a bit seedy, but the silver pagoda and palace are wonderful examples of khmer architecture. the french streets have become commonplace in these former colonies, and the ethnic lao and khmer have continued to renovate and build more francais streets. just about the only disappointing part of cambodia has been the food, which just doesn't compete with n. thailand and laos. my favorite dish is still a good curry, red or green, with loads of veggies and some chicken.

here are some pictures







Posted by ggithens 05:59 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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