Day two of our visit to Vietnam confronts us with diametrically different realities. The visit to the War Remnants Museum is a loaded experience.The Vietnam war was so much a part of my young years – we lived with it and we lived through it. It shaped our political foundations and directions for a lifetime. It will never fully leave any of us. So existential was it and so much did it divide families and friends, fathers and sons. To walk slowly through the three floors of horror was to face a part of my youth all over again. And I got a cross reference from my visit to Okinawa last year. Some of the Japanese peace activists told us about Orange Agent from the 1960s, a chemical weapon which was observed on the US airbase in Okinawa en route to Vietnam surrounded by gruesome rumours of death and destruction, even for people who had been in touch with the barrels in Okinawa during the years of the Vietnam-USA war. Here at the museum was a special exhibition by a Japanese photographer, Goro Nakamura, on the same Agent Orange with photos of the ongoing suffering of victims in the second and third generation. It was physically painful to see the images of children born with disabilities unimaginable. Not to mention the vast areas of tropical rain forest that had been terribly destroyed and changed into wasteland of chemically infested deserts.
Agent Orange being sprayed over tropical rain forests in Vietnam 1961-71.
Below the museum.
We walked from the museum into the Street of Flowers together with one of our tour guides, Yen, who told us that her grandfather was killed in the war, he was a soldier, and her grandmother seriously wounded. The other tour guide for the day, Ngan, had lost both her grandparents fighting in the war.
Ngan and Yen, our tour guides for the day. Ngan is a volunteer with the YMCA and loves to do volunteer work, Yen is a full time staff at the National Office, responsible for community Outreach work, especially Work-camp activities with foreign partners.
The Street of Flowers is a long, open square where the government has organised a gigantic flower parade, really colourful and beautiful, and it was like it took us a long way from chemical destruction and into something smelling of spring and promising summer.
It was difficult to walk through the square because of all the photographers and selfie-sticks. They commanded the airspace between themselves and near relatives close to the flowers, and if we walked into a photo, we were not making ourselves very popular.
Below a very impressive young guard who wanted to test his English with us and I asked for his photo – a very friendly young man.
Not often does a photographer receive such a salute!
The amazing fact is that all these flowers will be deconstructed and taken away at the end of the week, when the celebration of Lunar or Tet New Year is over. As I have shown you yesterday the city is also fully decorated with communist symbols in the shape of red flags. They will also disappear in a few days.
The lady here was demonstrating her skills in weaving, creating beautiful silk fabrics in strong colours.
It was enormous to observe what New Years celebration means to the people. It was like Christmas at home, and here we are arriving as visitors in the middle of these family celebrations. All offices are closed and all YMCA programmes as well. People go home to their families and they have 10 days off, a gigantic vacation for people who normally only have a day or three off during the summer.
Our tour guides and other staff and volunteers were coming out of holidays to show us around and tell us about the YMCA programmes. According to Luu van Loc I am the first Secretary General of the World Alliance to visit YMCA Vietnam, and they will never forget about this visit, since we came during their most important celebration.
Again smiling propaganda welcoming delegates to the important meeting of electing the new leadership of the country. Quite a lot of propaganda spread around in the city, but all very non-aggressive and smiling and colourful.
The Cathedral in Saigon was brought to Vietnam in all details from Marseille – bricks, glass, everything. The colonial master also wanted to share the spiritual joys, but in a genuinely colonial way.
The yellow flowers behind the ladies grow on an apricot tree, inside the church, the flowers only bloom around New Year.
The main post office is nearby the Cathedral and carries a picture of President Ho Chi Minh on the wall and sell a lot of different items you would never expect to look for in a post office, for example the beautiful model boats below. Titanic is rather unshapely formed, while the speedboat of teak is very elegant.
After some hours walking from war to peace in the city of Ho Chi Minh, or Saigon, as the locals still like to call the city,
it is time for lunch and we take lunch in a restaurant famous for serving the national dish “pho” – a delicious soup with noodles and beef or chicken with vegetables. It was good and felt healthy!
And this is what happens to the owner of the restaurant when he has sold enough portions of noodle soup.
A coffee break outside in a nice place serving Highland Coffee from Central Vietnam was convenient and became rather successful, now we are joined by a third tour guide, An, also staff at the National office. Thank you Yen, Ngan and An for your fantastically friendly guiding and fellowship during a long day! You are great representatives of YMCA!
In the building which is the National Office, owned by the YMCA, impressively enough, the youth committee and staff had prepared a presentation of Vietnam and of the National YMCA. They want to organise themselves as a registered NGO, but the government does not allow such a status yet. I did already present three of the main programmes yesterday. Today we saw a fourth pillar – the International Work camps. YMCA Vietnam has quite a number of partners around the world, especially YMCA of Singapore, but also Houston, Hong Kong, YMCAs from Japan, Korea and other places. They send groups of students and/ or YMCA members for combined work camps to restore village schools and public services in poor areas and alternative tourist programmes. This activity is growing rapidly and is the key to survival and growth for Vietnam YMCA. The idea hereby generously shared with every reader of Blue Music Blog – the work camps support YMCA financially – go thee and do likewise!
We had a great conversation with Loc and his young staff and volunteers about essential YMCA issues.
Gifts are exchanged as always and we receive tea and coffee of the highest Vietnamese quality, from the Highlands in Central Vietnam. And I give away a plaque with inscription from the World YMCA.
I feel proud to belong to the same YMCA movement as these good people of Vietnam!
Look at the building in 4 or 5 floors. They bought it when land was affordable and built it with the help from foreign YMCAs, among them YMCA of the USA and local YMCAs in the USA as well as Asian neighbours. This fact brought me back to the opening paragraphs of this blog post in a very deep and meaningful way. What governments do, the YMCAs can try to rectify in a historic perspective.
And home we go on our scooters and motorbikes, of course, the student volunteer to the left with red bike, responsible for the YMCA student dormitory and on the brown bike a very charming volunteer dentist.
Tomorrow we will be on the Mekong river.