If you close your eyes, you would think you’re in the actual battlefield. The sound of AK47s firing filled the air, and at one point I actually jumped in fright at what sounded like a grenade. I did close my eyes for a few seconds, and when I opened them they were met by the image of our tour guide who insisted he’s the Vietnamese version of John Wayne, though, in my honest opinion, he doesn’t even come close to Jackie Chan. But he was hilarious with his confused mixture of Vietnamese, Aussie, British, and American accents paired with the Pop-eye quality of his voice.
|Who says he doesn’t look like John Wayne?|
“Follow me to the tunners!” His shout would send a platoon of twenty tourists (including Pinky and me) scrambling towards him. “These tunners are built through the sweat of Vietnamese guerrillas who bravely fought against the Americans during the Vietnam war. You can find guerrillas everywhere in Asia. I don’t know about you”—he turned to the whites—“I’ve never been to your countries. Are there guerrillas there?”—he paused and smiled—“Maybe you’re the gorillas.”
Only Pinky and I and another Asian guy laughed. Okay, so that was not very funny and quite insensitive, I must say.
Anyway, John Wayne took us through the “jungle” where the war actually happened, with the remnants of bomb craters lie among hidden tunnel doors and bobby traps. There were also mannequins depicting the life of the guerrillas. I used to watch Vietcong movies when I was a kid, and who would’ve thought I would actually be in the place where they fought for real. It was a surreal experience, especially with the sounds of firing guns in the background.
|A closed tunnel door.|
|An open tunnel door. Fits petite sizes.|
|A booby trap.|
|Pinky with her guerrilla friends.|
The tour properly started with a documentary film-showing of how “mercilessly the American bombers ruthlessly decided to kill this gentle piece of countryside . . . Cu Chi, a land of many gardens, peaceful all year round under the shady trees.” The film ended with “The Americans wanted to turn Cu Chi into a dead land, but Cu Chi will never die.” I looked around and quite thankful to see there were no Americans with us.
To me, the Cu Chi tunnels tell a story not of anger but of hope, not of revenge but of survival. While the war was taking place over the land, underground men, women, and children tirelessly dug an intricate labyrinth of tunnels that became a little village, where the villagers spent their days eating, sleeping, studying, working, and only going out at night to tend to their crops, so the guerrillas can eat while they try to defend their land. Thinking of the sheer determination and willpower and ingenuity of the Cu Chi people gave me goose bumps.
American soldiers tried to flush the guerillas out of the tunnels through grenades, gas, or water to no avail. These tactics were no match for the tunnels’ clever design. The commandos also tried to crawl into the pits only to find out the tunnels became narrower as they go deeper, leaving them stuck. Hamburger-eating soldiers were not supposed to fit into those passageways, which were also set with booby traps.
I don’t really know how the Vietnam War ended (I have to brush up on my history), but our tour concluded with us having a go at navigating through the tunnels, with emergency exits at 30 meters, 50 meters, and 100 meters. I went for about a meter and turned back. Claustrophobia—my usual excuse. The lair was not only hot, stuffy, and narrow, it was also zigzagging so one cannot see what’s right ahead. So much for the saying “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Oh, and Pinky didn’t go more than a few steps too. And one macho guy. So I wasn’t too embarrassed. Wink*
|Let me out of here . . . with a smile.|
And yes, they gave us snacks after the tour. A meal of boiled cassava dipped in a mix of sugar and spice, and a small cup of cold tea—the food the Vietnamese ate inside the tunnels. I guess it’s the Vietnamese’s way of telling us, “Life is not a piece of cake, so eat your cassava.”