So Saigon. The furthest point. From here on we are just heading home. Spin the compass in the other direction, no longer do we chase the rising sun, we turn our backs on our easterly goal. We've arrived. About turn. Westward we go, towards the setting sun. Back to the permanence of our comfortable bed. Back to fish and chips, a jar of marmite. And back to work. But the return to the setting sun is still some way in the future. It's taken us three months to get to the most south easterly point. Home is five north westerly months and at least 7 countries away. To paraphrase what Paul Theroux once wrote, 'travel is the inspired man's way of heading home'. Yes indeedy, we are inspired.
Saigon Saigon. S-S-S-S-Saigon. Paul Hardcastle's 19 ringing in my ears as we enter Saigon, now named Ho Chi Min City. A large sprawling city, the suburbs seem to go on for miles. Or rather parking lots filled with heavy plant machinery. Rows of bulldozers, diggers, rollers, any machine you need to dig, move and flatten earth. And cranes. side by side reaching into the sky. Lot after lot, mile after mile of cold steel construction hardware; heavy plant machinery. Which always sparks up the image in my mind of the sign 'heavy plant crossing' and a picture of a giant triffid strolling across the road.
We check into a hotel, they have a collection of books to swap- I pick up 'Around Ireland with a Fridge' by Tony Hawks, good book, and I think how appropriate, in the spiel about the author I learn that he was responsible for the stutter rap, a dreadful spoof of Paul Hardcastle's 19, and there we are again, Saigon
Saigon Saigon. S-S-S-S-Saigon.
The horror of war
The War Remnants Museum was originally called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, but it's name was changed to avoid offending American and Chinese tourists. It's a sombre affair, photographs of the war with captions referring to the crimes of the imperialist aggressors. Photographs of deformed children born in the aftermath of attacks with Agent Orange. Canisters of agent orange, and then double headed pickled babies in formaldehyde. The horror.
Then the Chu Chi tunnels, the tunnels from which the VC waged their guerrilla war around Saigon. Starting with a video shot in 1970 with some great lines referring to the 'Satanic American Bombers' and then on to displays of VC traps, hidden pits with sharpened bamboo poles that would impale any unfortunate American GI who trod in the wrong place. Huge craters, evidence of the rain of bombs that the Americans dropped in this area which was a 'free fire zone'- 'empty the remaining payload on the VC before landing'. And then the tunnels themselves, shuffling through the tiny shafts, enlarged for fat western bodies to fit through. But the impact was made; imagine spending days, weeks, months underground. Tough cookies the VC, hard as nails.