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Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh

8 Mar

When I was at school we studied the (Protestant) reformation. I distinctly remember that one of the grudges were the sale of religious relics. Bones and other brick-a-brack of religious figures were sold en masse. In Ho Chi Minh City we visited a museum (by far the best in the city) dedicated to the life of Mr. Minh which included a vast array of what can only be described as relics of his life.

Our entire visit was taken up by a kind of one-upmanship of who could find the best Mr. Minh relic. Look! His glasses. Come over here – look, his hat! Even better – his sandels! Model replica of his house? I can do better than that – model replica of his maternal grandmother's house! Maternal? Here is a model replica of his paternal grandmother's house!

In the end it was a draw. Mr. Minh's chopsticks and rice bowl & Mr. Minh’s watering can (with a painting of him using it displayed behind).

That is what we thought until we saw a small brown lump wrapped up in see-through plastic. It looked like a boiled sweet. Surely not. But yes, there it was. A sweety that Mr. Minh had given to a young woman who had kept it (presumably for many years and subsequently donated it to the museum after his death. Perhaps it was worshiped in her village before that time. I like to believe there is a village Pagoda somewhere out there that once was used to display the sacred sweety). How the sweety was authenticated however, was not elaborated on.

The next city we visited, Can Tho, a few hours drive south also boasted a military museum. Although on a smaller scale the same pictures and similar memorabilia could be found. My girlfriend and I were sorely disappointed to find the same looking chopsticks, rice bowl and microphone (that the great man used to declare independence of Vietnam) as we saw in Ho Chi Minh City. I felt cheated. Which chopsticks were the authentic ones? But then again, surely the man used more than one set of chopsticks in his life. Perhaps there are as many (authentic) chop sticks as there are museums in Vietnam. Surely his cadres were careful enough to preserve enough authentic chop sticks to ensure every citizen easy access to a local museum to see them. Or perhaps it was a travelling exhibition and we had the good fortune to follow it (inadvertently) from one city to the next.

The museum in Can Tho had an entire second floor but unfortunately the lights didn't work. Pleading (and charming) the two female guards to put the lights on for us to see yet more delights the museum had to offer was pointless. Some of the exhibits were being changed and thus it was closed to tourists. However, one of the guards was more than forthcoming about taking our picture in front of what can only be described as a religious shrine of Mr. Minh at the entrance. Although a little apprehensive of her potential reaction (all museum staff members were dressed in military-looking uniforms and the museum in Ho Chi Minh boasted strict signs about no photography) we adopted the traditional Asian V-sign. To take a more sombre tone would have been too gracious and respectful for the pitiful site behind us.

In the museum (in Ho Chi Minh) one of the few other tourists noted our amusement at some of the exhibits. He told us that there is one in Hanoi which has a collection of his disguises. God I hope we can try them on and reenact scenes from his life.



Dirty toilets & genocide

25 Feb

I've always been a big fan of guest books. You can perhaps tell more about society by the comments left in such books than in an entire sociology text-book. Many are dull, many are clich├ęs, but if you're lucky sometimes you may just find a gem of a comment that can bring a tear to the eye in profundity, or even better, utter pedantry.

The two guest books I have seen in Cambodia didn't fail to disappoint.

First, from the “impressions” book of the Choeung Ek – the country's most famous 'killing field'.

Not usually a place for laughter I couldn't help but smile at the first (English-language comment) in the book.

“The rest room is so dirty”

There are actually two comments made by the same person. The first is made in their native language. Perhaps they talk about the sheer awfulness, the emotional anguish and how the visit will change them into a better person. But for some reason – perhaps reflective of a very unpleasant visit – they have switched to English to make their complaint (or is it a warning to other tourists – why else the change of language?).

The second comment made directly below makes a reference to the comment above. A Vietnamese called Mi ends his entry:

“P.S. The person above me is indeed a fool.”


Randy from the USA also caught my eye.

“Worse, in some ways, to Dachau and Auschwitz, which I visited some time ago.”

He doesn't elaborate on how it is worse “in some ways”, but perhaps he shares the sentiment of “RS” from Japan making the comparison with the Holocaust.

“This case is very different to that of Germany in the sense of killing their own citizens.”

Brushing aside the historical inaccuracy, the moral implications are worrying to say the least. You often see the same moral reasoning in press articles when a murder victim was an “innocent man”. The murder of a “guilty man” is surely no less morally reprehensible.

Jensen from the USA uses the opportunity to complain about the imbalance in the site's stories (you get an audio guide including a number of short stories of survivors' tales of the horrors of the regime).

“I want more stories about the Cambodians that fought back against Pol Pot. 'Poor me Poor me' stories are important but the brave & heroic Cambodians is what would give me hope.”

My favourite comment is by Morzal Saber from the Netherlands.

“It made me more human.”

Well put Mr Saber.


Angkor Wat is up with those stairs???

17 Feb

Our local guide couldn't believe the carvings were made by man. What I couldn't believe was that the steps were made by Cambodians. Not renowned for their height (modern malnutrition – an interesting phrase in itself – means that many are shorter than they should be) the Cambodians managed to make steps for giants.

Some of the places we visited you had to 'climb' rather than 'walk' up. How could such a nation of short people make such impractical staircases for their temples and palaces? The mind boggles. You get used to it in Holland – where skinny houses have steps the size of small children but it’s not as if the ancient Khmers were short of space..





A few more pics of the Floating Village of Kampong Phluk

17 Feb

Am a bit behind my girlfriend in posting her pics & blog posts so here are a few more pics of the '24-Dollar-Please-5-Dollar-Extra-To-Support-Local-Fishermen' Floating Village of Kampong Phluk.
Until I actually got there I was fine with having to pay a (relatively) large sum of money to the official tourism authority to enter a 'traditional' village. As Dolly Parton once said, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap”.
As backpackers, our nirvana is to find the new 'Beach'; an untouched virgin site of natural beauty or anthropological curiosity that hasn't yet been spoiled by the dreaded 'tourists' (backpackers are a distinct species from tourists – whereas tourists ruin everything, backpackers provide a kind of spiritual nourishment to the locals).
The Kampong Phluk floating village is a solution to this contradiction. The tour is both extremely expensive and extremely poor. At the same time flooded with tourists, it seems highly doubtful the villagers will change from their traditional hand-to-mouth existence.
And rightly so.
If not they might loose their authenticity and by direct consequence the raison-d'etre of our trip to their village. They must remain poor so we can take pictures of them. Taking pictures of middle class Cambodians is much less interesting.