Rising from the ashes of war-A A +A
By Jun Ledesma
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
HO Chi Minh - Let’s have a respite from politics and the much ballyhooed Bangsamoro land. Let me take you to Vietnam the veritable staging point of the famous “Miss Saigon”.
TanSonNhat International Airport terminal building may not be as big as NAIA1 but definitely it is more spic and span than what we have and with a longer airstrip. It is expandable and not constricted by the presence of housing subdivisions or squatters, which our airports are commonly surrounded with. The toilets are clean and the facilities are not decrepit like what we have. This airport is also tourist friendly. You do not go to the rigors of filling up Customs forms like we and many ports of the few countries I have gone to do. Whether you have one dollar or $10,000 is not important to them. What is important to them is that you visit Vietnam and prove that Ho Chi Minh and for that matter the entire country of Vietnam is open to the world and whoever you are or wherever you came from you are welcomed to this country which was once ravaged by cruel war.
It is no wonder therefore why many Westerners are here and foreign capitalists are pouring in more investments in this country than in most countries in Asia, the Philippines included. Their growth rate eclipsed our own although this does not mean that they are far advanced than us. What I am saying is, at the rate we treat businesses like Manny Pangilinan of PLDT and Philex Mines, one day soon we might find some of our own homegrown entrepreneurs and foreign capitalists relocating to Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh or Saigon is the motorcycle capital of the world. Motorcycle riders are the kings of the road. If you go by the brands, you can say that the Vietnamese people no longer hold grudges against the Western countries. Of course majority of the more than 5-million motorcycles plying the streets of Saigon buy China made as these are cheap but there is a strong preference now for western brands as they last longer.
The swarms of motorcycles are overwhelming. There are a few cars, SUVs and buses as the cost of registration is quite exorbitant. Like what we have in Davao City, taxis are of different make, colors and are obviously owned and operated by different firms and maybe individuals.
In Ho Chi Minh their principal tourist site is in Cu Chi where you can find a maze of tunnels used by the Vietnamese to elude the enemy and to deal with the enemy. Enemy to them are the Americans whose B52s, war tanks and jets rained them bombs and bullets. But it is in Cu Chi where the bravery, discipline and agility of the Vietnamese soldiers were tested. The natives of Cu Chi will proudly tell you that they won the war using the weapons of the enemy. Unexploded bombs used in carpet-bombing were retrieved by the Vietnamese and then fashioned out lethal improvised explosives against their enemy’s war tanks and infantrymen. But the consuming hatred against the US seemed to have fizzled out as quickly as the Americans decided to meddle in the unification of Vietnam. American visitors are free to roam around buying cheap goods in markets selling “branded” items. I must swear however that the quality is good.
Back to the tunnels of Cu Chi, this elaborate labyrinth is now the principal tourist attraction in Saigon. They serve as grim reminders of the savagery of man and the firm determination of a people who were crudely armed but driven by courage and resolve to triumph against a much superior force of foreign invaders.
For those who were born yesterday, it will be helpful to know Vietnam war was among those that happened after the cold-war era which occurred in Laos and also in Cambodia. These started from 1955 and ended in 1975.
The French started it all but the US stepped in fielding forces in 1965. Sometime in 1966 I attended a conference on nationalism and international understanding. Among the participants I was very close to was a Vietnamese delegate named Tuyet Van Tran, a student nurse, who spoke of the horrors of the escalating war. The presence of American forces had increase and along with it the story of casualties among them involving relatives. I don’t know what happened to her. The VCs and the VPAs triumphed over the US in 1975. The number of people killed in Vietnam ran into millions. The US soldiers had a more precise count of their casualties: 58,220. Vietnam reunification ended with reconciliation. In Cambodia the manslaughter continued under the Khmer Rouge regime.
These days, the Cu Chi tunnels are still there and the bomb craters from B52 carpet bombing bore the dreadfulness that the quiet and farming community suffered at the height of war. But these days too, the vegetation razed by napalm bombs and the rubber trees of Cu Chi have grown luxuriantly while the vast rice lands have started to be productive again. Saigon is now vibrant again with new corporate buildings reaching for the sky. Our tour guide Pham Anh Phuong, nicknamed Micky, look through the window of the Toyota car which she and the driver of the tour company assigned to us to move around the city. She is second year in the college majoring in Business law. She said that like every member in her family, she owns a motorcycle (hers is a scooter) but one day she hopes to be employed in one of those new firms and then buy a car.
Coming back from Ho Chi Minh, a friend asked me whether it is now safe to visit Vietnam. Questions like that are expected especially from one who heard and had been reading about the vicious war that beset the country and the missing soldiers in action. Hollywood movies had been depicting the Vietnamese as the bad guys. What struck me however when our tour guide strangely asked me: ”Is the Philippines really a dangerous place to go to”?
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 25, 2012.