Monday, 23 August 2010

FINAL PROJECT - The Spirit of Vietnam 2010

1 - 23 August 2010

My time since returning to the UK has been taken up in selecting through some 2200 images to a final selection of ca 110 for the proposed book. I have been working with Blurb software and am looking to produce on 13"x11" format. I have been using Ros as my prime mentor and communicating directly in Lincoln or via the web.
I am now on ver 6 of the book and am aiming to go to print on 26 Aug which will allow me to have time for a re-print if required. (I wont obviously be attending the print run.)

The book has been broken down into chapters which include; Ho Chi Minh and the Remnants of war, life on the Mekong Delta, Life in the cities, life on the land, life on the sea and rivers and finally 'Open for Business' which covers industry and tourism of a non-military interest. I found it useful once I had reached ver 3 to print a mock up book using a B&W laser printer. I have printed ver 6 in colour to achieve a better impression of the finished book albeit A4 size.

In addition to the book it is my intention to produce a Slideshow and obviously images for the exhibition. These will all be selected from the book images although the exhibition images will concentrate on Remnants of war and dark tourism.




FINAL PROJECT - The Spirit of Vietnam 2010
This is a blast update covering my time in Vietnam during July. There are a limited number of photographs because the site is clumsy and slow when attempting to upload lots of images and place them in the correct place. The site likes to put them where it wants which is not good for my humour.

Sunday 4 July
Fly Bangkok – Saigon arr mid morning. Weather hot, cloudy and humid. Travel by taxi to hotel. Acclimatise pm with a visit to the local market, walk the streets and visit the fine art museum. This is in a run down French colonial building. Many paintings and pen/pencil drawings from the 60’s. Met the group in the early evening and dined out at a restaurant overlooking the city. Rained hard all evening.

Monday 5 July
Weather as Sunday. Cyclo tour of the city visiting War Remnants, Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral, HCM Museum (closed) the side of the Saigon River and the City Museum. A good way to see the city quickly and not too fast for photography. Unfortunately, the city authorities are looking to ban cyclo’s because they hold up traffic flow. This will be a shame for future tourists if it happens. It was noticeable from my first visit that the number of motor-scooters and more alarmingly motor cars has increased considerably’. Their road systems are 1960’s. How long before they have constant gridlock or kill tourists? Found the Remnants museum extremely moving and the quietness of the visitors became noticeable as they walked around. The exhibits pull no punches and are vividly explicit. It is run down for a major tourist attraction. How must an American visitor feel? Can I capture the mood of this place in my images without just showing artefacts of war?



Tuesday 6 July
Weather as Monday although blue skies as we travelled south. Temp in the mid 30’s! Travelled by mini-bus to Cai Be on the upper Mekong River. Took ca 2 hours to leave the city owing to traffic levels. This will only get worse. The style of architecture results in long narrow buildings with different heights. Explained as being due to land prices in the city, but I am not convinced as this continues into the countryside.
Once at Cai Be we moved to water transport. The waterways are extremely noisy from the huge unsilenced boat engines. The Cathedral at Cai Be (Roman Catholic) looked odd to my western eyes against the Vietnamese backdrop. Cai Be has a floating wholesale market with each boat literally strapping its wares to the mast for identification. Moved on into the motorways which seem to criss-cross one another and vary in width massively. They are a hive of activity with the traffic system only marginaly better than on the land. The rivers are bridged frequently. The hand crafted style seen in the Smolan collection no longer in evidence. It was noticeable that many had no handrails!
Visited several factories including rice paper manufacture, fish and soy sauce, sweets and bricks. They were all cottage industries except for the brick works although mechanisation as low. Wages we were told are ca $3 per day/6days per week/10 hours per day. The owners ‘luxury’ houses and cars were curiously pointed out to us. Capitalism is moving in.
Lunch was at a riverside restaurant with excellent quality local food and fruit. The night was spent in a communal home stay lodge by the noisy riverside. A trip on a small twin oared boat was also made. This was a quieter ride and allowed us to see the gentle side of river life.





Wednesday 7 July
Sunny. Left the Delta very early in the morning for a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, which was a 4 hour journey. The journey was through rubber plantations and rice paddy.
The tunnels are a major tourist attraction which includes a communist wartime propaganda video, a verbal explanation of life in the tunnels, a walking tour of the area showing a captured tank, a crawl through a tunnel, bomb craters, booby traps and the opportunity to fire weapons. Are the Vietnamese selling the ordnance back to the Americans? Surely not.
Three hours back to rainy Saigon and KFC.

Thursday 8 & Friday 9 July
Saigon to Da Lat in the central highlands. (1500m above sea level) A 10 hour journey and distance of ca 150 miles. Road conditions getting out of Saigon as Tuesday. The journey is a hilly one and so very little rice paddy. Move into coffee, tea, fruit and veg landscapes with some greenhouse cultivation . Visited a minority village of the K’hor people, who do not have Vietnamese as their mother tong.
Da Lat is a romantic city for the Vietnamese. It is certainly cooler. It was the one time summer retreat of the last king who abdicated in 1945 and died in France in 1997. A visit to his 1930’s style estate was made. The city also has several tourist attractions which are curiously 1950’s style. It brought to me the odd thought that at one time these men who were managing silly rides, only 30 years ago would have been fighting men. This is one city whose development over the next 10 years will be of interest.
Other things seen are; Crazy House (Architecturally) Cable car, Culture Park, Embroidery museum and the old railway station including a redundant steam engine.

Saturday 10 July
This was a sunny day and entailed an 4 hour journey through a hilly terrain of the Ngoan Muc Pass down to Nha Trang on the coast. The city is developing as a tourist resort with western style hotels being erected. It was interesting to see part built hotels which had been part built on my last visit. My guide explained this as ‘the money doesn’t always go where it was intended’, which is polite for corruption. The afternoon was spent at a Cham Towers which is a mini version of the temples at Anchor Wat in Cambodia.

Sunday 11 July
A beautiful sunny hot day spent touring a local fishing island and seeing local life. This included the coracle boats, markets and village architecture. It also gave us a chance to relax. The evening meal was taken in a typical Vietnamese BBQ restaurant with the locals. A bit on the non too hygienic side foe me and I paid the price on the following day.

Monday 12 July
This was a travel day in gloomy weather along the coast to Quy Non of approx 6 hours. The afternoon was spent at a home for the deaf and blind. It is unfortunate in Vietnamese society that any debility in a child is hidden away. Only the enlightened will ask for help. The older children work on craft items which they sell. The home is run by charitable donation and staffed by Westerners and those who have passed through the home. It was chance for the children to sing and dance and practice their English. It was a bit cheesy but important to them so worthwhile.

Tuesday 13 July
A 7 hour journey in sunny weather to the Memorial Site at Son My (My Lai). The visit included a video of the opening of the memorial site with footage of those Americans who had attempted to stop the massacre. Is this a way of making visiting Americans feel better? This was followed by an explanation of the massacre from a lady, an accompanied tour of the museum which was primarily ordnance, photographs and newspaper reports. A marble stone with the name of those killed, their age and gender dominates the museum. The outside has several statues which have an aggression whilst at the same time great sadness about them. This part of the hamlet is laid out in plots depicting the houses. Each has a plaque of the names of those killed and mock remains of the houses and dead animals. Mass graves are also marked. The most touching sight is of concrete paths imprinted with the feet of fleeing villagers and the boots of the following attacking GI’s.
We arrived in Hoi An late afternoon.




Wednesday 14 July
Very Hot. The morning was spent looking around this 16/17th century town set on the coast. Hoi An was in the south and not bombed by the Americans. It has a thriving market selling local produce and fish as is common in Vietnam. Its shops are mainly tailors and the town is set up as the ‘made to measure tailoring’ centre of the country. The once thriving early morning fish landing quayside has been moved up river out of site of the tourists. A real shame. Went to a local show of dancing and singing which I recorded part of. I do find Vietnamese theatre a bit too expressive and long winded although very colourful.
Thursday 15 July
Cloudy today. Took a cycle tour of the local villages, lakes and coastline. Well off of the beaten track and able to see the everyday lives of the country people. This is prawn farming country for the locals and tourists. There is a beauty about his aspect of Vietnam which really needs to remain unspoiled.
The outskirts of Hoi An along the coast is being turned into tourist territory and people are being compulsorily moved away. How wrong is this and how far away from what they had fought for? Are the Vietnamese being deceived and are just too tired to protest? Have they been betrayed by their leaders as suggested by Gabriel Kolko in ‘Vietnam – Anatomy of Peace’?

Friday 16 July
A rainy day and I see our first amputee from the war. ‘Americans, Claymoor mines’ he explained. He sells English text newspapers on sunny days and umbrellas on rainy ones. We travel from Hoi An to Hue over the Hai Van Pass. The weather was unfortunate and spoiled our view.
Arrived in Hue, the one time capital and scene of extensive fighting and cruelty at the Tet Offensive. It rained heavily all day, although we made the tour of the Citadel. This was the one time seat of royalty and had had extensive and ornate palaces on a similar scale to the Forbidden City in Beijing. These had been extensively damaged during fighting with both the French and the Americans. It is gradually being restored under the auspices of the World Heritage authorities and the plan is to re-build the whole complex.
The evening was spent at a traditional Vietnamese banquet with entertainment. It Is intriguing to see and hear the sounds which can be extracted from single stringed instruments and teacups!

Saturday 17 July
Started gray and rainy but brightened up by late morning.
The morning was spent on a boat ride down the Perfume River, a visit to a Chinese style pagoda and to see the car which had taken the Buddhist monk to Saigon in 1962 for his act of self immolation.
Spent the rest of the day on the back of a motor scooter braving the conditions of town and country driving. The trick appears to be never to stop, regardless of other road users, lorries and road junctions. Visited rice paddy, local villages and markets, a covered bridge, roadside craft shops, a hill overlooking the Perfume River with the pill box and abandoned royal tombs.

Sunday 18 July
This was my favourite day as we took the 11 hour journey by rail from Hue to Dinh Binh and into the north. The countryside was a hive of activity as the people worked the rice paddy with water buffalo and bent backs. This part of the journey should be made on a bicycle and take three weeks to do. It is stunningly beautiful and has not changed since the days of the images taken by Jones -Griffith and others. Only now, the soldiers have gone.

Monday 19 July
Cloudy day. Travelled to the Cuc PhuongNational Park via more royal tombs near Ninh Bin. This was a real tourist trap with everyone wanting to sell memorabilia at the same time. The incessant sales talk is one area of tourism which needs discouraging.
The National Park has an endangered monkey sanctuary financed by the west. The monkeys are being re-introduced into the wild onto the uninhabited island of Ha Long Bay where they can be protected against poachers. The afternoon was spent walking in the forest but there was too much up hill for my liking.

Tuesday 20 July
An early start in good weather and a 7 hour drive to Ha Long bay along the coastal road. The journey went around the port city of Hai Phong which had been heavily bombed by the Americans. This part of the journey became progressively more industrialised mixing rice paddy with factories and tourism. Arrived in Ha Long two days after a typhoon had caused some flooding and boats to sink. Made the tourist overnight trip on an imitation junk which included excellent food, a trip to underground caves and a swim in the bay.

Wednesday 21 July
The last part of our journey by bus would take 4 hours on the journey to Hanoi along increasingly industrialised roads. Many Japanese high street names were in evidence. An afternoon cyclo tour of the old quarter (tourist quarter) was taken. This is a hive of markets and street sellers selling primarily counterfeit goods.
The evening was spent at the Water Puppet Theatre which thank goodness now has a little humour rather than telling long tales of love and tragedy.
Thursday 22 July
Cloudy and cooler. (It had been +40 in Hanoi the previous week)
Had an English breakfast in a restaurant run by street kids who had been rescued by an Australian one time tour guide,
Afterwards went to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. There appeared to be a constant stream of both Vietnamese and tourists to see Uncle Ho. The V motives are understandable, but why do westerners do it? Need to re-read relevant section of ‘Dark Tourism’.

Friday 23 & Saturday 24 July
Last minute walking tours of the city and shopping. Enjoyed the hustle and bustle of city life, the chaotic traffic and the charm of these lovely people. The question of how did they become involved in so many wars continues to cloud my thoughts? I suppose the HCM comment of 2 Sep answers this plus the museum poster ‘Independence or Death’.

Sunday 25 July
Leave Hanoi mid –afternoon in rain for the journey via Bangkok to home.