Tuesday, June 25, 2013

First Impressions: Tour 2013

Our travels on China Eastern went very well with everyone either watching Diary of the Wimpy Kid or getting many hours of shut eye.  Other than a 2 hour delay in Shanghai we had very easy travel.  The delay meant, however, we arrived at the Liberty Central Hotel at 3am and had to be up at 8:30am for breakfast and sight-seeing!

Our hotel, Liberty Central Hotel, is in the heart of District 5 and downtown Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.  Though today the city is called Ho Chi Minh many people still call it Saigon.  We met our guides Ti and Man, who met us at the airport though we were too sleeply to notice and our ACFEA tour guide Robert Latimer from Australia again.  They took us to the Reunification Hall where South Vietnam surrendered to the Viet Cong, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the French built Post Office building, a Chinese pagoda, a Chinese market place and the Siagon Central Market.  There is a very large Chinese population in Vietnam and a China Town larger than San Francisco's.  The most interesting and impactful stop of the day was the War Remnants Museum which gave a very particular view of the American or Vietnam War especially through photo journalism of photos from photographers from Japan, Australia, Vietnam, and the US.  The horrors of US torture, use of Agent Orange, and the escalation of the US involvement are all portrayed very honestly.  As they say, there are 3 sides to history, the winning, the losing and the truth. Before dinner the chorus had a debrief on the very (chilling) images and information.  Many of the singers picked up on the fact that the presentation was very one sided but at the same time took away the horror of war.

However, today, Tuesday, we extended the mission of BCC of breaking down barriers using music when we visited the Organization for the Support and Education of Disadvantaged Children.  For over 39 years, two men have been giving children affected by Agent Orange and other very poor orphans the opportunity to gain an education and explore learning traditional Vietnamese music.  We were given a very nice performance of many traditional instruments by students who were blind and had other physical disabilities as well as some very spirited young marital artists.  BCC had a chance to share some of their music and get to play some of the special Vietnamese instruments.

In the afternoon, we all had the once in a life opportunity to learn about how the Viet-Cong survived the war by living in very deep tunnels dug in the ground.  Many of the singers bravely went into some very tight dirt holes in the ground and crawled 30 to 60 meters under the ground.  

So far it has been very humid and lived up to our expectations that we were going to sweat!  luckily the bus is airconditioned and fully stocked with water and these little wet napkins we use to refresh ourselves.  Driving in the bus is the most exciting thing as there are 10 million people in Saigon and 4 million motor bikes.  There are no driving rules!  Everything works organically.  Ocassionally our bus gives a big toot on the horn to work motor bikes to not come too close.  Though today at the orphanage another truck hit one of our buses and quite the argument ensued.  Our bus driver somehow confiscated the other driver's license so that he would come back with some $$ to pay for damage.  Cash is king here; no insurance.  Also, we've all got use to using Vietnamese Dong and many of us are millionaires as 500,000 dong is about $25 USD.  But the US dollar is widely accepted and one doesn't even need to change money to buy anything. 

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