Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 20th: Demilitarized Zone, 17th Parallel, War Veteran's Grave Site

Today, January 20th, we traveled two hours from our hotel in Hue, Vietnam. Our journey was interesting to say the least. The bus ride was a quick change from rural city to an eerie country side full of bomb craters and miles of vegetation to our destination for the day, the Vietcong system of tunnels. Our tour guide quickly went through some of the history of time and gave the group some scary facts to provide you with some incite:

-The number of deaths from bombs in 1975 was around one million
-Bombs dropped in this area 7,000 tons
-Total tonnage of bombs 750,000
-80% of deaths can be attributed to bombs or starvation

We then got the unique experience of exploring a place once thought to be defying and now viewed as uniting. The 1700 meters of tunnels was absolutely shocking. We only explored 200 meters and thankfully so as we were hitting our heads on the “ceiling”, feeling awfully claustrophobic, having shortage of oxygen and in absolute awe of the situation. I’ll try and paint you a picture…

Prior to entering the caves, we walked along stone paths and saw lots of bamboo and bomb craters in addition, the weather thankfully or not so thankfully gave us more insight into what the soldiers experience was really like, with constant overcast and rain.

As we descended 15 meters into the ground via entrance 8, we immediately were questioning our decision to journey into the depths of this dark, miniscule hole. The five foot clearance was the first obstacle to overcome. The system could be compared to an ant farm with many levels; the top being used as protection and the lower levels for living. As our guide was explaining the intricate system of tunnel and how 350 people would share one toilet, yes one toilet, or how each family got a massive three square meters to live.

The palpable feeling of relief when we finally exited was overwhelming. We just experienced a glimpse of lives of these Vietnamese people who might have spent upwards of three years in this situation. The ten minute walk through gave us an extremely quick look at their life and it was not bright, literally and figuratively.

After departing from the tunnels, we made a pit stop at the 17th parallel. This stop was a very humbling experience; showing us the dividing line of the two fighting forces.

We then traveled to our final destination for the day, a Vietcong grave site. This site, although still under construction depicted the respect the Vietnamese have for their fallen countrymen. The center of the grave site stands a large pillar “TO QUOC GHI CONG “. This message basically means thank you for the giving up your life from the government.

As the Vietnamise say: "Cam on ta thu chung toi hy ving ban thich no"
Translation thank you for reading our post, we hope you enjoyed it.

Posted by: Ben Hoffman and Jim Bulsiewicz
Photographs by: Ted Wetterau

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