Post #24 from SE Asia
The Mekong Delta and rice
A rice field in the Mekong Delta
Growing rice in South East Asia is not a crop. It is a complete culture and belief system. It is incredibly labor intensive. The dikes, drainage, the flooding, the immensely difficult stoop labor, done mostly by women, are a way of life. There is probably 10 times as much labor per amount of grain as compared to corn. So with rice farming comes high densities of population. Even though there are now water tractors that assist in rice farming, the very nature of rice growing limits mechanization. The plots of land must be level and cannot be too large, or one family could not do all the work. Because of this intensive bond of labor to the crop, rice growers are intimately attached to their land. They know their plots and stay with them. They have developed a culture and belief system to support this.
The Mekong Delta may well be the MOST fertile agricultural area in the world. Its 15,000 square miles produces over half of Vietnam’s rice,enough to feed the entire country.
Huey gunship at war remnants museum
Post #21 from SE Asia
February 25th, 2010 Saigon
The LAST war post, about dioxin-laced Agent Orange, the War Remnants Museum, US Vets claims, and Jeff Sharlet
This is the last thing I say about the Vietnam War in this blog. BTW, here they call it the ‘American War’.
I went to the War Remnants Museum here in Saigon yesterday. It is the most visited museum in Saigon. Thousands of people walking thru it daily. Most all of them appear to be international visitors.
Get this straight. This is a grim museum. The Vietnamese government rubs your face in it. It takes hours to cover it all. Yes, the Vietnamese government gets to display what they want. And they do it with a vengeance. 100’s and 100’s of large photos, taken mostly by US freelance photographers, of the war, the dead, the maimed, the civilian casualties. The results of carpet-bombing areas from 40,000 feet, where civilians were living. The Vietnamese resistance takes no credit at the museum for any of the civilian deaths, and this is self-serving and not true. But the evidence is that most of the civilian deaths were from US air strikes. Read More…
A smile of relief after getting out of the tunnel
Post # 20 from SE Asia
February 23rd, 2010
The Cu Chi Tunnel Complex, and my high school friend, Steven Stofko
The Cu Chi Tunnel Complex:
45 km. north west of Saigon lies the most extensive tunnel complex ever made by man for habitation. All told, at its peak usage, there were 200 km of tunnels and over 500 rooms. There were underground hospitals, kitchens, munitions manufacturing complexes, food storage, and all the other things needed for living and sustaining a war. The complex was up to 12 meters deep. It withstood direct hits by B-52 bombing. The US did not begin to realize its size and complexity until after Bob Hope performed ON TOP OF IT. Our guide today, Binh, said that the Viet Cong heard the performance.
The US had at least 3 military camps on top of it. They could not figure out where the hostile fire was coming from for a long time. Initially US had some success with trained dogs finding the minuscule entrances. But the VC quickly found that if they spread soap and shampoo that they bought at the US military PXs, the dogs would ignore the entrance. The tunnels now smelled friendly to the dogs. The US also had our ‘tunnel rats’. They were wiry, tough, smaller soldiers who actually volunteered to enter the tunnels and fight. I could not imagine a more horrific means of combat. The tunnels were literally booby trapped with bombs, spikes, traps, poison, scorpions, and COBRAS! It was their psy-ops against our troops.
So I paid $9 for a 6 hour tour of the complex. On a large, completely booked bus, I was the only US citizen on it. We were first treated to a black-and-white documentary filmed in 1967 showing them fighting. At one point, a young girl of about 14 years old is receiving a reward for killing an American. They had medals for killing a man, destroying a tank, and shooting down helicopter or plane. The rhetoric of the film was wartime propaganda at its strongest.
from Hue, Vietnam
20 February. 2010
I was north of the Vinh Moc at sunrise, ready to pedal there. This is where a whole Vietnamese village choose to live underground for 9 years. It is north of the former demilitarized zone, at latitude 17 degrees. A cycling friend of mind, George Christensen had visited it and said that it was worth it.
But as I started to pedal into the rain, I heard a grinding sound coming from my front axle. It was wobbling off center and hitting the brake pads. I had to disconnect the front brakes to continue. The brake pads themselves looked good. I checked the wheel out. No amount of tightening it could stop the wobble. The front quick-release hub was collapsing. 8 days of rain and sand had not done it any good. The wheel would collapse soon. So here I was out on a country road in the heavy rain early in the day. I could push my bike back to the town behind me. There I could wait for Tet to end and then see if we could jerry-rig some kind of fix. That would be maybe 3 days. I thought my other option was to try to wave a truck or bus down and go ahead to the next big city on the road, Hue.
#17 from SE Asia
from Hue, Viet Nam
February 17th, 2010 — So what’s wrong with Vietnam?
One would think that any country that calls their currency the ‘dong’, and gives you 19,600 of them per dollar couldn’t be all bad…
But, all right, I have been here for a while, talking about the beautiful places and acts of kindness. But it cannot be so one-sided. So what is wrong about Viet Nam?
1. The government is rated by the UN as highly corrupt. I saw stats that rates VN as 117th of 152 governments. Today, when my bicycle broke down, I had to take it to a repair shop on a bus. Riding in front, I watched uniformed guards stopping buses for apparently no reason other than Tet gifts of cash. I have heard numerous horror stories witnessed by European professors teaching in VN of government agents shaking down shops and even whole commercial streets for ‘gifts’ to the police and army. It extends to the entire public school system. University professors here and ex-pats tell me that it is getting worse. After the reunification of VN, there was a period of purity. But the next generation of apparachniks now rule. And apparachniks are without ideals. Their only ideology is to themselves and to those they serve. Ahhh, Shakespeare’s wisdom to have said 475 years ago “And the children of the children of the revolutionaries then in turn become the oppressors”. It just doesn’t take 3 generations anymore.
I took this picture with my right hand as I was riding my bike. I love this photo
#16 from SE Asia. The ride down the Northern Vietnamese coast
location moving down the coast of northern Viet Nam.
15 February, 2010
I have been riding south now for 4 days straight. I have not seen another bicycle tourer. I guess they don’t want to ride into the cool rain AND the strong headwinds. Some days are better than others for me. I can feel myself getting in better condition. My hands are calloused and I do not need my riding gloves anymore. My rearend is not sore after 9 hours pedaling. I am picking up my speed a bit. That may be an illusion since the ‘Chinese Wind’ here blows so strongly from the north. Since I bucked headwinds riding north in Thailand, I will take any natural assistance I can get. Read More…
February 10th, 2010
Another good way to wake yourself up in the morning without coffee is to jump off the top of a 3 story boat before sunrise into the ocean, or more specifically, Ha Long National Park…
Ha Long Gai is a cluster of 1996 limestone islands rising near vertically out of the sea next to the coast of NE Vietnam. It is a world heritage site. The isles have their own unique biology. When we visited it by boat, it was cool, misty and foggy, as it is winter here. This added to the beauty. Read More…