Amelia reports on our time in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon):
On January 26th, we left Hoi An and took a short plane ride to Ho Chi Minh City. That night we took the public bus to our hostel where we set down our bags before going next-door to eat at a restaurant. A few of us were excited to order fried crickets. We were all impressed with the flavor, but the texture was a bit much for some.
The next morning we walked across town to the War Remnants Museum. This was a museum of mostly photographs showing the atrocities of the American War (aka the Vietnam War). Many of us were impressed by the lack of bias and glorification of war. Although the photos were difficult to look at, they were an important reminder that we can never let a war like this one happen again.
After the museum, we returned to our hostel after a sweltering walk through the city to process what we had seen and recover. Later in the day, we had a discussion about what we had encountered in the museum and the personal impacts the war had had on our families’ lives. Many students described the visceral reactions the experience had evoked and a better understanding of how the war had impacted both veterans and civilians. It also gave us an increased appreciation for the kindness that we received everywhere we went regardless of our country’s impact upon Vietnam.
Later that night, we went to a seafood restaurant where we each ordered a different sort of sea creature with a few land animals thrown in for good measure. Each morsel there was more delicious than the one that preceded it, but my favorite was the seafood hotpot, prawns, and the rabbit. The joy that we all experienced was palpable to all as we exited the restaurant and was a much-needed counterpoint to our experiences earlier in the day.
Our culinary mission continued the next day when we went to Ben Thanh Market, a location discussed in the novel we are reading, and an excellent place to eat breakfast. It was also remarkable for the fish and meat that were being sold there. People were selling live fish, crabs, and shrimp as well as all cuts of meat including heart, liver, and tongue.
Later that day, we took a long walk to the Temple of the Jade Emperor. This temple is a place where Vietnamese and Chinese culture meets as well as the nexus of Buddhism and Taoism. Although most of the temple is dedicated to the Jade Emperor, there are also shrines to other deities including the Buddha. Outside the temple, there is a pond full of humongous catfish and another pond of turtles of all sizes. Turtles represent wealth and longevity in Vietnam. After the temple, we went back to our hostel where we experienced a most pleasant surprise. They had prepared a feast for us in honor of Tet (Lunar New Year) as this was the first time that the hostel had hosted guests during this time of year.
The food was excellent, and it was fun to get to know the hostel owners and other guests. It was the perfect way to conclude our time in Ho Chi Minh City as the next day we would depart for Can Tho and our experiences in the Mekong Delta.