On the 11th we left Saigon for Hue. We took a fairly small plane and it was a pretty rough landing! Luckily, we made it! Our hotel in Hue is absolutely amazing–as the slogan says, it definitely “exceeds expectations!” For those who are curious, you can check it out at: http://www.camellia-hotels.com.vn/ . Although I absolutely love the hotel and am being treated like royalty, it feels really weird to stay in such a luxurious hotel when just outside we are surrounded by people living day to day. I feel really bad walking down the staircase from the hotel and out onto a street that contains really cheap restaurants and convenience stores. Just the other day we ate lunch next door–a coke and meal came to about $2.75.
On our first morning in Hue, our group took a cyclo ride to the Citadel and Garden House. The Citadel was really big, with lots of green grass and beautiful buildings. Also visiting on the same day was the son of a Japanese princess! I felt like paparazzi standing there and trying to get a picture of him. The Garden House was beautiful, but a little uneventful. It was one of those stops that you want to see, but after about 15 minutes you are ready to leave.
On Friday we had our trip to the DMZ and met with Project Renew. We started our our day-long trip at a church in Quang Tri. Because there was so much fighting in this Provence, this is one of the few remaining buildings from the war. It was run down, missing sections of the walls and the staircase and whatnot, and there were a lot of bullet holes in the concrete. It just made me wonder who would actually shoot a church? It just seems wrong in so many way.
Next we visited with representatives from Project Renew.They take undetinated mortars and store them in safe holding areas. We met with Chuck, the founder, and Chris, an engineer dealing with the ordinances. Both are Americans devoting their lives to Vietnam. They were so generous to meet with us, and I really look up to and respect what they are doing. I was really interested to hear about the business plan of Project Renew, and how they are focusing their efforts not only on removing UXOs (unexploded ordinances), but also on education and rehabilitation. They travel to different areas and play games with children to teach them the dangers of UXOs, and they work with people who have lost limbs or been affected by the ordinances, giving them the resources they need to get back on their feet again.
After that we stopped at Hien Luong Bridge/Riverbank and the Triumph Arc. These are located on the DMZ, the border between North and South Vietnam during the war. After that we visited the Vinh Mac Tunnels, where a town actually moved their homes underground. 17 children were actually born in the tunnels! We were able to walk through parts of them, and while there was more space than in the Cu Chi tunnels, I cannot imagine living there! It really shows the determination of the Vietnamese citizens and how the war affected everyone–not only the soldiers doing the physical fighting.
We ended our day-trip at the Khe Sanh US military base. Because of its air runway and the surrounding hills, this base was a popular target by the NVA. Just standing there and seeing the old tanks and army barracks made me imagine what it would have been like to be there during the war. It was just eye-opening to think that so many men died at the places I stood that day. On the way home I just sat on the bus and stared out the window. There’s something about sitting out on a bus and looking out that window that really makes you think. I saw so many beautiful green mountains, and it was so hard to picture guns and fighting–even though the landscape itself showed the history through the numerous bomb craters covering the land. So many years after the war, and still there is so much hardship and destruction. The Vietnam War caused tragedy on both sides, and although I was not alive during the conflict, I am grateful that I have been given this chance to visit the country and try to understand what occurred. I wish all Americans could have the chance that we have to meet with the Vietnamese people and witness the forgiveness they have.
Yesterday morning we took a bus to meet with the University students in Hue. They were all so welcoming and excited to see us. They performed some traditional dances and sang some favorite songs for us, and in honor of Valentine’s Day we played a “couples” game. After that the Augie students sang “You are my Sunshine” to the Hue students. We divided into groups and worked together on an activity meant to introduce us to each other, and after that we had food and just talked with everyone. It amazed me how good their English was! They all seemed super dedicated to their studies and getting ahead in life. One girl i talked with for quite a bit even told me that she takes 12 classes a semester–9 of which deal with international relations! These students are all so interested in looking forward and improving relations with the rest of the world. I traded e-mail addresses with a few of them, and I look forward to hopefully keeping in touch!
Today we had the afternoon free, so a few of us headed to the market and just walked around Hue for a little bit. It is so different from Saigon, but I love it! It is very calm and has a laid-back atmosphere, and the weather is absolutely beautiful! We are here until Tuesday, so I am going to try to make the most of our time here and continue to explore the city!