Communism and Capitalism
Today was our only full day in Ho Chi Minh City.
In the morning we went to Cu Chi, northwest of the city, and visited the tunnels that Viet Cong guerrillas used during the French occupation and the Vietnam war. It started with a grainy propaganda film from the seventies explaining how farmers were noble in killing the bad Americans. The word “soldier” was not used. As I assume most Americans would also react, I winced a few times during those 15 minutes. I was reminded again that one of the spoils of war is the ability to write the history books to your liking afterward. I have heard that versions of the same film from decades earlier were even more stridently anti-American.
But I did learn some Vietnamese history from our guide who was a perhaps a bit more balanced. In addition to the tunnels that Marissa and I went through, he showed us Cu Chi’s exhibits for the crude, but effective boobie traps left for the American enemy. We also ate a tuber that was common for the guerrillas to eat, but we passed on the opportunity to have target practice with an actual M60. (And prizes were available.)
After lunch at a restaurant he picked out, our guide gave us the choice to go to the War Remnants Museum or the Re-unification Palace. Hoping to avoid another boring history lesson for Marissa, we chose the latter, but we didn’t escape more communist viewpoints.
Our guide was old enough to have lived through the war while in Saigon and your could tell he had no affection for the series of South Vietnamese presidents that were supported by the U.S.. He was pleased to report when each, in succession, was assassinated, fled or surrendered.
But all was not lost. Our guide had a thing for capitalism too.
Interspersed with these stops and others (drive bys of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office), were mandatory excursions to go shopping. He literally would hand us over to a shop owner who would point out the most expensive things in the store and hang over Chris while she walked the aisles. The expectation of sales was great. It was obvious that tour guide kickbacks were involved. We resisted the overpriced lacquerware at one store. We blankly indicated we don’t drink tea or coffee and therefore weren’t interested in the overpriced lotus tea at another either.
Chris did look at the traditional Ao Dai dresses at the last store. By this time in the afternoon Marissa was understandibly cranky. This was one store too many. I thought we were off the hook when the color she wanted wasn’t in the right size, but the saleswoman indicated that although they were out of stock at the moment, in a mere five minutes they would have the right style and size in stock. You just knew one of the other employees was going to a competing store on the block to buy the right outfit at a lower price only to resell it at their hefty mark up.
Chris avoided eye contact with my best don’t-you-even-think-about-it glare and went ahead with the purchase. Five minutes stretched into ten then fifteen then more before the outfit magically appeared. This was not Communism, nor Capitalism. It was Barnum-ism.