On Tuesday, The Amazing Race Canada heads to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. It was an eye opener for me to tour this booming metropolis last May while the racers were out dodging thousands of scooters on the streets. Ho Chi Minh is a city of contrasts with simple concrete stalls set up as bars and “banh mi” kiosks hard against towering hotels and trendy restaurants. On the very regal boulevard where there’s a large statue of Ho Chi Minh, signs proclaim the upcoming construction of a subway system.
Truly for me one of the most sobering stops–one not on Tuesday’s broadcast–was the well named War Remnants Museum. This is really a holocaust centre. Three million Vietnamese lost their lives in a war that raged for 18 years. Two million of those lives lost were civilians, killed in rice patties and other farmland targeted on endless bombing raids. Another two million were injured.
The U.S. suffered a total of 58,220 casualties during the war. It was remarkable to see so many ex-servicemen at the museum.
The museum has an incredible display of photography from the war–some of it, according to a sign, a gift from “the People of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” with sponsorship from, among others, United Airlines and UPS. Among the photographers featured are four who gave their lives on the same day. Larry Burrows (Life magazine), Henri Huet (AP), Kent Potter (UPI) and Newsweek freelancer Keisaburo Shimamoto were in the same UH-1 Huey when it was shot down over Laos on Feb. 10, 1971. Many other reporters and photographers gave their lives recording war in all its horror. The museum should be the first stop for all world leaders.
Not far from the museum is the Reunification Temple, which was once the American Embassy. The Vietnamese have a firm grasp of irony or a very dark sense of humour–there’s a “Cowboy Jack’s American Dining” next to the unsettling War Remnant Museum.
A popular misconception: the Reunification Temple is not the place made famous by those photographs showing the last helicopters taking those trying to escape off the roof. That would be 333 King St. West.