On the hour or so bus ride to and from the Tunnels of Củ Chi, I made it a point to sit up front, close to our guide Quyền, to hear more about her interesting, and at times difficult, life and get a local perspective on the sights along the way. As my husband and I discovered on our trip to Argentina in February of 2011, talking up guides is one of the best ways to learn what life is like for the people of the country. As an example, I noticed an open van driving ahead of our bus, packed to the gills. For only 2,000 dong (one cent USD), farmers and other workers from the outlying areas and villages could hop in this vehicle to be transported into the city to sell a variety of items at their sidewalk stands or work any other number of jobs.
Life, she told me, is much more simple in Vietnam. Her children go to school everyday from 6:30 am to 5 pm in the hopes of having a better life (and childhood) than she. When I asked her if she ever had been to the states, or wanted to go to the states, she admitted that she has been waiting for a visa for 16 years without approval. “You must have property or money to go. If you’re young, they ask many questions. They do not let you go if they think you stay.” I was surprised by this, and saddened…she dreams of coming and seeing the US (and I hope she gets the opportunity!). I was pleasantly amazed how much she, and other Vietnamese, truly love America. “When women here meet & marry American man, we think it is beautiful.” Lovely to hear, knowing how poorly the children of the Vietnamese War were treated in the 80′s; many having never known their fathers, left abandoned by their mothers, or even discarded in garbage cans.
On the way back to Saigon (people who live there don’t seem to call it Ho Chi Minh City), we were confronted with the famous traffic that really can only be explained by a video. For anyone who has quipped “Asians can’t drive”, you clearly have not seen the way people in Vietnam effortlessly (it seems), and somehow safely, weave through each other on the streets.
At this time of day, you have to be careful on the sidewalks – the curbs are angled toward the street, allowing motorbike drivers to easily jump the curb to pass traffic on the street in front of them. Just the sheer quantity of bikes in this city really is quite the site to behold.