Saturday, October 04, 2008

Charlie Chaplin Peace, then War (continued from yesterday)

If you look really closely at this picture, you can see the outline of a mountain. It's the Black Virgin Mountain that my uncle would like to see again (if you missed the last few posts, he was stationed in Tay Ninh from '66-'67). It's a poor picture on a hazy day, but I had to include it because it also shows the road that my uncle may have built with his dozer (Hwy 22, Uncle Rex, did you?) here is a better, googled, picture of the mountain:

Coincidentally, my tour guide was also stationed in Tay Ninh in '66-'67, as a part of the 101st Airborne Division. When I told him my uncle was in Tay Ninh at the same time, he lit up, knew his division number and talked to me like a friend for the rest of the day. He was quite difficult to understand, but I gathered a few very important things, one of them being that he, too, loved the mountain. He kept referring to it and looking at it as he spoke. Before I tell you more, here is the legend (by the way, Tay Ninh is close to the Cambodian border):
Before 1700, a Cambodian chieftain lived on the mountain with his son and 13 year-old daughter, Nang Denh. A Chinese Buddhist monk, wandering through the region, came to the chieftain and asked for a place to live and to spread the teachings of Buddha. Nang Denh's father built the monk a temple called Chua Ong Tau (Chinese Monk's Temple) whose ruins can still be seen on the foot of the mountain's eastern slope. The pretty, young daughter in time became a devout disciple of Buddhism and when her father proposed that she marry the son of a neighboring chieftain, the girl went into hiding on the mountain. Soldiers tried to find the girl, but found only a section of her leg in a stone cavern on the mountain's slope. Having vowed herself to the Buddhist non-acceptance of married life, the girl had apparently killed herself rather than break the vow.

Years later, a priest who practiced Buddhism on the mountain for 31 years claimed to have seen her walking on the mountainside. He built her an altar, the Shrine of the Black Virgin, which still stands on the mountain's slope today.

On the way back from the Cao Dai Holy See we traveled with a view of the mountain behind us to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an immense network of connecting underground tunnels that were used by North Vietnamese guerrillas as hiding spots during combat; they also served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The role of the tunnel systems, evidently, was huge in resisting American operations. My uncle told a story last year (I hope I get this right) about staying in Cu Chi before the tunnels were discovered. He said that many people were being killed, randomly, from there and no one knew why. He did not have a good time there, sleeping in fear...

The tour was interesting, even more so because of the perspective of my tour guide. He lived in N. Vietnam but wanted to be a "capitalist and a hero" so he moved to the south to fight the communists. He was very open about all of this, and open about his love for his American "brothers" in the war~ and, politically, I'm not sure how that works, since he now lives and works in a communist country, and it seems he would have to keep a little quiet about it. But he took us through the tour of Cu Chi and showed us a propaganda film about how many Americans were killed by all of these various traps, etc (in case you couldn't imagine how horrible deathtraps could be, a huge mural depicting the horror was mounted right behind the display). During the entire tour, he would throw in things like, "But we all have the same color blood, don't we? And we all get hungry, we all laugh and cry." He also wanted everyone on the tour to have a good, happy life. He said this over and over, how the "American" War taught him so many things, mostly, to appreciate the life and happiness he had. We had a chance to crawl through the (enlarged for American tourists) tunnels, but I was surprised at my claustrophobic reaction to it and I declined, along with a 70 year old woman from Australia. We "enjoyed" the humid air above while everyone else emerged, sweaty and dirty, from below. The strangest part of the day had to be the firing range. You could pay a small fee to fire bullets out of some military gun (sorry, I didn't care enough to find out what kind) and if you hit targets, you would win some kind of prize. It was weird to be walking down these jungle paths, hearing gunfire coming from behind. I wondered if the targets were the same as in the above picture...?

On the bus journey, I ended up sitting next to a guy from LA who is getting his MBA in Shanghai. One of the first things I told him is that I taught in China ~in Dexing at first, but that I was able to escape "that hell" and spent four weeks in Shaoxing instead. He listened, then said, "Dexing is where my girlfriend is from." Embarrassed about putting down her home city, I tried to backpedal a bit, and he said, "Don't worry, she hates it as much as you do. It's an awful place!" He was entertaining company on the bus ride, since his girlfriend's dad wants him to die and he told funny stories of how he is trying to win his favor.

As for the roads, I think they may have repaved highway 22, the main road, in the past 40 years. As for the was a very bumpy three-hour ride. I'm pretty sure they remain as you built them, Uncle Rex, and that therefore they need you and your dozer to come back and resurface~another reason for you to come back and see your mountain...
The day was good. Traveling from the Peace of Shakespeare and Chaplin to napalm attacks and guerilla tunnels is an interesting choice for a day tour package, don't you think?


Megan said...

okay, those death traps look really tempting... but I think that I will pass!


Tina Vinnick said...

SO this is probably really tacky, but I think of you every couple of weeks when I get my nails done. The girl, named Tina, has a great love of the City and misses her family there. She has a degree in technology from the University, but is here studying to become a nurse. She eventually wants to move back, missing the beauty and her family. When I tell her about you, she brightens up and has offered to bring something to you when she goes home in January.
Any requests? Tina

The Norris Clan said...

I think my favorite part of your day was your bus companion who's soon-to-be father-in-law wants him to die. Wow... what a welcome to the family.

On a side note, in all your amazing pedicure adventures, have you run across the "carp pedicure" yet? Apparently you sick your feet in a small tank of toothless carp and they eat your dead toe skin... sounds delicious! WA state just banded the practice of it saying it was unsanitary, as you cannot sanitize fish. Like our Governor doesn't have anything better to do with her time than banning skin-eating carps from making a decent living wage.

The Norris Clan said...

btw - that should have been "sTick", not "sick"...

marjie said...

Megan - I will send you photos of the others, just in case!

Hey, Tina! I guess your manicures are only tacky if my Bum Bum massages/manicures/pedicures/facials/hair washes are tacky...What a nice offer. I will have to think about what I "need." Fill me in on Scriber, will you?

And Karyn, no, I would not let a carp near my feet. Please don't ever mention it again.

Brian Bowker said...

Really interesting post, Marjie! I wish I could have been there to see the tunnels, even though their history is so gruesome.

I agree with Megan that I will pass on the Death Traps, though they are kinda interesting from an engineering standpoint.

Karyn: I think you are thinking of Doctor Fish. I would try them if I had the opportunity! I think using the natural behaviors of living organisms as medicine is fascinating!