Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Cu Chi Tunnels were hidden...a "live" demo.

After the presentation in the underground hall, we re-emerged into the open. Our 'Vietcong' guide walked us deeper into the environs of that place. Surrounded by what would once have been dense jungle, with thick foliage, shrubs and bushes...we stopped at a location when he
indicated. He then told us to look around carefully and see if any of us could discover any kind
of entrance to the tunnels. Such an opening must inevitably be on solid ground.
Everyone looked and stared at the surface around them...including me.
Nothing seemed out of place.
Even highly trained soldiers would find it near impossible to locate such well-camouflaged
hidden openings.
In fact, just near where our young 'Vietcong' friend stood, using his hands he pushed away
all the dead and rotting vegetation at a spot...and lo and behold, we saw the clear outline of
a rectangular shape.
It was actually the cover for the entrance. Lifting it out, we could see the opening and the darkness within.

He demonstrated to us how easy it was to get in by carefully lowering himself into the hole,
using his arms to support. Once his legs were on solid ground he could then stand and lift
the same well-disguised cover to place over the hole.
Note how slim he was. That's the general size of the typical Vietcong soldier.

After he replaced the cover from inside the hole, we on the outside could not tell the difference
in the surrounding.
However, for the purpose of capturing the spot for you my readers, I moved some of the
leaves away so you can still see the outline of the cover. Otherwise, no way!

Now that the demo was over, the inevitable challenge, " who will like to try?".
I looked around at my good friends and noted that many of them would never be accepted
by the Vietcong even if they had volunteered enthusiastically. This physical entry into a Vietcong
tunnel is a good test. Size counts!

As a Vietcong, your chances of survival depended on being able to locate the nearest hidden
entrance and to get in quickly, without causing a human traffic jam. Obviously there were others
all rushing to get in too when the alarm was sounded.

A few from our party, cheered on by their more rotund friends, decided to take the test.
Here's a brave one...a potential female VC basic recruit.
It did not surprise me that one of those who stepped forward was J, a former student of mine who was a very active and capable Girl Guide in her schooling days.

She was about to place the cover over her head and be totally concealed from within,
when a strong arm suddenly shot out to grab her firmly and advised her gently," ok, better
come out now".
This is a good friend of mine who has visited the tunnels previously and had some scary
tales to tell. Apparently, some visitors had been literally frightened by ghostly apparition
hauntings in the tunnels.
What did I experience?
The more appropriate question should be what's my assessment?
I went into the tunnels, not all did. We were advised to carry flashlights. Most did. I did not.
So, as I entered the tunnel...the first thing I realised is that one has to stoop very low, almost like
doing the 'duck walk' in a PE move forward. That's because the height of the tunnel for "moving" is deliberately made to be low.
This was to deter the enemy and make it very difficult for him once he's inside.
So, the same sense of claustrophobia could be experienced once you are inside the very narrow
confines of the rugged tunnel.
That feeling is magnified and multiplied when you are faced with near total darkness within.
And the ground is also uneven again deliberately so.
I met nothing fearful while within and while 'feeling' my way forward was able to pass
some hints and warnings about obstacles to those struggling behind me.


peter said...

On my last visit to Vietnam, I had to ask my Viet female interpreter these questions:

1. Why are Vietnamese men small built?

2. Why Viet women have so small waist like 22"?

3. Why are the women working and men lazing arund in Ho Chi Min City, something similar also in Hanoi?

Remember this was in the 1990s when I asked those questions.

She explained:

The generation born pre-war and during the Viet War didnt have the luxury of meat. All they had for a meal was rice and veggies. Those born in the Cuchi Tunnel never saw the sun and as a result there is a generation of very "white Vietnamese" people. many developed skin cancer after they emerged to live like normal people. Today Vietnames children born after the 1980s are plump and tall.

After the south fell to the Communists in 1975, all southern Viet men were considered "security risk" - meaning they could have been working for the ARVIN or pro-Americans. One way to make it safe was to exclude all men from holding a regular job. So jobs in the civil service went to women. X-ARVIN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam from the south)stayed at home whilst their wives went to work in all sorts of jobs including moonlighting in the massage joints to feed the family and support their elders (if single). I met a former professor who once taught at a Saigon university - he was lucky to keep his job but his salary was only US$25/month. So when it became to procure IT equipment, his department had to do barter trade on software programming to seal the deal.

Does this explains for the north? Well in the north the women manned the defenses whilst the men went to fight the Americans. Because of many fatalities, there were more women doing defense work, looking after the family and working all places.

In the 1980s, the northern people if they were educated could speak Russian and Vietnamese whilst in the south similar people spoke French and Vietnamese and a bit English. So I had to hire two pretty Vietnamese girls as my interpreter, one for the north and one for the south. Those who girls who studied up to university level became tour guides or interpreters then. I am not sure of the situation now.
Uncle Dicko, the picture you had of a riverboat I think it was once the river boat hotel anchored on the banks of the Mekong River in Ho Chi Minh City. It was also once a casino in the 1980s.

Uncle Dicko have you seen the 1/2 breds? Those children of Black American fathers? You cna guess they got Afro hair-do but with a distinctive Viet face.

stanley said...

I was in Ho Chi Ming city in July 2006 visiting the must see Cu Chi Tunnels as recommended in the travel brochure. I agree what you have described in your blog. You have said it all. By the way, did you try your hands at the shooting range which is located not far from the tunnels. At this shooting range you are allowed to use an M16rifle for target practice.All you have to do is to aim the rifle and shoot at the target 500 yards away. It was fun, but for the un-initiated the recoil from the rifle can be a painful experience for the shoulder.

unk Dicko said...

Hi Peter,
Thanks for sharing your intimate and memorable observations. It is indeed revealing!
After 1975, when the South fell, many of these half-bred became victims of a terrible backlash by one and all. Seen as "the product of an evil time"..they were oppressed and hounded wherever they were found.
Many also chose to leave as you will recall the unending saga of the Vietnamese boat people. They sailed in hopeless old boats, with nothing but only their hopes for mercy and begging to be accepted as legit refugees when they landed...all over SE Asia, including S'pore.
On this recent June visit, I did not see a single half-bred anywhere!
Those half-breds of the Vietnam War would be in their 40's today.
Maybe, time has changed and today people do dye their hair!

unk Dicko said...

Hi Stanley,
Thanks for your sharing.
Yes,I could not resist firing an M16 at the special Shooting Range. Will have a post about that shortly.

peter said...

Stabley, the firing range you mentioned is near a prestigious golf course in HCM City (you pass the Coca Cola factory on the way to the golf course). Went there once to play golf in the 80s. Apparently that golf course (forgot its name) had sand bunkers "created" out of the American carpet bombing of the area that was suspected of containing the Cuchi Tunnels.

You see the rifle range oninside the golf course and there is a small zoo. Plenty of wild life animals kept in cages I saw.

unk Dicko said...

The range you mentioned may be a different one.
The one that Stanley went to is located within the same complex of the Tunnels we visited...just a few minutes walk away, right next to the
their Souvenir office which issue the ammo and coupon for the M16 shooting.

stanley said...

Unk Dicko,
Your clarification to Mr. Peter is correct. The rifle range where I went to is located right next to the Souvenir office.