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Wabash in Vietnam: Day Six Blog

History professors Rick Warner and Sabrina Thomas are leading students on an immersion trip through Vietnam as part of the HIS 300 “Lessons and Legacies of War: Vietnam” class. The trip will take the group to all three sections of the country, beginning in Hanoi, then fly to Central Vietnam – Da Nang and Hoi An – and finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Students thoughts are shared here.

Dec. 25:

Cu Chi Tunnels via Joe Walters ’18

Coming into this day I had some background knowledge on the intricacies of the Viet Cong tunnels, but was not fully sure what to expect. The Cu Chi Tunnels were manned by 7,000 men and women throughout the Vietnam War. However, the construction initially began in 1947, during the French occupation of Indochina, and was not finished until 1967. The tunnel stretches about 210 kilometers and could go as deep as 15 feet or more. Many of these individuals lived underground during the day, in these spider-like tunnels, where they met for war meetings, slept and even cooked. The Viet Cong would emerge from the

Wabash students listen intently at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

tunnels under the cover of night to farm, lay traps, or initiate military missions. We gained first-hand knowledge on the subject from a Viet Cong veteran, who lived in the tunnel system for about 13 years.

We were given the opportunity to explore the three different levels. The first level was widened for tourists to visit and explore, so the tunnel was quite comfortable to walk through. On the second exploration, we were led through the first level to a large open area where war meetings were held. This gave an example of how the tunnels could be inhabitable.

From here, the group ventured down to the second layer. Right away, you could tell this was original tunnel work, because the walls tightened a bit. A few people commented about how they felt a bit panicked and their anxiety levels rose. In addition to this, you began to notice that you were not the only inhabitant within the tunnel. There were quite a few bats down there that would fly over your head and sometimes right into you because the tunnels were so tight. However, this was just the second layer. There was another level to explore, so the adventure continued. This was all the way down to the smallest, tightest and longest part of the tunnel network. I felt fairly confident about going down after the second level, but halfway through the tunnel, I felt the twinge of anxiety about the tight tunnel was being so deep underground. To cope with this, I just focused on the ground in front of me rather than looking down the rest of the dark and desolate tunnel. I noticed many more bats and mosquitos on the third layer. The tunnel system as a whole was incredibly hot for a cooler day, so I could not imagine what it was like on warm humid day during the wet season.

As a whole, the system was quite breathtaking, because it could survive endless bombing by the Americans, while housing up to 7,000 Vietnamese. After exploring the tunnels, there is a greater sense of how sophisticated these tunnels were and why the Viet Cong were so successful against the “might” of the American military.

 

Orphanage visit via Samuel Colaiacova ’19

This class has taught us how the Vietnamese people continue to struggle with children being born with deformities caused by Agent Orange. Many of us did not know what to expect in our interaction with the orphans, especially witnessing the powerful images of those victims. Personally, I was nervous. We were immediately greeted by the owner of the orphanage, Mrs. Ten; but it was obvious that she was proud of her work at the orphanage.

Interactions at the orphanage.

The appreciation for her work begins when learning that she is 80 years old and runs a private establishment — she does not earn funding from the Vietnamese government, only from donations and the money from her other business. We gave Christmas presents of our own — key chains and some religious-specific items to celebrate the holiday.

After touring a portion of the orphanage, we witnessed what an afternoon was like for these kids.  We were asked to remember how fortunate we are to be in this position and know that everyone is thankful that we visited. The most important thing that I got out of our visit is that despite being victims of diseases or abandonment, these kids were just like any you come across. These kids loved to play and welcomed us into their home right away. They valued our interaction and spent the time smiling by playing sports or sharing their toys.

One of the most heart-warming moments was the expression when the kids saw Dr. Warner’s beard and were able to feel its majesty for themselves. We all enjoyed our experience, we did not shy away from interactions and were encouraged by the kids themselves to have fun. Their powerful smiles were contagious to all of us, and will remain in our heads forever.


Wabash in Vietnam: Day Five Blog

History professors Rick Warner and Sabrina Thomas are leading students on an immersion trip through Vietnam as part of the HIS 300 “Lessons and Legacies of War: Vietnam” class. The trip will take the group to all three sections of the country, beginning in Hanoi, then fly to Central Vietnam – Da Nang and Hoi An – and finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Students thoughts are shared here.

Dec. 24
Ho Chi Minh City via Parker Redelman ’18
We came to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and visited the old Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace, and War Remnant Museum. Being in Ho Chi Minh City, it is interesting to see how French and U.S. culture has impacted the life in the south, as well as the steps that were taken to unify Vietnam since the end of the war.

Notre Dame Cathedral.

The old Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral are next to each other leaving the legacy of French influence. Right down the road, the Reunification Palace reminds us not only of the separation of North and South, but also the tanks that took down the front gate at the end of the war are still on site. The War Remnant Museum gave us the Vietnamese perspective of the War and how it is remembered.

This is the last stop on our travel list and as we have traveled south through Vietnam and seen quite a transition from lifestyle to economy, to traffic, and to food. A telling example of this transition is gas stations. In Hanoi and Hoi An, there is only one gas station that drivers can use. In Saigon, however, this same gas station has at least three other competitors. The amount of economic

Dr. Warner’s shirt speaks volumes.

activity present in Ho Chi Minh City eclipses that of anywhere else in the country, as a Starbucks sits next door to our hotel.

Whether in in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, the presence of marketplaces, scooters, and pho’ remains constant. However, the influence of American companies can be seen around almost every corner in the south. The number of people driving seems to have doubled, and the pho’ is much sweeter than that of Hanoi. As explained by our tour guides and confirmed by our own eyes, life in the southern part of Vietnam is much more open and westernized.


Wabash in Vietnam: Day Four Blog

History professors Rick Warner and Sabrina Thomas are leading students on an immersion trip through Vietnam as part of the HIS 300 “Lessons and Legacies of War: Vietnam” class. The trip will take the group to all three sections of the country, beginning in Hanoi, then fly to Central Vietnam – Da Nang and Hoi An – and finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Students thoughts are shared here.

Colton Page ’20

After a nice relaxing bike ride through the rural areas of Hoi An, we arrived at a garden with a restaurant.

Gardening at Hoi An.

During our tour of the garden, we wore traditional Vietnamese gardening clothing, and we were able to smell each of the plants growing in the garden. We were even taught how to grow produce the way that they do, which included using seaweed for fertilizer. This was a truly immersive experience into Vietnamese culture, and it showed us how much hard work goes into growing fresh produce. The produce here seems to have a much cleaner taste than the produce in America, probably because they use fewer chemicals and seaweed instead of manure. After our tour of the garden, we were taught how to make our own Vietnamese pancakes, which were similar to omelets in the United States. Each of us cooked our own food, which was absolutely delicious.

Vietnamese pancakes, anyone?

The pancakes were made of eggs with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables inside. These immersive experiences reinforced the amount of respect that the Vietnamese farmers deserve due to their hard work.

 

Walker Hedgepath ‘19

We ventured to the Son My Memorial to witness the site of the My Lai massacre. The memorial was separated into three distinct sections: a museum, the remains of structures destroyed in the attack, and a memorial garden. The museum set the tone for the memorial, displaying prominently the list of every resident killed by U.S. GIs upon a granite slab, numbering over 500 men, women, and children. Outside, the foundations of homes that survived the destruction remain in their original locations, adorned

Walker Hedgepath at the Son My Memorial.

with plaques of whom was slain that lived inside. Lastly, at the front of the memorial, a large, beautiful memorial garden sprawled onto two mass graves neatly trimmed and carefully maintained, providing a colorful contrast to the dark grey graves that lie behind. Overall, nearly 50 years on from the massacre, the scale of the destruction at the site is still breathtaking. The surrounding countryside no longer contains the original jungle vegetation – new trees have been planted, much smaller and more homogenous than the lush rainforest lost to defoliants. All that remains of an entire village are a few cement foundations and small pots of incense commemorating lives cut tragically short.

Even with these painful reminders of atrocities

Only incense remains.

committed by our American forces, there still pervades a new sense of hope. Wabash College was welcomed into Son My and Vietnam generally by gracious Vietnamese hosts that are eager to share their perspectives with us to encourage

mutual understanding. Additionally, the signs and memorials at Son My were not just in Vietnamese – they were translated into English for clear international understanding. Above all, Son My was no longer just a site of tragic loss – now surrounded by a bustling town, Son My is a testament to humanity’s ability to overcome hatred and war. Our warm welcome into the community is a sign of just how far Vietnamese-American relations have come in fostering this new reality.


Wabash in Vietnam: Day Three Blog

History professors Rick Warner and Sabrina Thomas are leading students on an immersion trip through Vietnam as part of the HIS 300 “Lessons and Legacies of War: Vietnam” class. The trip will take the group to all three sections of the country, beginning in Hanoi, then fly to Central Vietnam – Da Nang and Hoi An – and finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Students thoughts are shared here.

SaVonne Bennette ’19

Temple of Literature.

I really enjoyed seeing the Temple of Literature here in Vietnam. The temple honors the scholar Confucius, and is still an important location for many Vietnamese students today. Almost 1,000 years after opening, Vietnamese students continue to go to the temple to give offerings, and pray for good luck on their exams. What I got from the trip to the temple was an appreciation for the timeless traditions that the Vietnamese people hold onto. The tradition of hard work and dedication to education has not changed.

Another aspect that was really eye opening was how the Temple honors a Chinese scholar. Because much of Vietnam’s history includes being

The Temple was founded by Confucians in the 11th Century.

controlled by other nations, a lot of their traditions are influenced. The stelaes, for example, are big stone slabs that contain the names of people who graduated from the school in simplified Chinese characters. I found this significant because it shows how the Vietnamese people appreciate ideas from other cultures. There may be tension between Vietnamese and Chinese people because of the Chinese occupation in Vietnam, but the Vietnamese people have embraced good ideas from other cultures to help their own people.

 

Water Puppet Home Performance: Jordan Hansen ’18

The totality of our visit with the Water Puppeteer was phenomenal. Beginning first with the fact that 1) the man himself, the main performer, is a seventh generation water puppeteer speaks volumes to the importance of the craft, not only to the family heritage, but also the country as a whole. It has become a popular phenomenon throughout; 2) the sense of loyalty to continue that line of work accentuates the loyalty and family-centric environment ingrained within Vietnamese culture. Upon seeing the show, I was enthralled to learn how much dedication, work, intricacy, and strategy go into it. Moreover, It is a showcase of the cultural significance and history that separates the country from many others; not only in proximity but globally. Lastly, this experience is yet another reminder that

Students attempt the art of water puppetry.

Vietnam is truly a forgotten and overlooked gem in the world. In coming to the home of this Water Puppet legend, hearing his story, and learning about this hidden piece Vietnamese history, we are able to see the narrative of Vietnamese culture come to life. Outside of what we are conditioned to believe about this country and the people, seeing in real-time debunks many of the false stereotypes. Allowing for the true expression and beauty of the culture and country to come to fruition.

 


Wabash in Vietnam: Day Two Blog

History professors Rick Warner and Sabrina Thomas are leading students on an immersion trip through Vietnam as part of the HIS 300 “Lessons and Legacies of War: Vietnam” class. The trip will take the group to all three sections of the country, beginning in Hanoi, then fly to Central Vietnam – Da Nang and Hoi An – and finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Students thoughts are shared here.

 

William Kelly ‘18

Tuesday was filled with what felt like a traditional introduction to Vietnamese culture and its people. Immediately, our class was struck with the importance of Ho Chi Minh – his life, image, and memory – to Vietnam. His mausoleum is isolated yet accessible to all Vietnamese. Young and old Vietnamese were scattered throughout the line to the mausoleum, while thousands of visitors filled in the rest. We marched in a single-file line around Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body, no pictures were allowed at all. The Vietnamese flag/symbol (a yellow star

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

stamped on a red background) was adjacent to the communist symbol. It was quiet in the dimly lit room. Four Vietnamese soldiers dressed in white military uniforms, and more soldiers supervised the behavior of the line. At first glance, a Westerner is understandably uncomfortable. But it is not because of the communist environment, or even the deification of the great uncle of the Vietnamese people (after all, one must also understand that we follow similar practices in the United States with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., etc.). Rather, it was the immense reverence with which the Vietnamese people hold Ho Chi Minh. It was both humbling and clarifying, as it shows the role Ho Chi Minh plays in Vietnamese history.

In addition to the mausoleum, another fascinating visit that pushed me out of my comfort zone as a Westerner was the Hoa Lo prison, better known to Americans as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Far from a luxury hotel, the Hanoi Hilton was regarded as one of, if not the worst prison camp for American soldiers during the Vietnam War. However, this prison was established by French colonialists in the early 20th century. While the prison was under colonial control, political prisoners and general criminals were incarcerated, and sometimes tortured, within the stone walls. As I walked into one of the cells – about five feet in width and eight feet in length with an untouchable shoebox-size window at the top of the cell wall – I touched the walls and listened to the inaudible history of tortured souls, both American and Vietnamese. Indeed, the Vietnamese narrative of the treatment of American prisoners was off-balanced and erroneous. However, this is to be expected when the state controls the narrative. As frustrating as it was, it also put me – a white, upper-middle class male from the United States – perhaps into the position of a Vietnamese individual who reads an American narrative of the Vietnam War. The point of the experience was not that the torture of Americans was glossed over (or even whitewashed and erased), but the fact that, for the first time, I was placed in the minority category of a culture. At the end, I wrote in the guestbook, which asked for reviews, to remember that memory extends beyond national boundaries. As frustrated I may have been, it was an indescribably invaluable experience.

 

 

 


Wabash in Vietnam: Day One Blog

History professors Rick Warner and Sabrina Thomas are leading students on an immersion trip through Vietnam as part of the HIS 300 “Lessons and Legacies of War: Vietnam” class. This class focused on the ways in which the Vietnam War has been remembered in the United States, the factors that have shaped that memory, the different groups involved (soldiers, veterans, antiwarriors, families, etc.) and the effects of that memory for the country.

Also discussed were the ways the Vietnamese experienced and remembered the war – both those in South Vietnam, U.S. allies, and the Viet Cong, allies of North Vietnam. Ultimately, students are considering what lessons have been learned from this war, what our memory has taught us and neglected, and why both are important to recognize.

There are modern day implications for these lessons from the ways we think about U.S. military power, veterans’ services, and current foreign policy tensions.

The trip will take the group to all three sections of the country, beginning in Hanoi, then fly to Central Vietnam – Da Nang and Hoi An – and finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Student thoughts are shared here.

 

Tyler Downing ’18

A walking tour of Hanoi.

One day in and I can (almost) say with confidence that I have figured out how to not get hit by the litany of motor bikes rushing through the narrow streets in every direction. It’s sort of scary, sort of awesome. I was expecting to get barked and cursed at numerous times when I was in the way of honking motorists, as is the case when walking through the streets of Chicago. But eventually I realized that the honks were more like suggestions or notices from the biker, there was an ebb and flow to the entire walker/driver relationship unlike anything I have experienced in America. I’m fairly sure that Vietnamese drivers are much more precise than the speedy American, for there were numerous occasions where I was certain two bikers were going to crash, even into our own tour bus, only to narrowly skim on by and continue on as if the other biker or bus wasn’t even there.

My first day in Vietnam was unlike anything I have ever seen. As soon as we got off the plane, I noticed that there was a vast amount of farmland and buildings with French-influenced architecture. The walking tour of Hanoi that we went on later however was the true eye-opening experience for me. Motorbikes and cars flooded the streets and you have to be on alert at all times or else you will get hit. There were horns constantly honking and small shops filled the sidewalks with some owners persistently trying to get you to purchase one of their goods/items. The first day here was an incredible experience, I can’t wait to see what the following nine days have in store for our group.

 

Wabash students on the move in Vietnam.

Chandler Moore ’18

Our first day in Vietnam was awesome, but getting there was no feat.  After 27 total hours of traveling and not seeing daylight for nearly a whole day, we arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam.  Hanoi

is a beautiful city that immediately took me by surprise.  It is crowded and bustling no matter what hour of the day it is.  On our walking tour we were able to take to the streets where we had to weave between the hundreds of motorbikes and citizens who each were busy at their own tasks. Finally, we were able to have dinner together at an amazing restaurant that offered us around 8 courses of food for the meager price of $12.  I think I could get used to this place!