Day 7: Eight Ladies Cave, Paradise Cave, Phuong Nha Cave


Today I visited 3 different caves. The first was eight ladies cave where eight NVC were trapped when a rocket fired by the 7th fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin cause large rocks to collapses. The four men and four women eventually died and the cave is now a shrine to their memory.


The road leading up to the caves was once part of the Ho Chi Minh trail and has been paved for us to honor the war memory. There were butterflies everywhere and birds singing. It was beautiful.


An artillery shell hung next to the sign. I’m told that it used to be that they would use an artillery shell as a bell in the village.


 

HANG O CÔ


Vietnamese saying that refers to honor matures of the war. Written on certificates that certify that an ancestor served during the Vietnam War.


 

Men used to wear cartridges as pendants around their necks.


Someone told me that his father used to meet with old friends and drink and laugh about the war. But then they would get serious about the present day saying “But what do we do now?”


My guide talked about the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the water as well as on land. Huey 20 or “Victory Road” was part of the Ho Chi Minh trail system.


I learned about many positive things Americans did during their time there. Free healthcare, bridges, roads, infrastructure, aid programs, and education. Many Vietnamese parents still want their children to go to American schools to get a proper education.

Corruption abounds here. There are aspects to this form of government I thought were just stories from the fifties. I am so grateful to my ancestors that they fought so hard to protect me during the cold war.


I always thought it was mere paranoia or political posturing, but being here I realize that this was a real threat. And we must remain vigilant if we are to maintain our freedoms. Americans take so much for granted. We have so many liberties. I hope we are to maintain our level of personal liberty. I am so proud my husband is part of defending us from the outside, but I must do my part to maintain our freedom through responsible citizenship.


There are Protestants here as a result of American influence, though of course, the majority is Buddhist.


The Vietnamese people believe the earth is their “holy mother” and the sky is their father. They believe that every object (animate or inanimate) has a soul. There seems to be a special place in their heart for water—I should ask about this.


The people here are very poor, but very kind-hearted. I am told that the Catholics here originate mainly from before the French. They were persecuted by a Confucian majority in the 16th century and fled to the mountains. Here they stay and have a tight loving community.


It seems that the ethnic minorities are as disadvantaged here as they are in the North. The Vietnamese majority also called the “Kinh,” have the power here.


As time marches forward and ecological progression with it, the ethnic minorities are, it seems, disproportionately disadvantaged. It seems that the government is trying to incorporate them into modern society—educate them and help them become mainstream. This seems wrong to me, it feels very… colonial. It can’t be good to try and erase their culture. To turn them into Kinh.


However, they will continue to be poor and disadvantaged if they don’t become educated for modern times. Though it seems that upward movement is not a thing here. The poor are getting poorer, this rich richer, and skill and knowledge do little to improve one’s situation.


Tourism seems to be an out for some. But it does not lead to power, only a decent living if you’re lucky. The people here seem to be obsessed with pale skin. They try to avoid the sun if they can to stay as pale as possible. Beauty, particularly in the case of women, seems to be important as well. It is openly and freely discussed.


I’m told they grow excellent coffee in the central highlands. Here in the valleys, they grow rubber, pepper, coffee, and avocado. Though I’ve seen corn and of course they grow some rice as well.


During the war in the North, rice became a luxury product. The N. Vietnamese were eating sweet potatoes, cassava, and another plant I don’t remember the name of. The North Vietnamese government relied mainly on verbal propaganda to recruit and maintain the hearts and minds of the people. They told them the Americans had invaded South Vietnam and the people there were oppressed and miserable.


The Americans on the other hand used the money to win over the people and the South Vietnamese were well paid with good benefits. The Green Berets functioned a little differently of course, but in general, the Americans bought loyalty.


The government here blames the Vietnam War for the high rate of cancer. They say that Agent Orange is responsible for all the cancers and birth defects in Vietnam. However, the majority of cancer cases seem to be in the North, not the South where Agent Orange was used. The explanation for this is simple enough.


Apparently, after the war, as development began, large amounts of Deet and other pesticides were used to improve crop production and this is a major cause of cancer and birth defects.


I think it will be possible after all to have Alex and Deborah visit Vietnam together. The first veteran to return came back in 1989. Then UNESCO declared a world heritage site there in 1994 (Halong Bay). The embargo was lifted in 1994 and so tourism would just be starting. It wouldn’t be nearly as established as it is now. It would likely be harder for an American to get a visa. The country would still be more “villagy” and no private tours would have been established. But they could have traveled. And if he was dying, they could have done it.


I think it will be powerful to have them both travel back to search for who they are among the people of Vietnam.


I must ask my guide about the damage from the war—when they began cleaning it up and how extensive it was. I also would like to know more about the extent of the ecological damage and how much industrialization affects the living conditions here.

I learned that Vietnam is a major producer of paraffin gas and there are major gas reserves off the coast of Vietnam which is why China wants those islands. And the U.S. wants Vietnam to have/keep them to deny power and resources to China.


I’m told both Japan and South Korea have invested heavily here and Samsung is the biggest investor. Vietnam made a lot of concessions to attract them to lower the unemployment rate.