Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Day 3 in Sai Gon

Day 3, Tuesday (13th): After breakfast (!!) of omelet, salad, bread and coffee. I took a “decent” cab to the zoo, though it took several minutes to make the driver understand “zoo” with help from a hotel guy. Really sorry I don’t speak your language. Well, I did want to have a look at the zoo, where Kondo had visited, but my priority was the former US Embassy.

I found the UK Consul General office and asked the security guards there where the US “Embassy” was. They pointed just across the street. I crossed it but saw no sign of the US Consul General. The only sign I saw along Lê Duẩn (Thống Nhứt) Street was the one of French Consul General. I walked around and around, drenched with sweat again and asking people. Still. I thought wrongly that the premises of the former US Embassy were detached from the current Consul General compound, open for the general public, because of a photo I saw on “Wekipedia” about the place.

I asked the security guard at the US Consulate General gate of Mạc Đĩnh Chi. He said, “We destroyed everything,” probably not understanding my question. I turned to Lê Duẩn one more time and asked another security guard, and he pointed to yet another guard at the, supposedly main, entrance.

I said to him,
“I’m looking for the site of the former US Embassy. Is there a garden or park inside.”
He said, “Yes. Where are you from?”
“Japan (not really...)”
“How long have you been in Vietnam?”
“Three days.”
I then asked him if I could go in there.
He asked “Why?” 
“I only want to take a few photos there.”
“Only the employees can go.”

I gave up and crossed Lê Duẩn (an irony that this street is named as such for the US) to the other side and started taking a few photos of the US compound.
After a few photos, I noticed that security guard showing to me an X sign with his arms crossed over his head (no photos, please). He was watching me. I crossed the street again to have a look at the Tet Offensive memorial, built by Vietnamese, and the guard who had directed me to another tried to stop me. Why, I thought. This is a memorial built by the Vietnamese Government. I showed my right index finger without a word to him, telling him I only intended to take a photo of it. He said, “Quickly.”

That’s all about the former US Embassy. So much walk again, to find almost nothing. I went to the zoo, Kondo’s favorite, and saw a sickly bear.
It was a zoo as sickly as the bear. And it started drizzling. With my feet giving away because of the blisters, I took a taxi, parked in front of the zoo entrance, to go to the “War Remnants Museum.”  

In 2008, I visited the museum. I learned from Nothing Ever Dies by Viet Thanh Nguyen that the museum had been renovated. It was. Better presented, at least visually maybe, with Bob Kerry panels added.  I remember back then in 2008 finding plastic benches outside, which were marked “Donated by the Japanese Communist Party.” They were gone. Those “tiger cage (chuồng cọp)” exhibits were new, which didn’t impress me because of their rather shabby design, reminding me of some show tent of old days in Japan, “exhibiting” a wolf girl, an octopus girl or a cow man. Instead, I found young “V sign” girls who were taking turns being taken photos in front of those weapons. Depressing. And the camera battery went dead.. Those weapons had fresh paint. I was wondering if those US weapons are regularly repainted for public view by Vietnamese.

I asked a security guard of the museum for the direction to Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa (Công Ly) Street. Walking more, I passed a Japanese language school with the name of Murayama Tomiichi (ha!!), and after I found the street, I had a very late lunch of grilled salmon and lime juice at Café RuNam along the street and got a few mosquito bites there. 194 Công Ly, where the farewell party for Edward Lansdale was held from “4 p.m. on June 8, 1968, the early start necessitated by the curfew in post
-Tet Saigon, Three hundred guests packed the second floor.” (p. 528. The Road Not Taken) Now, the building standing there seems to belong to Petro Viet. As I left there after two photos, a man came out of the guard house, and from his hand gesture with the thumb rubbing the tips of other fingers, I knew he was demanding money for my photo taking, though I didn’t understand a word he was saying. I said, “Someone I knew was living here many years ago,” I don’t think he understood me, and I ignored him.
Walking down Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa to the direction from which I came, I passed Café RuNam, reached the Palace and turned to Hàn Thuyên, seeing the old Time-Life office again. Ahead was the Cathedral being now renovated. I was trying to find the Central Post Office only to have a look at it. Going around the behind of the Cathedral, I didn’t know where I was again, and entered Intercontinental Hotel for a tourist map. Still not sure because the map was not very helpful, I asked the same hotel man who had given me the map for the direction to the Central Post Office. He, as any hotel man should, went out of the entrance and explained it to me. “Cross the street and go through the bookstore alley and turn to the left.” Just recently, I had read a VnExpress article about these bookstores. Then, easy to find there. Outside and inside, I took a few photos. And that was it.

I thought about taking a taxi. But I walked back to the hotel. One of my blisters, covered with two platers, was bleeding.

After a rest, I, limping because of the pain of the bleeding blister, walked around the Market. Rather reluctantly, I settled down for dinner at the izakaya at the intersection with Trương Định. This izakaya seemed quite popular and I noticed not only Japanese but Vietnamese and Westerners as its customers.

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