What Prize Do You Get When You Become an Honorary VC—Beer of Course
Vietnam, the Mekong Delta—conjures up images that really aren’t that pleasant. Hot, muggy and if you are of my generation, war movies that are dark and murky. Luckily, all the conflict took place 25 years before I set foot there. But for some reason at my first chance, I went. While I was working in Hong Kong – the year of the big handover (97) I made a trip to Vietnam for a few days. If you get the chance, go. It’s a beautiful country with very friendly people—much different than Hong Kong—more on that in another post. If you are serious about health and working out on things such as rowing machines – you should definitely avoid beer.
They still call it Siagon instead of Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, the only place you really see it referred to as that is at the airport. Siagon is a bustling, energetic city with a mix of bicycles, cars and human propelled carts. And it’s filled with great smells, sights and people. As we were driven through town to our hotel, so many visions connected with images from the past, real and imagined, from film and newsreels. Past the American Embassy where tanks drove through the gates in April 75, museums where APCs and Huey UH1 stood sentinel and Buddhist temples where the monks weren’t on fire in the streets.
The hotel we stayed at was simple, clean and nice. Geckos scurried up and down the walls, especially in the bathroom and there was a ceiling fan above the bed where of course, I had to listen to the Doors song (The End) as I lay on my bed sweating. The best part of the hotel was the restaurant on the roof where you could escape the din of the city, get very delicious food and look out over the Siagon river.
The high light of the trip was going up to the Cu Chi tunnel complex area. This was about 45 miles from the heart of Siagon and was where the VietCong staged for things like the Tet Offensive. Today it’s a great outdoor museum/memorial about “The War of American Agression” (that’s how they refer to it). The tunnels have been widened so guys like me can actually move through the tunnels. There’s nothing funnier when I guy my size pops out of a tunnel in front of a local school group in the middle of a social studies field trip. The laughter was worth the entire trip.
After we finished exploring the tunnel complex, I noticed a sign that said Firing Range This Way. My curiosity peaked, I drug Bob over to the range. Sure enough, they had a live fire range set up and you could should both an M-16 and AK-47 on their range at targets. Being in a bit of a withdrawl from my time in the military, I jumped at the chance. $40 secured 20 rounds of ammo for each weapon and I was guided to the range by an guy who looked a whole lot like George Takei in the classic John Wayne movie, The Green Berets (yes, the quote “Traitors, I was prepared for this” kept coming to mind).
Having fired both in my time in the military, the guide was a bit surprised when I loaded the magazine, flicked off the safety and started knocking down targets (tigers, bears, etc.). I started with the AK and then moved over the M-16. After firing the M-16, I broke it down just for old time sake and wiped it down a bit with a rag. Like any grunt, I hated doing it in the military, but when you’ve been out awhile, it was fun and brought back many memories.
After I had knocked down quite a few targets, the Guide said, “You very good. You hit many targets. You Honorary VC”. With that, he handed me a boonie hat like he was wearing and the black and white checkered scarf which I had seen in movies and pictures from the era. It was very cool and brought up an interesting thought – how would that look on my DD214 (military record)?
We ended the trip to Cu Chi by visiting a huge shrine built to honor the Vietnamese War Dead. It was a large tower, with far too many names on it. To get to it, you walk by pictures of the devastation inflicted on the area by the repeated B-52 bombing raids.
After the fun and games, we headed back to Siagon and our rooftop perch on the hotel. Looking out over the city, we had delicious spring rolls served with fresh mint and strong fish sauce. To top it all of, 333 (Ba Ba Ba) Beer. Like so many beers found in a hot climate, it’s a lager that just seems to go with the place. It was perfect with the fish sauce and I imagine many of my military brethren before me had the same experience. It was also the perfect way to celebrate my new status as Honorary VC. Throughout the rest of my trip, I took every opportunity to celebrate my new status with this local lager and even now back in the States, I try to find Vietnamese restaurants serving it. While not ever tasting as good as that day, it still brings back memories. Unlike so many of my fellow Americans who came back from there, mine are all pleasant. You can find more fitness tips here: https://www.fitnesstep1.com/
So if you get the chance, take a trip to Vietnam. The people are very warm, it’s a beautiful country and it’s worth exploring the history from their point of view.
And I should know. After all, I’m an honorary VC. Time to De De Mao.…