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“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware”

I am on a bus staring out the window at the fields of rice paddies that seem to never end. A young woman wears a leaf hat and steers a water buffalo through the water collecting rice in the hot sun. Smoke can be seen up ahead as a man seems to be burning down brush. I seem to have the song “For What Its Worth” by Buffalo Springfield in my head. The bus is moving at about 50 km/hr on a beaten down dirt road. We begin to pass trees. I notice that all of the trees are smaller. Our tour guide explains that trees are starting to grow here again. Years of war

Vietnam

had completely destroyed plant-life in the area and finally the foliage was growing again. Acres upon acres of forest were now in front of me, and the absence of older/bigger trees was noticeable. Maybe it was a cliché to have “For what its worth” playing through my head. After all, it was the soundtrack for one of my favorite scenes in the movie Forrest Gump. I try to get it out of my head but something about that song just fits. I can imagine Americans, wading through the tall grass, helicopters flying above. Our tour guide explains that many battles had been fought where we are now moving across. In fact, one of the wars most popular photos was shot on this very road(the one where children are running half naked down the street trying to avoid the bombing on the horizon). We were traveling one of the main roads north out of Ho Chi Minh City to Cu Chi in southern Vietnam.

The Vietnam War officially ended in 1975 and the country is starting to find its footing on the world’s economic stage following the loss of almost 300,000 of its citizens. As trees grow larger, buildings are adding levels, western companies are moving in and in general, people seem to be putting the war behind them. I was treated warmly by every Vietnamese person I met despite the fact that America destroyed a good portion of their country. As I sit on the bus and stare out the window, I wonder how many people died in this very area only 40 years ago. We were making our way up to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the network of connecting underground tunnels that the Vietcong used as hiding

Traps set by Vietcong

spots during the war. After about an hour drive, we arrived and our tour guide walked us through the many different types of booby traps that many Americans faced while patrolling the south Vietnamese countryside. You could be walking and all of sudden fall down a trap door on to razor sharp spikes. It gave me a whole new respect for the amount of fear that would be going through a soldiers head while on patrol. After wading through the many ways the Vietnamese laid booby traps, we got to the actual tunnels. The network of tunnels spread hundreds of miles across the country side. The entrances varied in size, but most were about 2’ x 2’, meaning that many in our group could not fit into the hole. Many of us tried and only a few of the smaller women fit. Our guide took us to one of the larger entrances. To experience what the actual tunnel was like, there was about a hundred yard branch of the tunnel that started out big (where most people could fit) and then would slowly decrease in size until it was the actual size of most of the tunneling. About every hundred yards or so there was an exit

branch for those who could not go any further. We entered and after about 50 yards or so, it was completely pitch black. I looked at my hands in front of me. They were not visible. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in these tunnels with Americans above you essentially trying to find and kill you. We kept moving. At this point, it was more of a challenge than anything else. We passed our first exit and some of

Cu Chi Tunnels

the taller people in the group diverged out. I kept going. After about 75 yards in, I could feel the sides of the tunnel rubbing on my shoulders as I broke into a crawl. At this point, I knew I was not going to get to the end. Twenty five more yards and I squeezed myself out of the tunnel along with a good portion of the rest of the group. I gave props to those who made it to the end. In roughly a half hour, I had had enough. Yet, many people had lived in these tunnels for years.

In my mind, the best kind of trips are the ones in which you can feel the history that has been made around you. All too often, especially in today’s day and age, technology has become so advanced that just seeing the spectacles of our world don’t do enough for me. Sometimes I wish that the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris was in person and not on some TV show when I was 10 years old. The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful structure but it has become so commercialized that at the end of the day, it is just another wonder to cross off my list. This seems to be more and more common today, especially where you can now Google “The World’s best places to go” and get list upon list of every person’s top attractions and there are a common twenty or so places on every list. Don’t get me wrong, I find myself doing it all the time. Trying to find that next adventure. The more results out there, the safer the choice. This is a battle I face within myself, as I know deep down that the best trips that I have taken are usually not on the “World’s Greatest” lists. They are the places that at the end of the day, work every sense and leave you with a new found respect for where you have been. My trip to Vietnam may not have been on TripAdvisor’s Best Locations 2014, but it gave me a whole new appreciation for the Vietnamese people and all those who died during the Vietnam War.

About Steve Popowski

Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, I graduated from Marquette University with my degree in Mechanical Engineering and from Loyola University-Chicago with my Masters in Business Administration. I work for Northrop Grumman as a Systems Engineer where I do a lot of travel working on military aircraft. In my free time, I love to travel and see the world. One of my favorite things to do is wonder around cities I have never been and try to get a grasp on the people and culture.

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