Independence Palace in Saigon, Vietnam.

Good morning, Vietnam. (Ho Chi Minh City)

Visiting Independence Palace and the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

At my dad’s funeral there was an American flag, folded in a triangle, displayed next to the urn. All day people remarked to me, “I didn’t know your dad was in the military.”

They were strange comments because it wasn’t like he was an Army guy. It was never something I really associated with him. He was in the army, sure, because he was drafted, forced to be. Just like many other men his age.

Vietnam is a strange place to be as an American. It feels weird sometimes to say it. Like when the boy helping you to your bus declares that it’s an idiom for you to be there and stares at you in disbelief. Or when the man trying to sell you a tour assures you that they don’t hate America, it’s China they don’t like.

I spent the first half of my day in Saigon at the Independence Palace. The presidential home was built in the 1960s. It was an interesting site because the large East-meets-Brady-Bunch mansion was left just as it was when Saigon surrendered in the 70s (according to my guidebook).

Independence Palace in Saigon, Vietnam.

Independence Palace in Saigon, Vietnam.

Independence Palace in Saigon, Vietnam.

Independence Palace in Saigon, Vietnam.

And I spent the second half of the day at the War Remnants Museum, a large building full of weapons and photographs of the war and the aftermath.

It was odd reading about your own country in the way that the Cambodia museums spoke of the Khmer Rouge. Some of the captions were a little harsh. But I guess that can be expected. To be fair, they did have a big section of photographs and newspaper articles on the fact that Americans were protesting back home, that not everyone wanted to be there.

War Remnants Museum in Saigon, Vietnam.

As I walked through the displays I had an eerie feeling like everything was a bit too similar to the war in Iraq. In pre-internet days there weren’t YouTube videos of people being tortured or emailed photographs of soldiers playing around in caskets. But there were reports of innocent women and children being murdered. People carrying around severed heads. Things that appeared in LIFE instead of blogs.

So it was an even weirder feeling to come back to the hotel room just to see the news that that war has ended, that the troops are being pulled out of Iraq. And to begin to wonder what their war museum might look like some day.

Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Ali
    December 21, 2011at10:17 pm

    Vietnam was a bit heavy at times, even just being there. It’s also made me want to read more about the war because I just don’t know enough about it.

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