Sunday, March 18, 2012

Huế Cool

First of all, I should probably mention that the pronunciation of the Vietnamese city of Huế is, "way", otherwise you will have a hard time understanding all the bad puns I plan to include in the entry (including the title, above).

          Congratulations, you made it to part three of SYA’s central Vietnam adventure! I had never been to Huế, so I had no idea what to expect. But given the limited history I knew about the city (as an American), I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Huế is a very beautiful city, with its centerpiece being the famous Citadel.

          When many older Americans think of the city, no doubt one of their first thoughts will be of the infamous Battle of Huế, which took place during the Vietnam War in 1968, and was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the entire war. In a sentence or two....the large, strategic bases established by the Americans in Huế in the mid-60s were not particularly well defended, and were quickly overrun along with most of the city by North Vietnamese forces during the country-wide Tet Offensive of 1968. In the month-long battle to retake the city, American forces suffered 700 dead and close to 4000 wounded soldiers, North Vietnamese forces lost 5000 to 8000 soldiers, at least 5000 civilians were killed in the fighting, and 80% of the city was entirely destroyed. It is perhaps the worst single battle fought by America at any time since WWII, and its horrors were depicted in the classic movie Full Metal Jacket. The psychological impact of having fought this (winning) battle, along with the Tet Offensive as a whole, is said to have turned public opinion in America against the war in Vietnam.

"For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster." 
- Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News Anchor, in 1968, on the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Huế

          Thankfully, Huế definitely no longer looks like it did in the movies or newsreels. The people have recovered and rebuilt their beautiful city.

recreating famous war photographs.....

oohmm, shama lama...
            We spent our first day in the city biking with a guide to the Citadel, and took a tour around it. The Citadel is a scaled down re-creation of the Forbidden City in Beijing, although it is much smaller now than when it was first built in the early 1800s because of damage from the war and such. After looking around the museum, we got back on the bikes and continued around the city. Biking in a group like that brought me back to my middle school days (minus the helmet and safety guidelines....). Notwithstanding the countless bicycle  safety violations, we all made it back to the hotel more or less intact.

            Next up, we spent a full day at an orphanage in the city. The center not only takes in orphans, but also children from poor families who are unable to take care of them and can’t send them to school. Throughout the day we had a lot of fun playing games with the kids. We had a pretty intense game of soccer going on for about an hour, and I have to say team America did pretty well for a while. We had the opening goal, but it went down hill from there, and by the time of our inevitable surrender, I think it was more like 1-8, in favor of team Vietnam. We also had a full on arts and crafts station set up courtesy of Sarah, who brought in beads, string, and other miscellaneous things for the children to play with. In the afternoon, it began to rain, so we took in indoors, and played games until it was time for dinner - for which, we had a cookout. We made the kids hotdogs, ribs, and chicken. We didn't skimp on anything, and came fully prepared with buns, sauces, drinks and ketchup. By the time the day was done, everyone was full and happy, and we said goodbye to our new friends.

Teacher for a Day  (moment)

          It looks like that’s all I've got for this blog, as I already told you what happened on our third day in Huế, so I’ll spare you and not tell it again. For those of you who haven’t read about it yet, please scroll down below.

          Well, Da Nang it! As Hanoi-ing as it is, there is just no Huế we could stay here any longer. We needed to get back to school, and grind out another 3 weeks, before diving head first into the tropical jungles of interior Vietnam. I've heard word that Colonel Walter E. Kurtz might still be holding out there - expect a full video for that trip!

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