Thursday, August 6, 2009

Friends Abound

Ed, Carla, and Chris Wubbena recently completed their trip to Vietnam. It was Ed's first time in that country since the conclusion of the Vietnam War. In the coming weeks, we'll have more information about their trip and the Speaking While Listening art project.

In his last audio journal entry, Chris talks about a stop at the Cao Dai Holy See and an encounter with a woman who also survived the war.

After riding back down the mountain our driver took us to the Cao Dai Holy See, which is a temple for a religion unique to Vietnam called Cao Dai. We entered the temple and were overwhelmed by the vibrant colors and imagery. We walked around the perimeter of the temple taking photos, when a woman approached my father. She was small with white hair, 70 years old, and dressed in white, which indicated that she was a follower of Cao Dai. She, as many have, asked my father where he was from and they immediately struck up a conversation.

She talked about her trip to the US. She talked about loving the fruit in the U.S., especially cherries. She talked about how big everything was in the U.S. She spoke with such delight in the things she was saying. You could tell that my mother and father loved talking to her.

Then at one point in the conversation the topic of my father being in the war came up. It has come up in every conversation we have had. My father mentions that he was here in Vietnam 40 years ago. When it comes up in conversation, I always wonder what the other person will say and am always surprised by the response. When he told her he was in the war she said that he was lucky to have made it out of the war and he said so was she. After that, she pointed out the window to the distance, indicating where she lived and then told us that there was bombing around her house during the war.

I think if there is one thing that we are learning from this trip, it is that war can destroy land, it can eliminate people, it can do any number or horrible things; but it cannot totally take away what is good. We have met so many people here who have greeted us with such warmth and generosity. Total strangers who want to talk to us, who want to hear about us and share about themselves. This trip to Vietnam is about reconciling the past for my father, but it has grown into more than that. I think that more than anything this trip is confirming that the past is history and the present is filled with many friends and family who love him and support him, and that those friends are not just in the United States, but in Vietnam as well.

Listen to Chris talk about his father's experience at the Cao Dai Holy See.

Nui Ba Den

Following their visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Ed, Carla, and Chris Wubbena headed to Nui Ba Dan. Chris anticipated that this would be the most emotional leg of their travels. He wrote:

Nui Ba Den is a mountain in the southwest part of Vietnam near Cambodia. It isn’t a part of a mountain range, but rises out of the flat rice fields that surround it. In 1969, when my father was firing howitzers just outside of Tay Ninh, Nui Ba Den was their target. The mountain was a hotly contested site as it sat at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main supply route stretching from north to south for the North Vietnamese. There were North Vietnamese troops attempting to take the mountain and US troops trying to prevent it. And it is this mountain that I have heard my father talk about more than anything else. We were finally back.

As we drove up to the mountain where we were going to enter a park to take a lift up the mountain, I wondered what this must mean for my father. Is this going to be the pinnacle of the trip? Is this going to be greatest emotional test? What is going to be revealed from this trip, today, here, at this former battle zone? Then my father said, “well this is the closest I’ve ever been to the mountain,” and it seemed that he was at peace with the mountain and that maybe I was anticipating the wrong thing.

We took cable car lifts up to a Temple for the Black Virgin, which the mountain is named after. The temple was beautiful. After taking innumerable photos we sat to take a break. All of a sudden a man we had spoken to earlier came and sat down beside my father and began to ask where he was from and things like that. Ultimately we met his family and learned that they were from Ho Chi Minh City. It was such delightful conversation outside of the temple that we almost forgot to go inside. The conversation ended after the man gave my father his phone number just in case he needed any help when in Ho Chi Minh City.

Listen to Chris talk about their visit to the Nui Ba Den.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Remnants of War

After checking out Reunification Palace, Ed, Carla, and Chris visited the emotional War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Chris wrote:

Inside the War Remnants Museum we were confronted with disturbing images of the war. With documentation from a North Vietnamese perspective each image was displayed in gruesome detail. The whole exhibit was a reminder of why war should be avoided at all costs. There were sections of the museum that both my mother and father had to leave. I saw my mother tear up when seeing the affects that agent orange had on children. If that wasn’t bad enough, she had to leave yet again when she saw more images of the affects of agent orange still on children today. The brutal honesty of the museum was hard to take at some moments, maybe even most moments, but it was a truthful reflection of war from the people whose land the war was fought on.

Outside of the War Remnants Museum we saw a collection of old US war planes, tanks, and artillery. Right away, my father found the howitzer that he used to operate. I felt like I knew this large weapon personally. Over the past five years, since my father started talking about his involvement in the war, he has detailed his job as a gunner. As he stood at the howitzer he started to tell us again how the machine worked. It was nice to actually see one as he told the story. I imagined a 19 year old boy working this large metal creature. He retold the stories in great detail. It always seems like it is a load off of his chest every time he tells us about being a gunner and this time it seemed to be even more.

first full day in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon to many, was full of emotions. We saw the affects of war and a country united. But there are things that can’t be seen, which are the most important parts of our trip. There are the memories of my father, both good and bad, the time in his life that is forever sealed in his memory, the times that he cannot get back or get away from. There are the many people who have been killed in war, who remain in the hearts of many still to this day. There is the confusion of war in general. But there is also the independence of a country that you cannot physically see. I am reminded of the people we have already met here since being in Vietnam. We can feel their intense pride in what they have accomplished as a people and as a country. They now have their country and they have been more than happy to share it with us and we are eternally grateful.

Monday, August 3, 2009

This Is Good For Vietnam

Ed, Carla, and Chris Wubbena visited Ho Chi Minh City, also known at Saigon. They first went to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the main post office. At the post office, they were greeted by large portrait of Ho Chi Minh, a stark reminder of Vietnam’s communist regime. They also visited Reunification Palace. Chris wrote:

We continued on our journey to Reunification Palace the sight of the dramatic last days of the war when the North Vietnamese tanks came storming in. It was amazing to think that this was the place where South Vietnamese forces and US military met to discuss war strategy. This was somewhat the center of the war.

We looked through the gates and I could tell that my father was having trouble with seeing the palace. It now stands as a symbol of victory and loss; victory for Vietnam and loss for the US. He stood there and said, “This is good for Vietnam. They now have their country and they can do with it what they want to.” And he said, “It was never our country.” And he was right. Vietnam had been under the rule of other countries for it’s entire existence and they wanted independence. That realization seemed to be an easing gratification but also a bitter pill. He was thinking about all of those US soldiers who had died for a cause that was not realized, but he was seeing the benefits of the Vietnamese having independence. And the most important thing is that he has seen the same pride in country coming from the Vietnamese here that he himself shows in his own country. I could see that his mind was reeling trying to come to terms with the contradictive perspectives.

Listen to Chris as he talks about his father's impressions of Ho Chi Minh City.