Foetal attraction and classroom distraction - The vibrant, bustling capital of South Vietnam turned out to be a real favourite for us, and not just because Nicola got excited by the beautiful silk dress shops. Aside from the delicious Pho Bo, full-on Ben Thanh market and ice-cold beers in Backpacker Alley, there are two memories that will stick with us from our two days in Ho Chi Minh City.
First, a room of deformed, pickled foetuses in jars. And it was worse to see it than to read it. Part of the War Remnants Museum, which paints a harrowing (albeit one-sided) picture of US military action across the land, a room is dedicated to the long-lasting consequences of the use of Agent Orange, chemicals dumped from US planes as past of their airstrike (in North Vietnam, their bombs hit every single road and rail bridge, as well as 4000 of its 5788 villages). Children and grandchildren of those in the villages at the time or who drank/played in nearby water for years afterwards now suffer unspeakable congenital deformities. Some don't make it out of the womb, and are put in the Museum displays by groups lobbying for justice for Agent Orange victims. Others suffer from brain damage, palsy, elephantism, dwarfism, stone blindness, and no limb or spine growth. One 12 year old girl eats anything she finds, including her own family, so has lived and will continue to live in a cage for life. Puts our hayfever or hangovers into perspective.
Second, our Vietnamese lesson at the Saigon Language School. A pantomime of 12-year-old-pupils-high-on-pickled-onion-Space-Invaders-style hysteria and tittering followed. Our teacher was called Mrs Dung. Nicola went to sit at the front of the classroom; James at the back. There were only two of us in the class. Mrs Dung looked at us strangely. One of the first words we were taught was pronounced 'tit'. The honking sounds she tried to make us create were impossible. One short word 'ma' has six different meanings depending on your tone, none of which sounded any different to us. Nicola was a swot, made lots of notes and answered every question first. James passed her a note when Mrs Dung wasn't looking asking if she wanted a snog at breaktime.
The lesson ended with uncontrollable giggles when Mrs Dung asked us to pick Vietnamese names for ourselves to help practise introductions. James chose 'Hung Long' and Nicola chose 'Ding Dong'.
On the plus side, we're now having more great interactions with locals as they love that we're trying. On the downside, Hung Long and Ding Dong would have definitely hated each other at school.