Here in hot, sunny, loud, crowded Vietnam, Christmas is a day like any other. To pass the time until our families will be awake and on Skype, we decide to visit one of those educational-but-depressing sites we feel it is important to see. Heading outside, guidebook in hand, we point ourselves to the nearby War Remnants Museum.
Since it's Christmas, and because riding one of Vietnam's ubiquitous cyclos is a "required activity" in Ho Chi Minh City, we splurge and hire a pair of them to take us. Climbing on the creaky old bikes, we sit and watch the world go by while a couple of guys pedal us oh-so-slowly along the busy streets.
It's fun for a few minutes…
…but the novelty wears off quickly; the ride is slower than molasses in January, it is scorching hot out, and the whole thing feels a bit exploitative. I mean, I don't need to pay some old guy a dollar to pedal my butt across town—that's what my bike is for!
Before we can feel too bad about the whole thing, they shovel us out of our seats, far from our agreed destination, saying that cyclos aren't allowed to go any further on this road. I'm not sure I believe them, and Tyler is fairly certain we just got ripped off.
But whatever. Grumbling, we pay them, and then walk off in search of the museum. It's hot and we get crankier and crankier until finally, it's time to face the facts: we're lost. Though we ask for directions numerous times, either no one knows where the museum is, or more likely, no one can understand us.
We almost throw in the towel several times, wanting to say to hell with an educational experience, but we persevere, and eventually find our way. Reaching the museum, we pay a paltry entrance sum, and start a long, depressing slog through these exhibits. Photo after photo, the horror of the Vietnam war, known here as the War of American Aggression unfolds.
Each dolorous picture of a child affected by Agent Orange, each preserved, deformed fetus, each story of terror and fighting… they all hit us like a punch to the stomach. We're left feeling a sad, cynical cocktail of homesickness about our country of origin.
Soon, we're wallowing in a deep hopelessness. The world isn't good or beautiful, and neither are the people in it. How can any day be a cause for celebration, when there are so many horrible things happening around the world, right now?
So much for a Merry Christmas.