Monday, July 21, 2008

Briefing from the Killing Fields

It has been an intense few days, kinda like camping, just a bit more serious and contemplative. In the last week I have visited a number of monuments and museums that commemorate some of the most horrendous acts carried out by mankind in the last 50 years. It has been quite an experience seeing reactions to the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia from the other side. I have learned a lot and been thinking a lot and been angry at times, and have been wondering how to mourn for these all of these slaughtered neighbors of mine as I walk between their mass graves. And how do I go forward, how do I follow Jesus' call to be a peace-maker in this world?

In Ho Chi Minh City, we went to the American War Museum and saw a lot of photo displays depicting the effects of the war: agent orange, the bombing of civilians in Hanoi, the burning of villages, and the slaughter of villagers. It was definitely a bit one sided in it's portrayal of the war, but it is I side that I needed to see. Looking back at my history classes, every required one ended at WWII or before. Only my elective class, contemporary world history, covered the Vietnam war at all (thank you Tito Craige!), and that by a teacher who was arrested multiple times for protesting during it. So I had a bit of exposure to the Vietnamese perspective, but nothing compares to being here for a bit and seeing some of the scars of the war, the scars that were left by my countrymen, every time I walk down the street and am approached by the deformed beggars still affected by Agent Orange.

This morning, we went to the Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1975, as the result of a spillover war from Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge forced US troops out of Cambodia and started a bloody reign of terror. In the end over a million people were slaughtered to achieve their dream of a perfect, communist, agrarian society. It failed miserably to achieve any results except for starvation, broken families and a decimated country. At the memorial in Choeung Ek, we saw a pagoda full of hundreds of skulls from the victims of the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields and then walked around the now empty mass graves. How does something like that happen? How can 1 million people be killed for an ideology? How does hell so easily come to earth? And yet we escalated the violence in order to prevent dominoes falling. We bombed the country side and in effect raised the troops for the very enemy we were fighting. Have we learned from our mistakes? Does Afghanistan or Iraq look any different? Or is it just another game of dominoes that we are playing and loosing and will eventually give up once we have mixed them all up sufficiently.

It was pretty powerful watching the movie, The Killing Fields, last night before our trip this morning. A bit like watching Hotel Rwandi while staying in Kigali. Check it out, it's a good movie, but not for the faint of heart. I have a lot of questions that have been raised by this trip, a lot of reading to do, and a lot of discussions that I hope to have especially searching to answers as to how something like this can be avoided in the future. There is no reason for genocide, it is all confusion and madness, but yet it continues, and the madness spreads. Life is made a living hell, but as a follow of Jesus I am called to pray for the kingdom to come, and for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So may our mission be to somehow bring some part of heaven to this earth. May it come to pass.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam!

It has been one wild week in Vietnam since I split up with the whole SEAS group. It was a bit rough traveling through Thailand with our group of 30+, and it has been really nice being down to a more manageable 4 people. So far no major setbacks, sicknesses, or injuries, and none to come in the next 3 weeks, inshallah!

Run down on the week:
- We pulled into Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, on the night of the 12th. The 13th was spent wandering around the city on the backs of the motorbike taxis, walking down side streets, checking out the Ho Chi Minh Mauseleum, and Ho Loi Prison (the Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain was during the war). Really cool city, it was a ton of fun just walking around, seeing some side streets, and getting to know people around the hostel.

- Took a trip to Halong Bay through the hostel, it was amazing! I'll get pictures up sometime, but it's basically really cool rocks coming out of the ocean. We boated around, kayaked for a bit, and then spent the night on the boat. I loved the opportunity to meet some other travlers and swap stories and advice. It was great running into a ton of the people from the cruise in the rest of our travels: hung out with the London crew in Hoi An and then with Victoria in Saigon.

- Then down to Hoi An (half way down on the coast) by way of night bus. A bit of a crazy ride, but after a dramamine cocktail I was right out. Beautiful beach! Spent a whole day out in the sun, added a shade of pink to my back. I loved how all the Vietnamese locals swarmed to the beach as soon as it got cool around 5. Spent the night out with Dom, Tom, Jim, and Conrad from the cruise. Shouldn't have stayed out dancing until 3am when we had a 7am ride to the airport, but when Sweet Home Alabama comes on you just have to run back in and dance with the Vietnamese motor-taxi drivers.

- Flew down to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on Friday, saved us a 20 hour bus ride. We went to the War Museum, quite a sobering experience seeing memories from the American War (or Vietnam War) from the other side. We really did a lot of crazy things over here, and you can still see the effects of it. Beggers affected by agent orange walk the streets of Saigon, deformed since birth. Every student in the US should learn about this, but instead we decide to stop history at WWII, when we won.

- Today, we took a tour to the Mekong Delta. Most tourist activity of our trip, but good fun. I figure that any trip I come back from with good pictures is well worth it.

- Tomorrow, we take a bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A couple stops to look forward to there, mostly the killing fields, and then on to Angkor Wat and then to Thailand again!

So that's the short version, tons more to tell, and I can't wait to talk to everyone else about their wild summer adventures! I'm sorry I can't get a ton of internet access here, we're moving a lot, but I will try to reply to everyone as I can. Vietnam was a blast, you should all come sometime! Good night Vietnam!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Last Night In Bangkok (for a bit)

Wow, it is really difficult to keep in touch with people while traveling. I try to get online just long enough to check my email, but with the hotel trying to charge 50 cents a minute, it's hard to spend much time replying to everything. So I'm sorry for anyone who has not heard from me for a bit enough though I promised to get back to you, I've been a bit preoccupied.

Last night, I finally got word that my visa had gone through for Vietnam, and good timing as we are arriving tomorrow night in Hanoi! So that was a big relief, also found a place to keep our bags for free. Things have really been falling in place this week, which taught me a lot about anxiety and trusting God to provide. Yesterday, before those two things had worked out I was freaking out a bit. But then I thought, what is the worst that can happen? I thought about the part of the sermon on the mount where Jesus tells us not worrying, but to know that we are loved by God and will have our needs provided for. Also, every time I travel I try to remember James 4:13-17 and not boast about what I will be doing tomorrow.

I'm sorry that this is a bit rushed and not incredibly coherent. I'm in an internet cafe in Bangkok next to an arcade and a karaoke bar, so the noise is a bit intense. I'll try to put in another update from Hanoi in the next few days.