Friday, November 6, 2009

My Lai, Vietnam - A Remembrance

My Lai

After checking out of our hotel in Hoi An, we caught a bus for Quang Gnai. We left at 6:15pm when the skies were black and a thunder storm was threatening. Lightning tore at the sky as we looked for our seats and I wondered if we'd get stuck somewhere. There were only Vietnamese on the bus headed to Quang Gnai, a city that is not a tourist destination, but it's only a few kilometers from a museum and memorial site that I really wanted to see - MyLai (SonMy) .

Nicki and I got dropped off the highway outside Quang Gnai about 10:30 that night, and we didn't know where we were; the road was dark and the few shops we saw were closed. Some ghouls suddenly rose from the bushes alongside the road and we bartered with them for a ride to the nearest hotel. We piled our stuff on their scooters and the two men took us to a hotel not too far down the road. It was skanky, but it was a room, and that's all that mattered at that time of night. Nicki held her nose because the bathroom smelled, and there was no hot water, but I said, 'it could be loads worse.'

The next morning, we rented a scooter from the proprietor of our hotel and we were off. Down the road at the five-star Petronias Hotel, we stopped in to get directions to the My Lai Museum, but decided to stay for breakfast. It was the same thing I saw in a number of hotels in Vietnam - bored teenaged staff waiting for tourists in a vast, empty, dining room with tables and chairs covered in dusty, white linen. In the corner, two kids were folding a mountain of napkins, and two others were sweeping and mopping, with a middle-aged man overseeing the work. A television blared from the kitchen. Ten minutes later we had the Vietnamese take on the North American breakfast: two hard-boiled green eggs, stale white bread, and lukewarm coffee.

We were very close to My Lai. Over a bridge from the city we were immediately driving by lush, green rice fields, where water-buffaloes were pushed and prodded by women in black pajamas; the air smelled of water, cows and dust. We passed school girls going to school on their bicycles, their long ponytails black against their white ao dais as they giggled and pointed at us.

When we reached the museum, it was still and silent and the air was thick with humidity. There wasn't a soul around, just a young woman sitting in a ticket booth outside. We bought a drink and sat with her in the stifling heat of the shade as she brushed away flies and solemnly told us about her family and friends who had been slaughtered. 'It was a long time ago,' she said, 'but we need this museum to remember. So we never forget what happened.'
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The entrance sign to the museum. Below, inside the museum, with some of the photographs which were taken by macabre photographer Ron Haeberle as he followed the marines around the village. Other artifacts which were taken from burned-out huts.
One of the best novels plotted around My Lai is In The Lake Of The Woods by Tim O'Brien.
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The site of the massacre outside the museum, including the green rice fields where they landed.

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Across the road from the museum is the graveyard for the 504 people who died at My Lai.


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The road to My Lai. Filled with girls on bikes and dudes with grass on their scooters.

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