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Date : 17th March, 2015
Time : 1h 01”
Total distance run to date : 490 km
Run map and details : Garmin data lost
There’s an oft quoted saying about the 60s that, “If you can remember it, then you weren’t there”. However, I suspect that anyone who was there, or who had even a passing interest in the 60s, will remember the Vietnam War.
It seemed to define an era and inspired countless films, books, songs – and a level of global interest and protest that greatly surpassed the (many) other armed conflicts of the time.
For my younger readers – and for those who were there but were really so out of it that they can’t remember – here’s a very brief synopsis. Vietnam had been part of French Indochina and, post WWII, began to push for independence. The French left after defeat at Dien Bien Phu and Vietnam split into North and South Vietnam. The Vietnam War, or the Resistance War Against America as it was also known in Vietnam, began in 1955. It was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong, a South Vietnamese communist organisation aided by the North, simultaneously fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The war effectively ended with the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) on 30 April 1975
Oddly enough, the Vietnam War was also my first childhood memory of international affairs. We were living in Bangkok at the time and the Bangkok Post regularly published a map of Vietnam showing the war’s frontline. I used to flick past this on my way to the sports pages – and feel slightly nervous about the way it inched inexorably closer to Bangkok each day.
The war still seemed to dominate when Liz and I visited Ho Chi Minh City about fifteen years ago. We went to the “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” (renamed the War Remnants Museum following the resumption of diplomatic relations with the US) and the Cu Chi tunnels – an immense network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. We drank at the rooftop bar at the Rex Hotel – which became famous during the War for hosting American military command’s daily conference, derisively named the Five O’clock Follies by cynical journalists.
This time round, Ho Chi Minh City seemed almost unrecognisable from fifteen years before. Despite the fact that Vietnam is still, in theory, a singly party communist state, it feels a lot more like other market driven fast growing SE Asian cities than it used to. Gone are the floods of bicycles – often ridden by women and girls in traditional dress and a conical straw hat. Now there are torrents of mopeds – ridden by people in helmets and anti-pollution face masks. And the amount of motorised traffic is just one example of the economic growth that the city (and the country) has experienced in the 21st Century.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that it’s not obvious how you cross a road. The traffic is pretty much non-stop and obeying traffic lights appears to be optional. This, combined with the fact that most pavements are used for commerce or living, meant that I couldn’t plot one of my usual city running routes taking in the major sights.
Instead I needed an open space and I headed for the aptly named Tao Dan Park. Can’t say I was feeling great when I got there. My journey, via Singapore, had taken 20 sleepless hours and I was a touch disorientated. But the Park and its neighbouring spaces seemed like good places to run. Full of people walking, doing aerobics and playing a huge variety of sports including football, triples tennis, basketball and a version of takraw that seemed to use a shuttlecock attached to a spring (anyone know what its called?). Despite all this sporting activity there were very few joggers and runners – unless you count the occasional large rat scuttling between the bushes.
The first 5km went OK, if slowly in the humidity. I then made the foolish decision to try, after all, to see some of the city sights on my run. As soon as I left the Park my speed ground to a halt. A slow kilometre was followed by an 8 min plus kilometre. At this rate I wasn’t going to meet my self-imposed limit of one hour for the 10km.
Time to go back to the Park and catch up some time. Which I started to do – rather painfully. All seemed fine as I headed into the tenth and final kilometre. However, I must have relaxed and forgotten to keep an eye on my watch. To my utter disbelief, I found that, when I got to 10km, I’d taken one hour and one second.
Who cares? Well no-one, of course, apart from me. But I was really annoyed with myself. I stormed off back to the hotel. In the wrong direction. And ended up getting completely lost.
I never, ever get lost (apart from that time in Namibia of course..) And, running on my own, I’d never taken over an hour before. Amazing what sleep deprivation can do to you! (And I forgot to take a photo so the one above is from the following morning.)