We spent a week in Quy Nhon, an industrial town on the central coast of Vietnam. It's right on the ocean, but hasn't been hit by tourism (yet) so as foreigners we were pretty rare. We continued our study of waste management by visiting garbage sorting centers and interviewing workers there. We visited nearby temples, including the bizarre Cao Dai church, which is a combination of all the world's major religions, intended to become the universal faith. There were funky holographic portraits that looked like Jesus from one angle, then Buddha from another.
We took a day trip to visit the My Lai massacre site, a museum commemorating the brutal attack on the Son My village by the US army in '68 in which 504 innocent villagers were murdered. The village itself is no longer much to see, since the US bombed it a year after the fact to hide evidence. The massacre was awful -- in itself it was a catalyst for the anti-war sentiment and protests back home -- but some powerful stories came out of it: one US pilot threatened to shoot his own men in order to save a dozen local people; one soldier shot himself in the foot to avoid carrying out orders.
Another difficult trip was a visit to a local organization that works with children disabled by remnants of Agent Orange. 40 years after the war, there are 4 million people still affected by the chemical that the US sprayed to thin forests and seek out Vietcong troops. These children were severely physically and mentally retarded, with cleft lips and contorted limbs. Their parents were unimagineably patient in caring for them. Sadly, most of those affected by Agent Orange are already impoverished but must face the additional burden of serious incapacitation. This organization has tried to petition the US government to support medical bills, as they do for US veterans ailing from Agent Orange, but to no avail.
We also visited what was essentially a local projects: within the past two years, the government exercised eminent domain and forcibly relocated all the poor residents living on the oceanside (I assume to make way for more profitable hotel industries). The residents we visited seemed fairly content with their new homes, since the government provides them free, temporarily, but since they were fishermen, they’re finding it more difficult to access the ocean.
Quy Nhon is a nice change of pace from Ho Chi Minh City. Outside our guesthouse, if you turn left, you're in the heart of the town, with bustling shops and streetside restaurants and a produce market. If you take a right instead, you're just a block from the ocean, which is quiet and full of fishermen. I'm not sure what the swimming would be like, but it's a great place to run or simply sit on the shore.