Not in My Name: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

A statue made out of shrapnel titled Mother

A statue made out of shrapnel titled Mother

Originally, I had no intentions of visiting The War Remnants Museum. A co-worker familiar with Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) insisted that I go. After my Ho Chi Minh meltdown, I found myself hurrying into a cab and making my way to the museum before it closed.

Bluntly put, the museum was horrifying. A tribute to the Vietnam War, known as the American War in Vietnam, it has three exhibit floors.

As a teacher and someone who has to check her own over-protective nature at the door (helicopter mom in training I am ashamed to admit), I wouldn’t bring anyone under the age of 18 to the museum. I wouldn’t bring my too tough NYC high schoolers to that exhibit.

But, it’s necessary. War is ugly and brutal and devastating. Can a movie with a crescendoing soundtrack ever really capture that?

The room painted tangerine orange was cheery in color only. The photos of people Agent Orange deformed thanks to the US’s shameful use of the chemical left me feeling like I would have nightmares.

I didn’t know that a human face could look like it had melted and pooled around a person’s neck.

I didn’t know a back could arch so much

and that generations were still being born with severe birth defects.

There were photos of babies long abandoned because of their birth defects; parents struggling to raise their severely intellectually and physically disabled children the best way they knew how and despair.

Battlefield scenes left me gasping. Here a child crying as soldiers take his father off to be shot. There a soldier holding a man’s torso still wrapped in a burned and holey shirt like one would hold a plastic bag ripping under the weight of too many soup cans.

I got hot. Began to sweat. My heat flash stood in sharp contrast to the goosebumps that marched across my chest when walking around an exhibit that showed international protests against the Vietnam War.

Could people tell that I was American without me even saying a word?

My country did this? In my name?


When I stepped back into the sunlight after the museum closed, I had to breathe. Take a moment. Think. War has affected too many people. I’m too cynical to be a complete pacifist, but this war? This war made me want to chant peace from morning to night. This museum made me want to shroud myself in white and pray for forgiveness. It made me wonder if we as humans are ever truly capable of learning from our mistakes.

And as the sun shone down on me, the answer that came to my mind left me with dry eyes and a weeping heart.

It left me with Ho Chi Minh.




A Meltdown in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

I barely saw Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam because I was too busy having a complete and utter meltdown. A little over a week into my three week trek around Cambodia and Vietnam, I was missing my family, stressed that I was having trouble accessing more cash, and overwhelmed at war’s effect on a country.

In other words between calls to my bank back home and my mother, I was wailing in my boutique hotel room.

In eight days I’d been to two war museums, The Killing Fields, and a genocide memorial. When I arrived in Vietnam from Cambodia, I just couldn’t take any more I suppose.

The little that I did see centered around food and The War Remnants Museum.

Cuc Gach Quan is a traditional Vietnamese restaurant with a huge menu. When the waitress set the phone book-thick menu in front of me, it was hard not to get overwhelmed. I ate crisply fried spring rolls, brown rice sprinkled with peanuts and chili sauce, a delectable chicken dish, and fried banana with ice cream for dessert.

The place that brought me back from the emotional ledge was, ironically, a rooftop restaurant. Shri was one of my favorite dining experiences in Vietna

The view from Shri

The view from Shri

m. The staff was super attentive, and I didn’t get the “You’re dining alone?” “Just one?” “You’re traveling by yourself?” questions that followed me all over Cambodia and Vietnam.

Between the bread basket, wine, butternut squash soup, fried spring rolls, and the view, I could feel my tension dissipate.

I might try to return to Ho Chi Minh one day while I’m here in Asia. If I do, I’ll head to more museums and definitely return to Shri.