Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Out to the countryside: Provisional Revolutionary Government and Black Lady Mountain!

House of President Pham Van Dong, President of the
Provisional Revolutionary Government and later of the
Unified Republic
Tay Ninh Province – Vietnam-Cambodia Frontier (amazing mountain and the historic site of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam)
While the armed struggle and diplomatic work of freeing Vietnam from French colonialism and American imperialism took place, the Provisional Government of South Vietnam (the real one, not the USA puppets) functioned in the jungle passing laws, implementing a new economy and building a free, unified Vietnam in coordination with the Viet Cong Peoples Army. In spite of US military spraying of thousands of tons of Agent Orange, dropping millions of pounds of bombs and committing more than 625,000 troops at one point trying to defeat the people of Vietnam, in the end the Provisional Government and People's Army WON! During many of the years of struggle in the jungles of western Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province at the Campuchia border, the Provisional Government made its plans and ran its people's government and war committed to victory and liberation, no compromise, no defeat. And we got to see a replica national monument of such a location during a recent day trip!
Country side in the frontier area near Campuchia in Western
Vietnam, Tay Ninh Province

December 15th Leanna and I had the opportunity to visit this historic site with Ms Vinh and a TDT driver. It took a couple of hours of driving to reach Tay Ninh and the Black Lady Mountain, a beautiful mountain with several pagodas built along its sides – the mountain is surrounded by fields of rice, vegetables, rubber trees, fruit groves – a real vista which also included a LARGE lake. The Black Lady Mountain is well known to religious and sightseeing Vietnamese. In March the park and mountain trails are very crowded. The monks in the pagodas manufacture herb medicines on site. People younger and more fit than us will spend the three to four hours to hike up the mountain, but we took the cable car to the terminal at the first and largest pagoda probably 3/4 mile in elevation change. Then we walked up steep stone steps for probably another ¼ or more mile visiting three more pagodas and historic sites. The cable car was fun with an incredible view of the mountain and surrounding lands – LARGE farming valley of the area and a beautiful lake in the distance.  
Pagoda on Black Lady Mountain
 When we arrived about 9:30am at the foot of the mountain there were very few tourists around and even when we got off the cable car there were no crowds. But an hour later we had lots of company of all ages (many families visiting the pagodas) as we were climbing up and down the steps to the pagodas and other sights such as the caves that the pagodas feed into (the pagodas are built with their backs to the mountain and to natural caves that provide more useable space). Painted pagodas are beautiful in many aspects: yes they are “holy” buildings but not in the same way that we are used to thinking about: There are many great big statues of a golden Buddha, but Buddha is not a god but a moral and metaphysical inspiration for leading a good life with the hope that if you are successful then you may move up the wheel and when you are born again you have a better chance of enlightenment with a chance to reach moksha, at least that is my feeble and humble understanding. These pagodas as well as other plaques especially commemorate
Memorial to Viet Cong soldiers who died
defending the mountain from the
American invaders.
the brave soldiers of the People's Army who fought and died in the province and in many battles defending Black Woman Mountain. Besides tending to the visitors at the temples, the monks are around (they live there!) making traditional herbal medicines from trees, bees and plants in the area. One picture we shall be sharing shows a barefoot nun mixing the medicine by pressing it with her feet. The materials were of a doughy looking texture. When the nun noticed me watching and shooting a pictures she waved to me so that I have a wonderful photo of a smiling, happy nun to share on blog. Beside her were two, I think monks who were helping in the work. At other spots close by more monks and nuns were working herbs that were piled in the sun to dry. All around the temples the smoke and smell of joss hung in the air as people lit up to honor the Buddha, ancestors, soldier heroes, the temples, nature, whatever and the beautiful surrounding of the Black Lady Mountain.
It is noteworthy that the young people sprinted past us on the darned steep stairs, oh the exuberance of youth and childhood when scampering up mountains is just a big lot of fun. Another woman was taking the mountain using both hands and feet to make sure that she eliminated or at least reduced the chance of falling. We were already on the way down so I didn't give her method a try then but who knows what will be on the next mountain? Oh, a great insight, walking down steep mountain stairs is easier than walking up the same steep stairs, duh. When we had come off the mountain there were a lot of tourist shops open selling local foods and other gift items, so we bought some to share with students and other faculty at the University.
Of course we also ATE delicious food in Tay Ninh Province starting with an early lunch in a small cafe run by a village woman – great bowls of pho bo and bun bo Hue. Tay Ninh is famous for soup shops and they deserve the credit that they get. Tay Ninh soups are made with fresh meat, fresh greens and other vegetables and good rice noodles made by either the proprietor or at a local noodle factory. It seemed that we had already carried out a full days touring but it was only noon (We had climbed into the van and hit the highways at 6am.).
Full, we headed back south and east but still paralleling the frontier with Campuchia. There were many farm tractors pulling loads of cut bamboo and other crops on the highway – like in the US in rural areas tractors have the right of way on the two way hard top roads and dirt roads of the countryside, they make for exciting motoring what with the big trucks, buses, and schools of motorbikes. Then there are the buffalo munching away alongside the highway as well as chickens, dogs and cats, geese, and egrets (probably a few pigs too but I didn't see any). We also noticed for the first time traditional fishing rigs all along the banks of the many canals, creeks, small rivers and larger rivers. After a few kilometers we took a right hand turn down a narrow road heading toward the Campuchian border This was definitely getting off the beaten track, just some farms here and there. Ms Vinh said that we were on the way to a historic location: the site of the provisional revolutionary government.
Furious fighting took place in Tay Ninh province as the US and the puppet army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam fought to dislodge the Viet Cong and halt imports of material support for the    
Plans made for the capture of Saigon, now HCMC, by the PRG
and the National Front for the taking of Saigon in 1975.  The
map tells the story of the movement from North to South and
through Campuchia and Laos of men and materials.
 revolutionary war being brought down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Campuchia to US occupied South Vietnam. For those who haven't read about the Ho Chi Minh Trail you might go to Wikipedia and type in Ho Chi Minh Trail and you will find a nine page document about the trail. Here is a little quote from the history in Wiki.
It was named by the Americans for North Vietnamese president Hồ Chí Minh. Although the trail was mostly in Laos, the communists called it the Trường Sơn Strategic Supply Route, after the Vietnamese name for the Annamite Range mountains in central Vietnam.[1] According to the United States National Security Agency's official history of the war, the Trail system was "one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century."[
Just FYI the trail was not one super highway but many dirt trails that were large enough for some smaller trucks, bicycles, buffalo carts and thousands of men and women carrying materials on their backs or with carrying poles. When you walk in this jungle you realize the amazing effort made by the Vietnamese to carry out their liberation struggle. The sacrifice to reach freedom liberation reportedly cost somewhere between 2 and 4 million lives over the years and in a country that at that time had maybe 50 million people that would have been about 4 to 8% of the population, or about 12 to 16 million of the American population.
One of the fabled tunnels, with top removed but you
can see the top in the left background and where it goes
under the house.
The Provisional Government Headquarters was hidden in the forest/jungle (Leanna has the mosquito souvenirs to prove it!). The site has a small museum and trail map that helps guide you through the scattered buildings which include a president “house” and vice president “house” - both were thatched, open sided buildings only large enough for a small bed, drawers, writing table.
Kitchen to prepare food for the government and troops. 
There was a thatched open-sided hut large enough for a larger meeting table and benches. The site also included a hut for eating, a separate kitchen (with stone ovens), medical clinic with shelves, 2 beds and a cabinet and a hand-operated, open well. So basic and functional. It was impressive to think of the bravery, hard political and government work, and stark living conditions for this functioning and successful government! All throughout the complex there were tunnels – several entrances at each hut and throughout the trails. This visit was a real highlight for us both. Two of the Labor Relations faculty are from Tay Ninh Province and recommended much this itinerary. We are so appreciative of their knowledge of history and their politics!
The hospital to treat ill or wounded
Like many frontiers, a duty free commercial area has been functioning here for quite a while. We checked out several stores and were amazed at the shopping crowds! Busy!
On the way back to TDT our driver recommended not only a wonderful restaurant for banh trang and banh canh (great rice paper wrapped pork rolls with special fish sauce and great soup) but also a VERY BUSY little cafe where we enjoyed khoai mi and a special version of ngoc mi (coconut drink). Khoai mi is the tuber vegetable that was the basic food for Vietnam during the many war years. We keep eating our way around this marvelous, delicious Vietnam!
A corner of the hospital and the escape
tunnel necessary to protect patients
and staff from US bombing.

Beautiful scenery, warm and friendly people, inspiring history, fresh and delicious food – we are so happy in Vietnam. Until next adventure, greetings to all!

No comments:

Post a Comment