Cu Chi Tunnels with Vy and An

An and Vy

In 1975, the Government gave land in the Cu Chi area to people who were living in Ho Chi Minh City who would be willing to move out there. it’s about 70 km. Vy’s grandmother took them up on this. She had eight children, of whom 7 lived. Now she lives with one of her daughters, Vy’s aunt, in what was originally her own house. It’s a big house that stretches out to the rear. In the front is a mini-market shop which was Vy’s grandmother’s business and is now operated by Vy’s aunt and uncle.

Vy’s aunt and her husband have no children. They have more or less adopted Vy and her sister. Vy’s aunt cooked a really amazing lunch for us. The picture above is An and Vy eating. You can see how hungry they were — we were just as hungry, and ate just as enthusiastically. The green bok choy was especially for us because they know we like vegetables. You can see Vy’s grandmother’s hand on the right; she is now blind and has been for the last year, from glaucoma.

Although I keep saying “This is the best food I’ve ever had,” this lunch was also the best food I’ve ever had.

Grandmothers in Vietnam seem to be especially beautiful. She wore purple satin pyjamas with a brocade over shirt and jade and gold earrings.

Vy's grandmother

That morning, we met An at 6:30 am and got on the first of 3 buses that would get us to Cu Chi about 3 hours later, maybe more, through dense traffic all the way except for the last bus which went through fields along small paved country roads.

bus to Cu Chi

When we got off the last bus, we walked.

Entrance to park

It’s not just tunnels there. It’s a huge park, with a temple to soldiers who were killed in the war with names like on our Vietnam Memorial in DC, a lake, a miniature of the country about a kilometer long and wide, plus recreation and education facilities for kids, swimming pool, paintball area,  and other things. The tunnels are just one section.

A guide took us first through a village — many little thatched houses, maybe 20 or 30, spread around the way they probably really were becuase there really was a village here. The tour took a couple of hours and the guide was great. I will have to write more about this later. The tunnels took 20 years to build, got started under the French, go for 350 kilometers and have 3 levels (clay earth, with little rocks, very good for tunneling) and the bottom level is really bombproof, even when the B-52s started dropping bombs. The tunnels had hospitals, kitchens, dormitories, bathrooms, and above all, meeting rooms. Tables for meetings, big enough to spread out a map.


Trenches in the village. Aperture for rife barrel under clay cap.


How to make paper out of rice, for rolling spring rolls.

Rice paper

Mid-tour they served tea in tiny cups and “tapioca,” also called cassava, described as “some kind of sweet potato.” It grew wild in the forest so  when they couldn’t cultivate the fields, they could eat this. Our guide in the background; he was a sort of mysterious guy, very good teacher, seemed to be on a mission to be a good guide for us, for this place, and he succeeded.

Tapioca, Cassava

I went into a small, short tunnel. Joe went into a longer one.

Joe 1

Joe 2

Joe 3

We saw examples of different kinds of traps that they set, traps with swinging lids that you’d step on and then fall into a it with sharpened bamboo sticks that would impale you. (Note my pronouns here, can’t help it.) These were scattered through the village.

But on our way out we passed this display which had a whole bunch of different kinds of traps: pits, rolling things that would catch you in the arm as you walked past, things that would fall on you. Each thing you can see on the bottom is a different style of trap. Think of all the ways vegetation grabs at you in the jungle, and start with that. All of them have bamboo spikes arranged in some way. And in the mural on the wall you see American GIs running and stumbling and falling into these traps. Our guide told us that the goal was to injure, not kill, because an injured GI would radio his unit and they would send in a helicopter with 4 more guys to carry the wounded out.

Notice that the landscape shows defoliated trees. This whole area was doused with Agent Orange. There is a forest here now, our guide told us, but it’s a young forest, only 40 years old. Forty years ago it was dead land, poisoned, no leaves. You can see that in the mural.

Running and falling GIs

Then we walked out of the park and down the road to the crossroads where we got off the bus earlier. We bought sweet drinks from a roadside stand and then walked down the road in the back, at least a mile (and the sun was hot) until we got to Vy’s grandmothers’ house.

Corner shop

Looking out the front entrance of Vy’s grandmother’s house.

Vy's gm neigborho

When she moved here in 1975 there were not a lot of other houses around; other people came along and moved here, too.


Vy’s aunt gave us rides on his motorbike back to a bus stop (no marker; just a tree that gave shade). We were back in HCMC by 6:30.

There is now so much going on that I can hardly keep up. We have been asked to do new papers on Good Teaching (not “elite” teaching) for the next big teaching workshop. There will be a seminar/workshop or maybe a roundtable or a conference on January 14th about TPP (see posting on blog on that) when Kent’s delegation is here, which is also when the Cornell students are here. We are heavily involved in this because of the TPP thing that we wrote. Also, this afternoon we’ve got students from American University, who are going with Hollis and Leanna to the Agent Orange hospital (“Peace Village”).In addition, a lot of the contacts that Joe has been working on have responded. For example, we’ve got an appointment at the War Remnants Museum next Wednesday to talk about donating a box of slides that came from Felix Green and belonged to my parents, that have images of Vietnam in the 1950’s in them. One slide is missing,the one showing Felix Green with Ho Chi Minh, because the FBI took it as evidence after coming to visit Mom and Dad to see what they were up to.


In addition, the LRTU faculty gave us a lovely party last night at the Lang Am restaurant (where we saw the iguana), really a farewell to Leanna and Hollis, who are leaving on the 3rd. We were late but we met them there. Presents all around. Miss La gave me a beautiful pendant; other presents included books, coffee!  A good party; they ordered vegetables!! We felt very taken care of and in the presence of generous, good people (actually, we feel that most of the time).

There is too much to say about this; I’ll come back to it later.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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