Another view of Cầu Nguyễn Văn Trỗi, this one late in the afternoon on a balmy day in early March. People are out walking, chatting, taking photos, and maybe throwing a fishing line into the river. The previous photo was looking west towards the city of Da Nang, while this view is looking east. The beach and the East Sea are a couple of kilometers from here.
This bridge, now called Cầu Nguyễn Văn Trỗi, was built by an American company in 1965, apparently to serve the US war effort in Vietnam. It connects the downtown urban core of Da Nang with the narrow strip of land that runs between the Han River and the beach area to the east of downtown. One source I saw says there was a wooden bridge across the river in this spot built during the French colonial era. In any case the bridge shown in the photo was the first steel structure traffic bridge crossing the river. A local friend remembers crossing the river in a ferry during these years. She also notes that the beach side of the river was mostly farmland at the time. Today it is built up with residential areas, markets and commercial areas for local businesses, as well as lots of hotels and businesses catering to tourists.
More and bigger bridges were built across the river and at some point this bridge was closed to traffic. When the last of the newer bridges, Cầu Trần Thị Lý (pictured to the right in the photo), was completed in 2013, the bridge was restored as a pedestrian walkway. It is indeed a great place for walking with a wonderful view of the river and the city.
Nguyễn Văn Trỗi is the name of a war hero who fought for the North and was born in this part of Vietnam. Lots of Da Nang streets and public places are named after military and political leaders who sided with the North, a reminder that the winners get to shape the history of a place.
Châu Đốc is a Vietnamese city sitting on the country’s border with Cambodia. The Hau River (Sông Hậu), part of the massive Mekong Delta system of rivers, flows through Châu Đốc. Every morning a floating market is busy in the center of the river. People from the northern side of the river bring their fruits and vegetables to the market for buyers from the south side who take their wholesale purchases back to markets in the city.
During the Vietnam War, Xẻo Quít was a jungle base and command post for Viet Cong troops in the Mekong Delta area. It is about 100 km southwest of Saigon, and while it was shelled and bombed, the area was never attacked by South Vietnamese or US ground forces. Today, much of what was jungle in the Mekong Delta area in the 1960s has been cleared to make way for agriculture and urban expansion as Vietnam’s economy develops rapidly. But the Xẻo Quít area, itself, has been preserved and is now a national park where visitors can take a boat ride through the old base or walk on jungle trails. The park was crowded with Vietnamese tourists, many of them students on school excursions, the day I visited.
Whenever I see Vietnamese landscapes of this kind, I am reminded of how downright stupid the United States was to become involved in Vietnam’s complex war, a war of national liberation and a civil war mixed together in ways next to impossible to unravel. Our delusional and ugly hubris rained horrible destruction on this country and its people, enormously magnifying the damage the Vietnamese would have done if left to settle their differences on their own. I remain thankful I was not called to serve in the US military. I was a pretty flakey 20 year old in 1969, and I cannot imagine how I would have coped with being made a soldier and packed off to Vietnam to fight. In fact at the beginning of 1970, the military had sent me a notice to report for a pre-conscription physical exam – I was scheduled to be drafted – but in the end I was spared having to serve by the draft lottery that took place at the end of 1969. My birth date drew a high number and I received a second notice telling me I did not need to report for a physical. Luck of the draw. It was the last I ever heard from the US armed forces.
The loading dock pictured here serves a riverside market in the small city of Cái Bè, which is about 100 km to the southwest of Saigon and 85 km from where the Mekong spills into the East Sea. Fruits and vegetables are grown on one side of the river and ferried to urban markets on the other side. These workers are handling large baskets of rambutan fruit.