(PICTURE: Me sliding into the tunnel.)
Yesterday Hien took Ryan and I to the Cu Chi Tunnels. To quote Lonely Planet, "The tunnel network of Cu Chi became legendary during the 1960s for its role in facilitating Viet Cong control of a large rural area only 30km to 40km from HCMC. At its height the tunnel system stretched from the South Vietnamese capital to the Cambodian border; in the district of Cu Chi alone there were more than 250km of tunnels."
To paraphrase there's a hell of a lot of tunnels under the ground that the Viet Cong used during the war. If you're a Platoon fan you'll remember the scene when the soldiers argue about who will have to go into the tunnel. Nobody wants to because it meant pretty certain death.
The actual site is a huge tourist attraction. When we arrived there were buses and buses of foreigners ready to explore the tunnels and fire some artillery at the on-site shooting range. Our tour guide's name was Joey: "My name is Joey. Joey. Joey like a kangaroo. Baby kangaroo. Yeah, Joey" which he told us at least three dozen times. The only thing he told us more was that, "I like Americans because I like Yankee dollars."
Anyway, Joey led us around the site and gave us a lecture about the tunnels followed by a ten minute documentary that could have been made by a four year old with an ibook. But rather than deconstruct the documentary I'll comment on the tunnels. Immediately upon walking into the compound we walked up to a tiny opening in the ground. Joey asked who would like to go into the tunnels first. I wish I could say that I was the first volunteer but I was staring at the hole thinking there was no way I could fit into it. One thing it doesn't take long to recognize out here is that Americans aren't quite the same size as Vietnamese (I'm already having nightmares about trying to find underwear that will fit me).
Well, some guy volunteered to go into the tunnel who was a little smaller than me. He shimmied through the hole and after a second disappeared into the darkness. The next volunteer was Hien who is clearly braver than I am (and in my defense, a lot smaller). Hien dropped into the hole and also disappeared. We were told by the kangaroo guide that there were a couple of paths in the tunnel but only one that led to the exit about forty feet away. Forty feet isn't very far at all so I figured people would start popping up in a minute or two at the most. Well, five minutes went by and nobody came up.
Just as I started to think this was some kind of cruel joke the first guy popped up out of the tunnel. He looked a little flabbergasted and exclaimed, "Don't go left. It's a dead end." Left by the way was the direction Joey said to go in. Followed by the guy was Hien. She had a giant smile across her face which was soon wiped away as she banged her head on the top of the tunnel. BAM.
Hien and the random guy both made it out alive so I thought I could do it too. I handed Ryan my stuff and jumped right into the hole. I had to raise my hands above my head in order to fit but with just a little shoulder shake I slid right down. At the bottom of the hole was the tunnel and looking into it I couldn't see a thing. I hadn't seen darkness as dark as this since I had gone spelunking at Camp Airy. Showing no fear I crouched down and began to crawl through the tunnel. I put my left hand in front of me and felt along the wall for the way to go. After going for about twenty feet or so I felt a fork in the road. Left or right. That decision was easy since I already knew the answer. Right it was. After crawling for about two minutes my mind started to feel a little uneasy: "Shouldn't I be near the end already?" "What if they forget to remove a booby trap?" What if this is the path to Cambodia?"...
As I started to slightly freak myself I felt something squishy with my left hand and immediately heard, "Hey, that's my bum." Apparently some British guy had jumped into the hole before me and I had caught up to him. He asked if I kindly not touch his butt again and I assured him that the Cu Chi tunnel was the only one I wanted to explore. He and I continued to talk to one another as we made our way foward. Eventually he yelled out, "thank god, I see a light." I turned the bend and indeed there was a light. However, I saw something else too: A BAT. The bat apparently didn't see me though because it flew right into my face. I know bats are blind and that they use sonar so it really made no sense. However, the freaking bat slammed into my face. It was clearly startled too and flew backwards a foot then flew into my face again. The next few seconds were a blur as I ran/crawled towards the light. I began to run up the steps and in a high pitched voice cried out, "Jesus Christ, did you see that bat?!" Before I could get an answer I felt a huge blow to my head. No, it wasn't the bat again. It was the tunnel ceiling--the same one Hien had hit her head on minutes earlier.