Monday, March 29, 2010

Visiting Xeo Quit

In ivy-clad cajeput forest in the Mekong Delta, Viet Cong hid from American raids in underground chambers. Members of the local communist party committee moved their strategic headquarters to these water-sodden hideouts from 1960 to 1975 although they stopped diving for cover underground in 1973 when the Americans left Vietnam.

Xeo Quit is a beautiful forest: tiny canals clogged with tree roots wind their way through the dense, vivid green glade. The flash of kingfisher blue is common and the plopping thud of mudfish breaks the chirping of busy birds.
A canoe, commandeered by guides dressed in the black-as-night uniform of the Viet Cong, paddled past the meeting halls and guesthouses of the Kien Phong Provincial Committee of the party (today Dong Thap Province). These rustic structures were built and used between 1973-75 before the war was over. My guide explained that the men could crouch down in the chambers with their 10-cm thick lids for up to two or three hours and would breathe through bamboo straws poking through the ground. Conditions were horrific and the chances of dying from cold, in addition to hunger, snake bite and bombardment were high. Scarlet red boards displaying skull and bones symbols deter locals from venturing too far into the forest due to the stake minefields laid to flaw the enemy.

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