During the Term 3, 2016 school holiday I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam as the prize for winning the 2016 Vietnam War History Competition. Winning the competition and being announced as one of the winners in the Civic Reception at the NGV by the Premier of Victoria was only the start of a remarkable journey.
I stood at the Battle of Long Tan site in shivers, realising that I could have been spotted and shot by camouflaged Viet Cong soldiers hiding only 20 metres away and how I witnessed the site where my tour leader, Gary McKay, was wounded almost 50 years ago. I also visited the Chu Chi tunnels, where I learned how the Viet Cong used them as an escape route to the Saigon River.
On the other hand, it was also heartbreaking to hear about the struggles back at home from the perspective of Alma Elliot, whose husband was conscripted in the war. When she described how she had the reputation of having the ‘boyfriend who killed Vietnamese children’, and explained how her own children were affected by Agent Orange, it brought tears to my eyes. I met Helen, a local dressmaker in Hoi An who owned her own shop for 13 years with the ultimate dream of being a nurse. But dreams don’t always turn to gold, as her being part of a family with six children and insufficient funds to support and achieve it. Together with her younger sister, Helen opened up a little shop where she now makes beautiful authentic dresses. All her salary goes towards supporting her husband and children. Helen has to work long hours to continuously support her family yet always has a smile on her face.
I learnt to be grateful for my life, to stop complaining that my blanket is too thick or that I have to walk up a hill to my next classroom because I could be having it worse off, not having the opportunity to strive for further education like Helen. This trip gave me the opportunity to observe, taste and get a better understanding of Vietnam’s unique culture; to walk along the river at night and see shining streets and rivers filled with brightly coloured lanterns, listen to local Vietnamese children sing, watch a cultural Water Puppet Show and ride in a cyclo. It was a privilege to travel alongside nine other amazing Victorian students who will become my friends for life. Thank you to Ms Sykes and Ms Weir for your support and guidance throughout the competition. I had the best time of my life, learnt a lot and will treasure the trip forever.
Article by Canis Nugroho 10E, College Sports Captain