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Viet Nam: the Presidential Palace in Saigon

May 20, 2011

PHOTOS BY DIANA AND KIT HERRING

When we were in Saigon Diana and I made the inevitable trek to the old Presidential Palace, scene of so much treachery and betrayal during the Vietnam War.  It’s now a museum.  The experience of visiting its precincts was a haunting one.

We decided, at Diana’s prompting, to photograph the palace using black and white film.

The vibe there produces a mixture of great sadness, yet also relief in the sense that such a corrupt regime had been overthrown.  Incongruously, we felt a delight in the time-warp nature of the mid-century architecture and furnishings.

1) The Palace

We climbed to the roof for expansive views of the grounds and city rooftops.

2) A look at the front gate, a grim reminder of the iconic image from 1975 when the North Vietnamese burst through it with a tank

3) Helicopters left behind after the last escaping regime members and Americans had departed

But it was indoors that we found the most fascinating relics.

4) Formal dining room

It was as if Nguyễn Văn Thiệu and his minions had left the day before.

5) Casual sitting room with period couch

The quiet unnerved me. There weren’t too many other visitors.  I imagined that if I listened closely I could still hear whispers from the ancien regime, talking of plots, of cash, of resources stripped and stolen.

We proceeded to the underground bunker where Dương Văn Minh, the last and briefest of South Vietnam’s leaders, must have made frantic phone calls pleading in vain for help from his American “allies.”

6) Underground presidential bed and phone

Did this Mercedes get left on purpose or with great regret?

7) Mercedes in underground garage; I would have liked to take it for a spin

At the end of our visit we wandered the grounds outside, shaking our heads and thinking of the great hubris and futility represented by the Palace and how its ghosts must feel cheated because their time as human masters proved to be so short.

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