The most Australian story ever to come out of Vietnam | ET REALITY


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The first hotel I fell in love with was the Metropole, an old-world gem in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. My wife and I stayed there in 2007 during a break from covering the war in Iraq, and between the plush beds, the plunge pool in a quiet courtyard, and the site’s rich history as a center of activity during the Vietnam War. , we were in love.

When we returned to Hanoi recently, we stayed there again and, quite unexpectedly, found a forever Australian story, a story that confirmed my appreciation for the secrets hotels keep and the way Australians make their way in the world .

It has to do with a bunker.

When we checked in, we were asked if we wanted to join a free tour. So, on our last night, we followed a guide named Tom in an hour-long historical show that described the role of the hotel. Built by the French in 1901, it served as a substitute embassy for several countries during the Vietnam War. And since the Metropole housed diplomats, fighters and bombs were kept away, the hotel became a relatively safe resting place for dignitaries and celebrities as well.

But in 1965, as the war escalated, hotel managers decided to add an extra layer of protection: a five-room bunker adjoining the edge of the pool. Tom told us that it was used at least until late 1972, when Joan Baez, the American folk singer, arrived with a peace delegation that coincided with a major American attack. It ended up underground.

His story was well known at the time. in a rolling stone interview Later, with Báez, he described the bombed city. “It was like a lunar landscape with all the craters,” she said.

Then the bunker seemed to disappear. As the writer Viet Than Nguyen has pointed out, “wars are fought twice, the first on the battlefield and the second in memory”; and after the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, no one seemed to find much use in a warren of conflicts. Tiny rooms under a fancy hotel.

Except for an Australian larrikin.

“It’s time to go to the bunker,” Tom said.

He had us put on helmets as we walked down the stairs near one end of the pool. The air was fresh and the ceilings were low. The bomb shelter was rediscovered about a decade ago. Water had to be pumped, lights restored, and there wasn’t much to see except on a wall to our right. Tom pointed to graffiti carved into the concrete: BOB DEVEREAUX, AUGUST 17, 1975.

Devereaux was administrator of the Australian Embassy from 1975 to 1977, when it was housed at the hotel. The Australians, Tom told us, used the shelter as a warehouse.

I looked at my wife when we heard this. Of course they did.

When the bunker was reopened, Devereaux read about it and called to apologize for his vandalism. He returned to the bunker a little later: Tom held up an iPad with a photo of an older Australian with light hair and a shirt printed with tropical scenes. He was pointing to the mark he made on the wall.

“I don’t remember doing the graffiti,” he later said. he told a journalist. “They found a couple of empty bottles in the shelter, so it could have been while I was there looking for a bottle of wine.”

Now for this week’s stories:

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