After a week of Vietnamese language and culture study it was time for a break from the relative hustle and bustle of Danang. On most weekends while we are in Danang we will be visiting important historical sites – from My Lai to Hue to My Son to Hoi An. But on this first weekend we wanted to have the group ‘bond’ a bit so we got ourselves a boat to Cham Island. We first discovered some of the history and politics of the island. Many centuries ago the Cham people controlled the island, part of a large empire that extended to modern-day southern Vietnam. The Vietnamese now have a museum on the island to, in part, remind Vietnamese and international visitors that China’s reach into the East Sea (known in China as the South China Sea) contravenes both international law and historical norms. Maps displayed China’s historical claims to the area – much more limited then what China now claims is rightfully theirs. The reality of vast amounts of natural gas and oil in the region, combined with China’s increasing need for resources, is turning the area into a powder keg. China is building airstrips on tiny islands, seeking to ‘prove’ that the surrounding sea and its resources belongs to them. Six countries now claim jurisdiction over various parts of the South China Sea, with China conceivably ready to play a trump card over the other with its much larger military strength.
It also turns out Cham Island is a virtual paradise. ‘Firsts’ abounded for many of the students: first time on a boat skimming across the East Sea, first time snorkeling, first time para-sailing, first time sleeping in a tent on a beach, first time on an island in southeast Asia! Yes, it was fun, but also educational : > From now on we promise it will be more educational and less fun : }