Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, April 04, 2015

27. Ho Chi Minh City. (HCMC), - Saigon- Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City.  (HCMC)

This is my first time in HCMC (formerly Saigon) and I can only compare Vietnam to the other Indochina countries I just saw. Coming off the ship, entering the downtown area of Saigon (HCMC) is like entering a modern town. Three or four story stucco houses, inspired by the French style which was so predominantly used in the past, spread as far as the eye can see. These are interlaced with the latest glass and steel,
Downtown Skyscrapers
very modern skyscrapers which are growing like mushrooms, sometimes in dense groupings. HCMC is growing in leaps and bounds. Roads are widened and replaced, parks are planted, green spaces created and the whole of it looks very busy and teaming with life. In fact the growth is so fast and furious that I wonder if having McDonald’s, Starbucks or Lotte World Dept. Store is really something to strive for. The more difficult part for Vietnam is not to copy what is current, but to create a new city that would leap-frog what is now common all over the world, including transportation. I am being told a subway is being built at the moment but is a long way in the future since most of the ground in HCMC is or was swampland.

A mono rail might have been a better way, no?

Two-Wheeled Traffic Jam
No matter, I am but a visitor, asking myself questions. I say copying is not creating. I believe that to transfer old Saigon to a modern HCMC takes vision, art and a willingness to take risks. It is a gigantic step for any country to accomplish but well worth it when one needs to “modernize” most of the structures in the city. Skip the established, move towards the new.

At present, the traffic is being controlled by adding a 200% tax if you want to buy a new car. Does this stop people? No, there are too many cars already and the volume is growing. The 8 million population of HCMC have to get to work, there are no bus services to speak of. Nor is there tram service to use.

People here use mopeds or small scooters or motor bikes to move about. The size of the bike is controlled, too. The largest cc’s allowed is 200 cc. Millions upon millions of bikes literally scoot across the city every minute of the day. I have seen a traffic jam of just bikes a city block
long or more. The streets are full of motor bikes riding abreast and tightly packed with only inches between them. It is amazing that there are so few accidents.

To walk across the street is an art form here. It is impossible to wait for an opening in traffic, even at a traffic light, so one just starts walking across, albeit very carefully to start with and then only at a very steady and determined pace. No jerky moves by the walker; keep a smooth, steady pace, just keep on walking. The bikes will swerve around you, they will not hit you, trust them. They do know how to ride a scooter. Nobody really races; it’s a steady Eddy kind of riding. It is simply amazing to see.

A Mess of Wires
Electric wires, like in much of Asia, hang off telephone poles alongside the roads. Even in HCMC, they are bunched together in bundles and just strapped together with ties. It looks like a snake’s nest on every pole. I pity the person who has to fix a troubled connection. To modernize the whole electric network, to put all those wires below ground as in major cities around the world is a giant undertaking. At the moment only when new buildings replace old buildings do the supply lines for utilities go below ground. But
Another Tangled Mess
Saigon is changing, slowly but surely, from the old Saigon to the more modern HCMC.

Vietnam has 90 Million people and is over 3000 KM long. The whole country on a map looks like a snake or like the Vietnam people like to believe, a “Dragon”. Vietnam is a long, relatively skinny country with a large population. Most people are under the age of 40. The average income per year is US $3600. The mood of the people is positive and forward looking.
I know nothing about the “Vietnam”war. I was a new immigrant to the U.S. in 1968 and failed the physical when drafted to join the U.S. military services. My eyesight, before the Lasic surgery I had in 1998, was just too poor. So I should feel no guilt
Vietnam Swamp
being in Vietnam, yet I can not help thinking of all the poor men who served here; on both sides. I see the mud, the swamp, the impossibility of fighting and actually winning a war here. The Vietnamese, by the way, call this conflict the “American “war. Vietnam has been a war torn country for centuries. Vietnam’s history and land occupations flipped back and forth.

As a distinct group of people, Vietnamese don't want to be called, nor are they, Chinese. Nor are they Khmer or Thai. The Vietnamese are a separate ethnic group comprised of six groups who are joined under the name of Vietnam. The six groups that joined are the Vinh Phuc, the Ha Noi, the Bac Ninh, the Hung Yen and the Ha Nam. Joining these groups into one country took 1000s of years.

Read the history of Vietnam to understand Vietnam. Few other countries are so persistent in having their own identity; something the Americans did not understand when they fought their war here in the 1960/70s. Nor did or do the Chinese understand this point even today. The Chinese occupied Vietnam for over a thousand years, from 111 BC to 938 AD. From 938 AD on, the Vietnamese stayed independent regardless of attacks by the Khmer and Siamese before the French wrangled Vietnam’s independence away again in the mid 19th century. Later, while being attacked by the Americans, the Viet's again fought for their independence and finally succeeded on April 30, 1975 when they evicted the U.S. from their land.

More Socialist Than Communist
Never mind the political ideology for the time being. Vietnam’s original Communism already has changed to a more Socialist approach. All Vietnam ever wanted to be, is self ruling and independent. A high ranking Vietcong, when he shook Henry Kissinger’s hand once, said to him: “You should have read our history, Mr. Kissinger”.

China has tried since 1975 to take away land and invade Vietnam but has been repelled. Did you know that? Read your history books! After they repelled the Chinese they also had to repel the Cambodians, who, during the Khmer Rouge era, attacked Vietnam.
Warm and Friendly People

Vietnam has been at war with countries trying to annex them for over 35 years in recent history. Almost half of their GNP was spent on the war effort. No wonder Vietnam has a lot of catching up to do. But….

They are on their way to be a force in Asia and are doing great!

Carrying a Large Piece of Glass - Scary!

Bikes Transport People and Cargo

Looks Like an Old Army Vehicle


No comments: