It is a warm Saturday afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City (hereafter abbreviated to HCMC) and the air-conditioned comfort of an internet cafe is the extent of my adventurousness as Tawn and Ryan both take naps at the hotel after a morning of sightseeing.
Impressions of HCMC after 30 hours:
- While they say Ha Noi shows it more, the influence of French colonialism on HCMC is unmistakable. The grand boulevards, roundabouts, epic government buildings, French bread sandwiches, and strong coffee are testaments to the French. And the Vietnamese have taken these things and done well with them, adding their own style.
- Traffic is worse than Bangkok, but not. There are many, many more streets than in Bangkok but they are mostly smaller streets, a lane or two in each direction. But they are filled with more mopeds and bicycles than you could imagine. And they drive fast! A common sight, one I’m still trying to get a decent photo of, is a family of four perched on a single moped: Dad driving, Mom sitting behind him, holding tight to the toddler who is standing between Mom and Dad, then junior is sitting behind Mom.
- The young ladies dressed in their ao doi and conical hats are incredibly beautiful. Vietnamese, like many Asians, seem to place a premium on avoiding sun exposure. So the young ladies are dressed in elegant, long-sleeved dresses that cover a long pair of pants. These are often silk and are always white. They even ride the mopeds (or drive them!) wearing these outfits and the outfits make the action of driving through the traffic look that much more graceful.
- Vietnamese who hawk to tourists are incredibly pushy and direct, to the point of annoyance. Everyone else, though, is incredibly inviting and welcoming. We ate dinner at a very out of the way outdoor restaurant, located 100 meters down a side alley away from the tourist district. It specialises in banh xeo, a rice flour crepe filled with shrimp and bean sprouts and served with a heaping plate of lettuce, basil, mint and other greens. You use the lettuce as a wrapper and place the herbs, banh xeo, and fish sauce and vinegar condiments inside and eat as a mini burrito. The waiter came over several times to help guide us through the intricacies of using the wide array of condiments and our meal was all the more enjoyable for it.
- The visit today to the War Remnants Museum was a depressing one. It is the chronicling of the atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people by the Chinese, French, and Americans. As you might imagine, it presents one side of the story, although I’m hard pressed to really understand what the other side of the story (the Chinese, French and American one) is. Most of the photos and documentary evidence are from non-Vietnamese sources such as the Associated Press and United Press International. In all, it captures well the high price paid for war, a toll bourne particularly by civilians.
- The visit was a sobering one, and it was particularly impactful on our friend Ryan, who fled Vietnam with part of his family in 1977. I cannot fully imagine the feelings associated with seeing the images of brutality inflicted on your native country by foreign powers, and am thankful I’ve never had to live that nightmare. Certainly it is a reminder that every man and woman has the responsibility to raise his or her voice in support of peace and non-violence.
The remainder of our trip is unstructured, but we still have two full days. A visit to Cholon, the Chinese district of HCMC where Ryan grew up, is a likely event. Both to see what he remembers of it, likely not much, as well as to see the largest market in HCMC. Coffee, a Vietnamese specialty, is on my shopping list.
Pictures will be added once I return to Bangkok.