Ho Chi Minh City (II) Walking

On my way south through Vietnam I had not found people who liked Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. I know now why: This city sucks. There’s nothing really worth seeing. It’s loud, noisy, dirty, traffic is mad, has way way way too many street hawkers (which makes sitting in a cafe a pain as you get interrupted every minute with newspapers, head-wagging plastic dogs, or piles of copied books) and motorbike offers (which makes walking along the streets a pain as there is a motorbike waiting every 10 meters). In the smaller cities I could bring up the effort to smile and say “No, thanks” and that usually ended it. But here I had to revert back to the rude way of entirely ignoring.

Walking had the additional pains of mad traffic and long ways, and my right big toe really hurting. The bruise from the diving fin there heals, but slowly.

Probably the only good news: I leave HCMC tonight for a civilized world: Shanghai.

I am a tired of travelling, I believe.

Modern Elements

HCMC has some modern elements not visible even in Hanoi. I had mentioned the furniture and kitchen stores already. There were some few glass’n’steel high-rises scattered over the town. There was apparently a department store (see below), but I didn’t enter. Also some few people dressed a bit more modern. Only here in Saigon did I see women wearing skirts (though I had assumed that trousers are simply preferred for motorbike riding).

HC_20070823_101303.jpg: Lotteria, the McDonald’s/KFC copy, offering Hamburgers and Fried Chicken. Also watch all the overhead cables, which start to make the lamp pole tilt.

HC_20070823_115938.jpg: Originally I only wanted to take a picture of the Pizza Hut sign, the first I saw in Vietnam. Only after lowering the camera again I saw that right below was a KFC sign (you see the bald head of Mister KFC on the photo). That was about the fourth or fifth KFC I have seen.

HC_20070823_120325.jpg: One of the yet few modern high-rise buildings. And the best-looking one.

Park & Water

Not much. I’ve seen one park, and the Saigon River is a brown ugly mess. Should be added, though that some streets are nicely lined with trees.

HC_20070823_104404.jpg: The strip of park between Dong Le Laui and Dong Pham Ngu Lao, seen from the roundabout with the statue of Tran Nguyen Hai.

HC_20070823_111122.jpg: Canons guarding the Saigon River shore.

Shortly before reaching the river I had eventally given up on walking by myself. My left foot hurt and I barely found anything I was looking for. I finally accepted the 50. offer of a cyclo driver to pedal me through HCMC. I was too tired to even negotiate the price…he wanted to see 100,000 Dong per hour, which is above good…but I accepted. So he drove me around for the rest of the morning.

Streets & Traffic

HC_20070823_112802.jpg: “This way Hanoi”, so my cyclo driver. It’s only about 1700km, but the direction might be right.

HC_20070823_112831.jpg: Looking the other way round, i.e. into the city: The traffic is a lot more dense.

HC_20070823_115415.jpg: But many streets are smaller, looking like this. Often one-way streets, which makes the mess a bit more bearable. And right in front of us a heavily loaded combination of motorcycle with loading area in front. That kind of stuff would be transported with a truck where I come from. Not here though…

Temple & Church

HC_20070823_113400.jpg: I believe this was the Jade Emporer Pagoda, when comparing rough location and description in my Lonely Planet. I didn’t understand my cyclo driver, but he said “Very nice” and motioned me in. It was indeed nice, but I had seen so many pagodas and temples in the recent months that I was a bit tired of them. But I eavesdropped on a German guided tour right in front of me, though they weren’t really learning anything particularly exciting. What did amaze me, though, was all the smoke from the incense sticks, which together with the sunlight from overhead windows fromed highly interesting figures of smoke and light in the room.

HC_20070823_113438.jpg: Cool picture, isn’t it? Reminds one of backstreet factories in industrial America. But as a matter of fact…you could guess from the timestamp…it was in the very same temple! Just looking up to the open roof where there was this fan and the sun rays cutting through the incense smoke. Great!

HC_20070823_115956.jpg: Another religion altogether, but a lot more impressive a building from the outside: Probably Notre Dame Cathedral, but I must admit I’m not sure. LP’s map around that church doesn’t have the roundabout we rounded right behind the building.

HC_20070823_120150.jpg: Front view.

My cyclo driver brought me back to the backpackers’ area after 1:20 of cycling. Sure…he certainly argued that it was longer than planned…and again I was too reluctant to negotiate. I mean…in the end it was him who said one hour and made up the tour. But who cares…I was willing to pay him the extraordinary sum of 150,000 Dong. When he then started to wail about being a poor man with kids and so on and asked for 200,000 Dong I was, however, on the brink of becoming angry. I hadn’t negotiated at all, I was willing to pay him 50% extra cause the ride took 50% longer than agreed. And then he wanted to get even more out of it. Certainly, when I offered 200,000 and asked for 50,000 return he had no change…sure. But enough is enough…I collected all my change, 1,000 and 2,000 Dong notes and coins and counted 150,000 Dong in his hands. That is 6,80 EUR for 1,5 hours of work. I believe he won’t make any better deal this day and a lot of other days either.

War Remnants Museum

I had lunch in some cafe and then returned on my own hurting feet to two places I wanted to have an inside look to. The first was the War Remnants Museum. The place was formerly known by the slightly insulting name “Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes”, but that isn’t good a name if you want to cash in on the increasing number of Chinese and American tourists.

HC_20070823_143226.jpg: The more interesting parts of the museum were the three halls of photos. I had learned to appreciate photos as a means of telling me history as it was. And there were excellent photographers out there, with the Pulizer Price going to one America/Vietnam war picture after the other. The first two halls of pictures were actually again more a documentation of the suffering of the Americans. Despite the museum’s real purpose you could actually feel pity with the Americans, fought badly by the Vietnamese. But what only now occurs to me: The Americans always had photo reporters with them, Life Magazine, news agencies, indepent photographers…they were all around the Americans. The North-Vietnamese Army had nothing like that. Thus, the picture docmentation of the war might be quite a bit biased.

HC_20070823_144752.jpg: Nonetheless moving, again, like in Hanoi, due to the personal identification. It were individuals who died, not masses. That makes a better, though still poor attempt of grasping how cruel war is—on all sides. Here in this picture it is actually not so much the photo, it is more the story given in print around it:

“The last roll of film was released by authorities today along with his personal effects. The pictures show, better than any words could, how close Charlie was to the action up to the moment of his death. […] Picture frame 24A was the last click of his shutter.” – “Charlie Chellapah stood upright taking this picture when a second mine blast hit him and the soldiers shown. This is his last picture. (Associated Press)”

There were many last pictures made by photo reports and many pictures showing soldiers the last time.

HC_20070823_150418.jpg: In the open air area of the museum were a number of tanks and other war gear used by the involved armies. Nice, but not what this museum is really about. What this picture also tells, though, is that it rained cats and dogs by this time! Good timing…at least I was in a museum and not outdoor in a cyclo. But I had to wait for a moment of relatively calm rain to run over to the last hall of pictures.

HC_20070823_153000.jpg: And that is the hall the museum’s original name refers to. I refrain from portraying individual photos or exhibits here…it would be hard to swallow without appropriate context. There aren’t really many photos of vicitims either, but again: It is the individuality, which counts and makes the visit yet again more moving. You see various individual pictures, mostly colored even, and the text instricptions tell you exactly who that is and where (s)he lives…or lived, that is. One wall was dedicated to the impact of Agent Orange, which did hurt the living population by that time, but those who really suffered where the babies born by parents with Agent Orange exposure. And that is a chapter of history I did not know much about. In some cases you would consider miscarriage a less suffering way.

HC_20070823_153047.jpg: Young man studying the napalm victim pictures closely. He might be Chinese. He might not yet know much about the effects of napalm. We westerners all know the famous photo of little 9 year old Kim (you see it in the top-left corner of my picture) running away naked and crying along a street. We know her story (saved by the very same photo reporter who made the picture, grew up in Vietnam, was used by Vietnam government for propaganda purposes, studied in Cuba, and finally fled to Canada, where only she could eventually live in peace; the picture below is another famous photo of her as a mother holding her daughter, the burned and scarred skin clearly showing), but how much is mentioned in Chinese books about napalm?

BTW: I don’t know why the museum’s original name also mentions China and even in first place. Agent Orange and Napalm have been used only by Americans. It might refer to earlier wars with China. The museum is under reconstruction, more floors to be used soon.

Reunification Palace

A place of history, too. The name implies happy history. It depends, as so often, on the point of view. The name roots in the reunification talks between North and South Vietnam. The north had finally won the war, which in our western view was not so much of a success. But the Vietnamese see this different. And our tour guide (it so happened that 10 minutes after my arrival an English guided tour started) did not hesitate to talk about “liberation”, when we westerners have been educated to look at it as defeat and socialist take-over.

Mentioned again and again is also the fact that Liberation Army tanks crushed the fences to this palace on April 30, 1975 (which I didn’t memorize, but looked up in LP), and raised their flag atop the building, putting a final end to the war.

HC_20070823_154301.jpg: The architecuture is “socialistic”, though. Not too far away from the Palace of the Republic in Berlin. And that one’s fate is destruction. I certainly kept my mouth shut, which was a good deed:

HC_20070823_164803.jpg :Inside I learned that the architect was awarded a design prize.

HC_20070823_160615.jpg: The visit was fascinating in its own style, though. Wandering through the huge empty halls feels weird. But the palace is still occasinally in use if guests need to be welcomed. But mainly it is a museum, kept more or less in the same state as found in 1975. And I loved the 1975-style telephones, which the guide euphemistically called “telephone system”.

HC_20070823_160733.jpg: The Prime Minister’s desk. (Watch the phones!)

HC_20070823_160835.jpg: The reception room for international guests. Kissinger was here once, trying to persuade the Vietnamese to sign the Paris agreement.

HC_20070823_161316.jpg: Lots of space, especially for the staircases.

HC_20070823_161424.jpg: “The most beautiful room”, though I missed to understand its purpose.

HC_20070823_161617.jpg: Oh…I loved the interieur design! In Germany you would find that in design museums!

HC_20070823_161952.jpg: The library, unimpressively small, but with a huge clean office desk. (Watch the phone!)

HC_20070823_162333.jpg: The coolest room: For “gambling”, maybe she really meant gambling, maybe she just meant “gaming”. Anyway…here is were the top politicians of Vietnam had a good time. And the design is…well…interesting.

HC_20070823_163402.jpg: Then was time for the basement: Under the palace was a bunker, still fully equipped with lots of maps and electric stuff of that time.

HC_20070823_163457.jpg: No phones (there were a lot more down here…but it would get boring to show only the phone pictures), but watch the typewriters!

HC_20070823_163617.jpg: This is what bunker corridors look like.

Ben Thanh Market & Good Night

HC_20070823_165842.jpg: On the way back I gave Ben Thanh Market a quick visit. You know by now: I am not a market person. But this one is mentioned in all guide books, so in god’s name…it was a market. It had everything a market could possibly offer: fruits, vegetables, meat, sweets, souvenirs…. It was largely orderly and under a fixed roof. Great.

HC_20070823_171004.jpg: My last and final Vietnam shot: Baby boy enjoys a sound sleep next to one of the more busy intersections of HCMC with loads of roaring motorbikes in the background.

Good Night Vietnam!

Today’s Lesson: HCMC sucks.

Categories: Asia, Ho Chi Minh City

Originally Created: 08/23/2007 01:02:55 PM
Last Edited: 08/23/2007

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