Monday, April 19, 2010
THE HEAT IS ON IN SAIGON
Whee! This is the start of a series that'll take us from Ho Chi Minh City (still known as Saigon to most people who live there) up to Hanoi and over to the 11th century temples of Angor Watt, Cambodia. Watch out for the mopeds.
There's not a heckuva lot to see in Saigon in the sense of historic buildings -- yeah, yeah, the old Presidential Palace, the Opera House, blah blah blah. BUT there's a heckuva lot to feel and experience. Starting with the Wonderful World of Mopeds, pictured above. BTW, the women aren't masking their faces for religious reasons, or because of viruses, or because of pollution -- which as you can imagine is pretty bad. They're doing it to protect their faces from sun, since women here want a pale complexion.
Remember my blogs from Salta, Argentina, in January/February about drivers playing Whack-A-Mole with pedestrians? You ain't seen nothing. Hardly a light and they never stop. You have to cross six-lane roads eyeballing oncoming mopeds who swerve to avoid you without slowing down. The city sidewalks and alleys are often moped parking lots.
And for real fun, try crossing this at night! I'm serious!!!
The streets aren't all that's busy. If you think we have fun with cable and phone lines here, imagine getting a new line installed in Saigon.
Saigon is a mishmash of French colonial architecture adjusted to South Asia, Soviet-inspired cement-block hell, and dazzling modern skyscrapers. It's a city in full Blast Off, jammed with poverty and wealth. Here's a typical business section corner.
And a quieter -- and very beautiful -- shopping street. (Daniel is pictured hiding under his hat.)
There's times you think Edward Scissorhands has dropped into a slum -- (Note: I am not scratching my bum. I am holding the loose folds of my T-shirt together because when they just hang I look like an elephant. Vanity, vanity. And the effect still looks ridiculous. Sigh.)
Times you think centuries of urban and rural life have collided --
And times you think you're looking at the next century. (This building BTW, is supposed to look like a lotus from above.)
This is just the beginning. Tomorrow I'll show you the city by night. Then we'll venture across the river into District 2 that feels like the city has melted into Mekong Delta. and then we'll go up to Cu Chi north of the city and crawl around inside some of the old Viet Cong tunnels. Hope to see you there.