Monday, April 22, 2013

Saigon – A teen brimming with life!



I visited Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh city, about 5 or 6 years ago. I didn’t have time to explore it properly. But from whatever little I’ve seen, I felt that the city was in its resurrection, powered by the famous economy power. 

Then last year something caught my attention. A conference was to be held in Saigon. I was interested to participate for two reasons: I was hungry for knowledge and connecting with researchers from other countries, and I wanted to see Saigon again. 

This time, I was more prepared. Or, Cip helped me to prepare for the short visit a lot better!. I had my map, and my planned itineraries. I was all set. 

Result of 1 long morning walk, a night walking tour by myself, and a whole day of swirling here and there on a motorcycle: I was impressed. 

The first night I went out and explored the city, I was already very impressed. I once again felt the energy, the passion to move forward, the dynamism. Yet at the same time, there were parts of the city that still felt provincial with all its charms. Many parts also reminded me of Jakarta! – the many motorcycles and its riders riding like crazy, the old buses, people honking here and there. And the people – happy, smiling, friendly people (yet just like in any big city, I guess you still have to be very careful..). 

And as expected I was charmed by the many historical as well as the not-so-historical old buildings. I was charmed by the roads lined by big trees. By the people having their breakfasts, lunches, dinners, coffee breaks on the streets, sitting on their small tables and low benches, having a laugh or a hearty conversations. By the wide sidewalks providing comfortable walking spaces – a REAL luxury that we don’t have in Jakarta, THE megapolitan city of Indonesia!. Even when some motorcycles are parked on those sidewalks, there is still enough place to walk!. I love the parks I’ve seen everywhere at almost every corner of the city. 

In short, I was impressed and amazed looking at Saigon. Considering this is a country devastated by a long war in the 70s, merely 30 something years ago, looking at how Saigon has become now is really heartwarming. And yes they may now be having a bad inflation rate, but people’s energy and optimism are everywhere. 

This really is a teen in her best of times – using Cip’s description of Saigon. 

I am actually quite lost for words to describe more of Saigon. So I’ll just try telling some stories through some photos that I’ve taken. I am so eager to share this so we can all feel this teen’s energy, passion and strong sense of freedom that this city’s inhabitants have. 


-- The comfort of trees, and a beautiful mix of old and new -- 

Sidewalks lined with tall, shady trees...

...really is a comfort to walk around...

And parks are everywhere!. This is in front of Reunification Palace

What I found interesting is there are parks with fitness facilities!, for free of course.

Old, lovely buildings can be seen at any point in the city

Maybe for you, or for others, these aren't beautiful. But to me the remnants of the old buildings though covered with all those chaotic electrical cables and billboards, still have its charms

KFC using a lovely French style building - right in front of the old market in China Town

I was in Hanoi once, and was amazed by small tall buildings that looked like cigarette sticks sticking from beneath!. In Saigon, there were not too many of these. Still, there they were, standing tall :) And I guess maybe that will be the trend too in this city. Though I honestly hope not

There are shimmering new buildings...adding lights and energy to the whole city

Dong Khoi, the posh area of Saigon where boutique malls reside

That is the tallest building in Saigon. It can be seen at any point within District 1. You can go up and for US$ 10 you can see the whole city. I didn't do it

-- The two wheelers --


To some extent this reminded me of Jakarta :) Yes, motorcycles are everywhere in Saigon too. With the same ruthlessness! :)

I guess what makes it different from here is that their pavements are so wide that even when there are motorcycles parked there, there is still space for people to walk

haha...the troops!! :) Crossing the roads in Saigon, and Hanoi too for that matter, needs a different tactic: just WALK STRAIGHT, don't look at those motorcycles or else you'll never cross the road. They will be the ones riding AROUND YOU. Seriously!. I did that in Hanoi thanks to an advice of a friend. And I did it again in Saigon. I never waited for the road to clear up from these riders cause at times it never happened!. So I was quite amused looking at how these riders rode around to avoid hitting me, and voila, I was across the street! :)

there are Police raids too to motorcyclists!

And they also get on pavements at times! My motor taxi rider did this, having seen the long traffic jam in front of us. This picture was taken as he rode on the pavement and I learned to keep my balance while busy taking pictures! It was fun!

-- The Lively Pavements --


The pavement is also occupied by these sellers - who can peacefully sleep in the open air

Parks for people to gather, have a break in their short time outs at work

You'll see these a lot all over the city. People having their breakfast, lunches, dinners, coffee breaks, on small tables and low benches like these

Breakfast before work, meeting friends, having a chat, enjoying their Vietnamese coffee and pho
There are also posh places like this, if you wish to have dinner in the open air


-- What can get into your stomach while you're walking around in Saigon! --

There are also various sellers on these pavements. These are tamarinds - huge, don't you agree?!
 
I am not sure what it is, smells like salted fish

And of course, the famous Vietnamese sandwich!. Result of adaptation of French baquette and Vietnamese unique condiments - their contribution to the world's cuisine

If you're familiar with 'Es Cincau', then this is similar with that. Look at her small benches hanging on the her left's basket. All of these sellers carry those so people can sit while enjoying what they've bought

The Vietnamese 'Es Cincau' - very refreshing

Another seller makes quail eggs omelette. Each of the pan's compartment is used for 1 quail egg. Then it is mixed with various vegetables and condiments. Smells really good.

You eat it with chili sauce
The famous Vietnamese coffee. I had this in Pho 24. For a simple reason that those sellers by the pavements didn't have any menu so I had no idea which was pork which wasn't, I went to Pho 24. And if you come to Vietnam, you think you know what Pho 24 tastes like, you're very wrong. Go to the AUTHENTIC Pho 24 where the pho tasted A LOT BETTER, and the coffee tasted sooo good. I had it also in Ben Thanh market - the original surely was definitely better tasting...

-- Works of art -- 

At certain streets, you'll find these paintings which resemble a lot with Indonesia's Mooi Indie's paintings!. I don't remember the name but I passed by one long stretch of road with so many of these. This one I took in a little corner of Dong Khoi. So I guess just like us, they too have a similar romantic memory of various sides of their country.

They were about to celebrate a national day, and I saw these cute posters everywhere. What I thought was interesting, was the style of these posters were still like those in the olden days!

Maybe this is about protecting your country or something :)

This maybe about development!

Family planning? :) - Oh I don't know...But I just love the style of these posters

-- Keeping the tradition alive --

What I mostly enjoyed was whenever I saw ladies wearing their Ao Dai - traditional Vietnamese dress. They looked so graceful (and of course, so slim!!!!) in it. And they wear it everywhere

When I visited the old market at China Town, those dresses are sold everywhere - side by side with t-shirts, blouses etc

The conical hat that this lady was wearing, resembles our Indonesian 'caping'. It's called non la in their language, it's become part of the national costume of Vietnam. In Jakarta, you wouldn't even see these hats worn by any sellers. You can only find them in villages. But in Saigon, even people like you and me, wear these hats

although of course I saw more of sellers wearing these hats compared to others

The Vietnamese rickshaw. Only fits 1 person!

There are of course historical buildings and all those sites to see in Saigon. But I think I'll stop here for a moment, and let you imagine what's life like out there in this lively city. I fell in love with its energy, with its familiar moments of chaos, and its lovely mix of old and new. Really is a pleasant city to walk on! (though not free of pollution, of course :)).

(R I R I)









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