Sai Gon

Written: 12 August 2014

I write this from the couch of my parents house.  I am officially back in the United States, and it’s surreal.  Going to Viet Nam was surreal and being back is surreal.  I honestly, don’t want to be back.

But, all those thoughts must be reserved for later.

So, actually, I extended my Viet Nam trip.  I was supposed to be back in the US on August 4th, but I got back late last night, August 11th.  I wanted to spend some time with my family, so I had spent the last week in Can Tho and Sai Gon.

Can Tho was really nice.  I went the floating market finally, and other touristy sites in the city.

Can Tho's floating market.  You can buy fresh fruits, but you can also have breakfast on the boat! It was an amazing experience.
Can Tho’s floating market. You can buy fresh fruits, but you can also have breakfast on the boat! It was an amazing experience.

I also ate a ton of food.  One thing about Viet Nam is that street food and snack food culture is very prominent everywhere.  There are so many snack foods to choose from, right on the street, and you would sit at little tables on little chairs, eating and drinking happily.  My cousin, after eating a lot for dinner, took me around the city to try different snacks.

I spent about 3 days in Can Tho, and then traveled to Sài Gòn (aka Ho Chi Minh City) by bus.  When I got to the brother of my paternal grandfather’s (Ong Noi 8) house, I was exhausted.  I don’t know why that was so because I’ve taken buses before, to travel around Viet Nam, but this one really wore me out.  So, when I got there, I ate lunch and went to sleep.

When I woke up, I went with some of my family members to eat hủ tiếu Nam Vang (yummmmm!) and hang out at a coffee shop.  It was nice to be with the family, even though I’ve never met them before.

The next day, I traveled, on motorbike (my aunt drove) to downtown Sai Gon.  My Ong Noi 8 lives in Sai Gon, but in the small district of Thu Duc.  The downtown part of Sai Gon is very different from anywhere I’ve been / seen in Viet Nam.  It is similar to my modern American cities.

I actually don’t even know how to being in describing this city.  So, as I’ve mentioned before, in most of Viet Nam, people ride motorbikes.  But, in Sai Gon, a lot of people drive cars — it’s about 50/50.  It’s already affected the infrastructure and road habits of the city.  There are lanes dedicated just for cars, even though as I’ve seen everywhere else, cars and motorbikes share the road.  People generally obey road rules, staying in their designated lanes.  People stop at stoplights.  There are also tons of foreigners, and it’s very obvious that they are foreigners.  Some are there as tourists, but many are there for business.

Sai Gon is definitely an international city.  In the past decade or so, it has definitely become the norm where international companies come to Viet Nam to do business.  Buildings are tall.  There are more cars.  Things don’t seem crowded.

Sai Gon is definitely is more modern, and Ha Noi is more cultural in terms of aesthetics and customs.  Prices even reflect the fact that population is able to afford more.  The standard cup of cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee) in Ha Noi ranges from 20,000 VND to 35,000 VND at the most.  In Sai Gon, especially at Coffee Bean or Starbucks, a cup of coffee (not sure if it’s the Vietnamese style) could easily be 30,000+ VND.  My aunt told me that there is a coffee ship in an international business high rise that sells their drinks for 150,000+ VND (~$7+ USD).  That price for a cup of coffee is a lot to me and many other people, but it makes sense because international businessmen and women are generally more wealthy than the average joe.  My main point is that Sai Gon is a very modern city, compared to the rest of Viet Nam, and prices are generally higher too.

Unfortunately, I don’t have good pictures of Sai Gon to really illustrate my point.  Additionally, all my comments refers to downtown Sai Gon, not all of Sai Gon.

And how do I feel about this?

… I … don’t like it.

Thinking from a business perspective, if I were to travel to Viet Nam, I would travel to Sai Gon and I would feel pretty comfortable.  I would still know that this is Viet Nam, but it has all the modern conveniences that I’m used to.

Personally, my heart is in Ha Noi.  This could be attributed to the fact that I spent 9 weeks in Ha Noi and only 4 days in Sai Gon, but I just love Ha Noi more.  It felt more “Vietnamese” — even though I don’t really know what that means.

Sai Gon is being run over by an international population, and the Vietnamese population must adapt to the ramifications of that.  It’s like gentrification.  There are good and bad things.

Sai Gon has a lot of money, and it is the place for large scale economic growth.  International markets.  International businesses.  International population.

Don’t get me wrong, the Viet Nam from long ago is still present in Sai Gon, but there is just an overwhelming foreign influence over its infrastructure, culture, aesthetics, etc.  There are still many old and historical buildings in Sai Gon that have been kept and preserved.  My aunts took me an old church (that have been well taken care of throughout the years) that my parents used to go to decades ago.  It’s not like Sai Gon was completely torn down [at the end of the war] and rebuilt for a foreign population.

I’m just saying that Sai Gon is modern, catered to an international community and I don’t necessarily like that.  But, it makes practical sense for macroeconomic policy of the entire country; however, it does effect the micro-economy of the local Vietnamese people.

I wonder if Sai Gon felt the gentrification-like effects of an international population moving in.  I’ve learned in Robert Reich’s class that people naturally separate themselves by class.  That’s why we have rich communities and poorer communities that are geographically separated.  Have Vietnamese people have to move out of Sai Gon because they could no longer afford to live there?  Have incomes of the people risen?  These are some of the questions.

Viet Nam only opened its doors to foreigners starting in the early 1990s, so it really hasn’t been that long.  But, foreign business and the Đổi Mới policies have definitely contributed to the growth of Viet Nam’s economy (GPP 105 pays off!)

Gosh, I really wish I could have stayed in Viet Nam longer.  Sai Gon is the epitome of Vietnamese capitalism, and I would love to continue to learn more about it.  As I’m writing this, I feel a strong longing for Viet Nam.  I hope my life takes me back there one day.

Over and out.

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