Chasing Miss Saigon

Arriving in Saigon, I thought I had magically come back to America. There are freeways, on and off-ramps, intimidating towers, huge shopping malls and a Western-style infrastructure. What a nice surprise!

This city is ostensibly non-communist. Most of its inhabitants lived in Saigon before it was “liberated” by the North Vietnamese in 1975, but were displaced, forced into the rural countryside by the communist regimes. They snuck back, and though they couldn’t legally own property, they were forced to rent. That’s right, the Communists became the landlords for the capitalist migrant workers! Isn’t that ironic as hell?

By the way, this city is officially called “Ho Chi Minh City,” named for the Communist dictator who didn’t live to see it reunified. Nobody here calls it that. From the Vietnamese I’ve talked to, the government sanctions are far more liberal in the South. People here get to vote. There are private banks on every corner and just about everything is decentralized.

People here wear T-shirts that say: “I love America” and “I want to be Americanized.” What the hell. I was expecting to find the enemy!

At any rate, this city is not too different from cities in Korea. It has advanced extremely quickly, thanks to it’s uber-privatization, its work ethics, and, probably the most helpful, the foreign banks and foreign investment capital. Just the names of some of these banks are astonishing: “The Bank for Investment of Capital in Vietnam,” “InvestCo,” “Saigon Investment” etc. Somebody got extremely smart and began advertising Saigon as a promising enterprise for any foreign banker. Needless to say it worked, the city is quite developed, and hopefully Laos, with the large amount of Japanese, Korean and Chinese investors I met while there, will follow the same path as Vietnam.

So far, this has got to be one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. Before I came to Saigon, a traveler told me: “It’s just another big city.” Being an urban traveler, the naetivity in such a statement is insulting to one’s intelligence. Niagra Falls is just a big waterfall. Why be “humbled” under an oversized faucet, when one can be mesmerized and made proud by humanity’s great achievements on display in a city like Saigon, from the Opera houses to the malls, to the gigantic War memorials, to the zoos, to the banks. In the words of Ayn Rand, upon seeing the launch of Apollo 11:

For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel—not “How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!”—but “How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!”

As for the museums and memorials, more emotion, more sentiment. The “War Remnants Museum” is especially horrendous. One is faced with collages of people disfigured, death tolls and photos from both sides of the war, but mostly the atrocity of the B52 carpet bombers and agent orange (and purple). It’s extremely horrendous, and only insulted by the fact that America is still doing the exact same thing to a different type of brown people.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’ve already seen dozens, perhaps hundreds of war victims in Vietnam and Laos. They’re all over the place, and the babies who are born disfigured and with brutal malformations (from their parents being exposed to Agent Orange) are especially difficult to walk by without handing the mother some compensation for my country’s bloodthirsty zealots (all those who went along with Johnson).

Just take a look at the My Lai Massacre: An estimated 500 civilians murdered by U.S. soldiers, almost entirely women, children and the elderly.

Anyways, today I went to the Zoo, and they had trained the elephants to dance for visitors, staring at you dumbly and sneezing on you every now and then while waiting for sticks of bamboo to eat. Awesome!

On an ending note, Saigon is the only place I’ve been to where the markets don’t constantly try to screw you over. There are set prices for everything, and I’ve only had entirely ethical transactions–an extreme rarity in SE Asia. Needless to say, it’s time for a shopping spree!

September 4, 2008. Travel Blogs.

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