February 19, 2014

Francis Parker - Vietnam 2014

Day 9: Arriving in Saigon

"Thank you and goodbye." It may seem easy to say, but today, it is one of the toughest phrases to utter as we departed our beloved homestay. As we boarded our faithful boat, we reflected on these past few days with our hospitable host family and how this immersion has provided insight into one of the most vibrant cultures in the world in a way that is unparalleled to any book. Despite reluctant farewells, we departed the Mekong with a full head of steam, ready to embrace a rising economic power of the world: Saigon.

As we floated away from our home-away-from-home, our minds began to wonder what's in store for us? After experiencing the heavily monitored chaos of Hanoi, we didn't know what the streets would be like in a city far away from the political capital and the center of the party's power. Will the people dress as conservatively as they did in the north? Will the people look at us differently? What will the food be like?

When Mr. Hau announced that we reached Saigon, our eyes immediately fluttered to the glass as we watched skyscrapers tower above us, streets widen to fit five cars abreast, and other tourists stop to take pictures. Wait, tourists? One of the most drastic differences that we noticed between Saigon and Hanoi was the impact that tourism has played in shaping the culture of this city. More people were dressing like us, speaking like us, and acting like us. The streets were nicely maintained and the buildings and shops were catering to the Westerner. However, that did not stop us from stopping at the famous restaurant Pho 2000 for lunch. In November of 2000, Bill Clinton ate pho at this restaurant, which symbolized the steps he had taken during his presidency in reconciling the American-Vietnamese relationship, such as lifting trade sanctions in the mid-90s.

Many of us retired to our hotel after lunch, but a few explorers ventured out into the city of Saigon. We stumbled upon a looming business tower across the street from a 200-year-old French colonial building, and a Chanel adjacent to a previous U.S. CIA building where the final extraction of U.S. troops occurred. Saigon surprised us with its tourist-oriented feel, but it still retained the distinct elements of history and socioeconomics that were present in Hanoi. There is still a feeling of government presence (observable by the many green police jackets), but there is also a greater feeling of individualism and expressiveness displayed in the infrastructure and interactions. 

"Hello, it's me." Without knowing it, we all kept Todd Rundgren's words in mind as we stepped off the bus. We were all smothered with a wave of heat, but we welcomed it and lost ourselves in a city that has experienced one of the most rapid economic, societal, and cultural growths in the world. Embedded in the buildings, the faces of the people we encountered, and the enviroment of this city, we could sense a vibe that is different than Hanoi. We cannot place a finger on exactly what it is, but we have two more days to figure it out. 


Day 9 Photo Highlights

Today we left our homestay and traveled by bus to Saigon. Halfway there we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break, and little did we know that our air conditioner took a break too and refused to go back to work. So we decided to head for the shade.

While our drivers fixed the AC, we enjoyed ice cream from the local store and wondered around the area to marvel at the roadside wonders.

As we arrived in Saigon, we were greeted by the modern marvels that make this city an amazing mixture of the new and the old. 

We stopped at a restaurant called Pho 2000, where we enjoyed the soup and enjoyed the fact we got to eat in the same restaurant as a previous American president. 

We arrived at our luxurious hotel, which was breathtaking and exciting, and we worked our way up to the rooms where a beautiful balcony view greeted us.

Before our amazing dinner, we wondered around this amazing city at night and enjoyed all the sights and sounds of downtown Saigon.


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