Over Chinese New Year break, I found myself in the depths of Southeast Asia, eating thousands of rice paper rolls a day, falling in love with Vietnamese children and discovering Vietnam has better baguette rolls than France does. Welcome to my little account of my 小的 trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is home to 8 million people. That’s double my hometown and half of Shanghai’s. But for some reason, it’s twice as packed as Shanghai and half the size of Sydney. And never in my entire life, have I seen so many motorbikes. I’m talking thousands. They congregate at red lights like little children waiting to pounce at the sight of dessert. On top of that, you’re expected just to cross the road and let them ride around you. Casual. Needless to say, I could be run over by hoards of motorbikes at any point in time. Sorry mum.
There’s a Chinese word, 热闹 (re nao), that translates to lively, or bustling. Chinese people often describe loud restaurants as being 热闹 – always with positive connotations. That’s how I would describe Ho Chi Minh. It’s busy – but in the best way possible. There are people selling sweetened coffee on every corner – maybe I enjoyed Vietnam more, just on the basis that I was on a caffeine high the whole time – and freshly made, crunchy, sweet Banh Mi ready on every sidewalk.
During my Senior Year – or Year 12, for my native Australian friends
who have not been corrupted by American ways, as I have been – I spent a semester learning (but more like unwillingly forced myself to learn) about the tragedies of the Vietnam War. I went to Ho Chi Minh City with the knowledge that it was no longer to be known as Saigon, but Ho Chi Minh City – after Communist leader Ho Chi Minh entered the U.S. democratic territory.
Now, for all my American friends – let us all get one thing straight. You lost the war. I do not care what you say, and I don’t care if you think you ‘just left’ or ‘were not needed anymore’. You lost. You should probably start teaching that to the young ones. Maybe teach them about the Bay of Pigs too. Australia admits to their losses – we were shoved out of Vietnam, and that’s okay. We let them immigrate and now Cabramatta in Sydney has some of the best Vietnamese food in the world.
I knew about the atrocities – we saw the photos of Agent Orange and we saw the mass rapes of women. But never, did we see the extent that the War Remnants Museum shows you. In the museum, deformed fetuses are preserved for spectators to goggle at. Preserved. Fetuses. While the museum may just be a case of postwar hatred for Americans, it’s a swell way for the Vietnamese to get their message across. In all seriousness, the Museum really did render me speechless. It was moving and heartbreaking and you cannot spend time in Ho Chi Minh without visiting it.
On a lighter note, Vietnam made me realize how much I took Southeast Asia for granted. I’m all for economic and urban development, but there’s something about the un-modernity of Southeast Asia that I love. The smiles on the women who make my baguette sandwiches. The fact that I only have to pay 50 cents for a coffee. The fact that I get ripped off everywhere I go, just because I’m white and they’re trying out ways of capitalism. The developed world rips you off too, it’s just masked – and not so direct.
People go on and on about the beauty of Europe and the tradition that European countries have. But to me, nothing compares to viewing the changes that these countries have experiences in the last 30, 40, 50 years. And for some reason, the children seem happier, and there’s less care or something. Maybe I just feel more at home – who knows.
Unfortunately, now I’m back at college, chained to my desk and anticipating my next trip – which will be back to my 国家, 香港 – Hong Kong!