Saigon 15 Years Later
How can a city change so much? I didn’t think it possible to see such a drastic difference. Since 1995, the last time I visited, the quiet streets with the rambling cyclo drivers have become overridden by swarms of motorbikes and cars jostling to reach wherever it may be.
Ho Chi Minh City is undergoing breathtaking development. Large-scale construction projects spring up on nearly every corner – most of them end in soulless sky scrapers with glass facades giving a view into their hollow insides. Sadly all the construction is at the expense of many of Saigon’s beautiful architectural gems, which are now pulled down nearly without question thanks to the greater powers of a booming economy.
Two of Saigon’s greatest assets haven’t changed though. The food and the people.
The taste of Vietnam is very much still at the heart of this city. It’s a gastronomical paradise. The variety is astonishing, and now cuisine from around the world has arrived in full force to satisfy the expat community and tourist masses.
All I hope is that the people of Vietnam do not change. I pray their openness, generosity and intelligence is kept. With so much on offer now in this country it is in danger of being taken over by a consumerist agenda, injecting lethal quantities of greed into a society which barely knew the smell of money thanks to a war and, with it, the consequences of victory – the draconian, cruel and petty US sanctioned embargoes.
Visiting as a fat kid in 1995 I was somewhat of an attraction to the locals. I remember the astonished eyes of all my relatives and everyone on the street – and soon after the pulling apart of my chubby cheeks to check they are real. They’d never seen anything like me before – nearly everyone was stick thin, from the elderly to the children. But now, I am still on the larger side – and no one seems to care. Being fat has become a regrettable norm in Ho Chi Minh City. Tonnes of money really can be heavy.
You just have to look at Vietnamese history to know that they are a proud race and will prevail, with the core of what makes them such spectacular people intact.