Archive for Saigon Diary – Page 2

Like Bali or Goa 30 Years Ago

I’ve missed a few chances over the years to be in the first wave of travelers to “discover” a place before the hordes arrive. In the 70’s I had a ticket to Bali but decided to trek in Nepal instead.

Nepal was amazing but I felt I had missed its “undiscovered” phase. Others had been there when it was even less civilized. As it turns out I’m glad I chose Nepal. For 23 days a friend and I walked from Pokhara to the Tibetan border, from Mansalu and Dhaulagiri to the Mustang area. It was unspoiled and the only other Westerner we saw in those 23 days was a German woman I knew from Berlin. But, I’m a beach rat and I always regretted not seeing Bali, Goa, and the Seychelles in those days. read more

Living Vertically

In 2007 I learned that 60% of Vietnam’s population was born after 1975. That’s when the “American” war ended and Vietnam’s reproductive juices got going again. Five years later my guess is that the number is closer to 70%. There are kids and young adults everywhere. Tu Du Pediatric Hospital in Saigon sees 50,000 new babies every year. One hospital – 50,000 babies every year. So, what am I thinking? Well, sooner or later all those babies will get old and when they do they will find out that life is difficult when they can’t climb stairs, step over curbs or get their wheelchairs in and out of a bathroom or restaurant. I’m not there but I know what the future looks like. America has the(ADA) Americans with Disabilities Act to help make life easier for disabled people. Vietnam has nothing like it. read more

Risk Management

Howard Hughes was afraid of germs (and so is my wife). His fear drove him to extremes. Sometimes I think it’s doing the same to her. Living in Saigon, I think she has better reasons but he wouldn’t touch doorknobs and eventually he removed himself, as much as possible, from all human contact. He was managing risk. He was a nut case, but we all do it to one degree or another.

For a Western expatriate, Saigon can be a challenge in risk management. Yesterday, a friend told Marilynn that she was surprised and appalled to find out that her house cleaner was “cleaning” all the surfaces in her bathroom with water from the toilet. A less extreme case was our discovery that our household help was washing all the dishes with cold water. That is more understandable when you know that most Vietnamese houses don’t have hot water. Cold water is the only kind available so naturally everything, clothes, dishes, and bodies are washed with cold water. Even when we told her to use hot water for the dishes she had a hard time complying because she said it burned her hands. She didn’t perceive any risk from bacteria and she thought it was too expensive to use hot water. Sidewalk food vendors have a bucket of water that they use to wash dishes and utensils. They use the same water for hours. It may not be the food that gives you stomach cramps. It could be the dish it’s served on. read more

Expect the Worst; Remember the Best

Take a good look at this picture. Wide-body aircraft cabin, spacious seating, smiling flight attendants and so on. Remember this picture the next time you climb aboard. I doubt that it’s the picture that will stay with you after the flight. It may not be appropriate for a man to discuss childbirth, but I can’t get its analogy to long distance air travel out of my head. The conventional wisdom is that a woman’s pain during childbirth recedes and is replaced by the pleasure she receives from the child. I can’t speak to that experience personally, but I can tell you that something inexplicable and similar happens to me with respect to very long passages in an airplane. read more

Income Inequality – Saigon Style


This woman didn’t want me to take her picture, so I snapped a quickie as I was walking away. What you can’t see is a pile of sorted cardboard, soda cans, water bottles, plastic bags, and styrofoam – her “products.”

This is private enterprise in Vietnam. Each morning this woman and others like her hit the streets of Saigon with their two wheeled carts looking for anything they think can be reused or recycled. In the afternoon, with her cart overflowing, this lady stakes out a piece of sidewalk near our apartment and begins breaking down boxes, sorting, and stacking the assortment of things she has collected. When she is finished with that task she neatly loads the cart and pushes off down the street. I don’t know where she unloads and I don’t know who buys the products but every afternoon she is there, kneeling on the sidewalk, sorting a fresh accumulation of items gleaned from street side trash containers. Her civil service counterpart is a corps of orange suited women who patrol the same streets with large orange carts picking up street side garbage in plastic bags from neighborhood door steps. Everything that can be recycled is separated out and given a new life. read more