Archive for Saigon Diary – Page 3

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

Now Read This…

For three years I haven’t read anything, fiction or non-fiction, that didn’t have something to do with Vietnam. I was looking forward to reading about something or someplace new, but it wasn’t a chore when I got sucked into reading Angie Chau’s book Quiet as They Come. She’s a new and compelling voice. It’s hard to pull away once the Vietnamese bug catches you. Vietnam is a deeply fascinating place and culture. Working there made it even more so. It has a rich and complicated past, a messy, energetic, present, and a hope fueled future. In between, there is the Vietnamese diaspora. That is what Angie Chau writes about – the Vietnamese-American immigrant experience. read more

The World is Flat (at least in Saigon)

The world is flat. The world is small. The world is at our fingertips. We have real-time face to face Skype conversations across the oceans. We “chat” with friends in Europe, Asia and the Americas on a daily basis. We follow the news on the European debt crisis and the air quality in Beijing and we know that all of these things affect us personally.

In Saigon Gucci competes with Pho 24 for our attention. Christian Louboutin sells $700 shoes next door to a counter that sells Rolex knockoffs for under $100. Almost anywhere in the world we can find a more or less homogeneous urban scene. Countries retain their traditions and cultures and on the street the scene can look very indigenous but at the top of the economic ladder, in the center of the largest cities, things start to look very familiar. Brands are global. Half of the world is wearing Nike shoes and baseball caps. Coke and Pepsi are the beverages of choice. Kids in Saigon dream of having their birthday parties at KFC, and there are half a dozen glitzy Vietnamese magazines devoted to fashion and the high life with “golf” in their titles. read more

America in Decline

I often describe myself a short term pessimist and long term optimist. I try to think positively about people and the world. I’ve been traveling almost constantly since 1965 and I’ve seen a lot of changes in the places I’ve lived and visited. I’ve come to think that airports are metaphors for their countries.

Last Wednesday I took the red-eye from Saigon to Seoul, had an 11 hour layover in the airport and then continued on to Seattle. It was midnight when we left Saigon but the Illy espresso bar was open. The cafe was stylishly modern and the clientele a mix of Asian, European, and American types. It could have been anywhere. It’s that way in most international airports these days. I can remember when Tan Son Nhat airport was a couple of one story wooden buildings. Now it’s all glass and marble high rise with luxury brand boutiques and world cuisine. It’s 36 years since the Vietnam War ended and the victorious communist north has fallen in line with the rest of the capitalist consumer world. I wonder what Uncle Ho would think? read more