The Next Shanghai

Jimmy Antzoulis is the project manager on the Bitexco building in the heart of Saigon. He’s a Greek-American from Astoria, Queens, New York City. Jimmy is the best of America although he hasn’t lived there since 1983. He works for Turner, one of the biggest building contractors in the world. He’s lived in China, Abu Dhabi (his favorite), Dubai, London, and a host of other places before coming to Vietnam two years ago. Yesterday, he loaded us in the external hoist and took us to the 57th floor of the new building. It will eventually be 68 stories, but they are only up to 57 at the moment. The crews work 24/7. This is Vietnam. They plan to open for business with 5 floors of high-end retail and 63 floors of leased office space by the end of October.

When I got to Floor 57 I poked my camera through the webbing and took a picture of the Saigon River and the green grassy patch on the other side. It’s not all grass; there are houses on the river and the government is building a tunnel and a freeway to take away some of the traffic stress that plagues the city. But, beyond the riverside houses it’s grass, trees, and farmland.

I was in Shanghai this time last year and witnessed the most amazing urban landscape on the planet. It’s called Pudong. It’s across the river from The Bund, the old commercial district of the city. At night you can stand on the promenade and look across to Pudong. There are hundreds of modern skyscrapers, including the world’s second tallest building,the world’s tallest hotel, as well as a building with a 60 story video screen that runs day and night. It’s incredible. 30 years ago it was all farmland.

Jimmy told me yesterday that the green patch I was photographing is Saigon’s Pudong. There are plans to pave and build just like they did in Shanghai. The Sunday Vietnam News had earlier reported that there are projections of 30 million people in the greater Saigon area by 2050. Unofficially, there are 10 million now. This is a centrally controlled economy. The people in those riverside houses and huts will be “relocated”. I think that means evicted.


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