Friday, February 16, 2007


When I was in the military service, we were consistently reminded to protect Singapore against the dangerous communists up North, most potently the Vietnamese troops who had just invaded Cambodia in 1978. The world was worried that after Cambodia, the communists will advance into Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the rest of South East Asia - what political observers called the 'domino theory'.
After my Service, I went to Australia to further my education. There, the White Australians talked about the 'Yellow Peril' - that the Yellow races will come raining down southwards and ultimately taking Australia. To them at that time, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans... all look the same and are 'yellows'.
Twenty-eight years later, the Vietnamese still had not invaded anyone else and had gone on to embrace the market economy. The Prime Minister is now a Southerner, so is the majority of his Cabinet. While the Northerners are acknowledged for their liberation of Vietnam from the French and the Americans, the Southerners are now all set to develop their country's economy.
In my short trip of only a few days, I am very impressed with Saigon. Can't help calling it Saigon, as it just doesn't have the communist ring of Ho Chi Minh. So let's call it Saigon for this posting! :)
Can't help noticing so many pretty Vietnamese girls in our flight from Singapore to Saigon. Wonder why?

Some are tall, pretty and elegant.

Some are less so, and a bit out of synch.

While the young sport blonde hair and sexy tubes, the older one still don traditional black costumes complete with the traditional Vietnamese hat.

Then one of them hopped onto a motorbike with suitcase and all. As she saw me photographing her, she smiled and waved to me.

As our contact in Vietnam is a politically well connected person, I was wondering if we will be riding on this gawdy red Mercedes at the airport...

No we were not! Up this truck please! Actually, probably a good sign...

It brought us from point A to point B, all the same.

This one peddles toys on his bicycle. Free enterprise is rife.

The streets were teeming with food stalls like these. I was also delighted to hear that they do not have to pay any protection fee to anybody. No mafia and also not to the police. This one in the pix sells sweet potatoes she roasts over charcoal.

This one outside the hotel sells glutinous rice. Apart from peanuts and rice, she adds, sugar, coconut, fried shallots...etc. A little too rich for me. As I approached her stall and looked, she very generously scooped some on a paper to let me try. Yum!!! So I bought a packet, but without the extra toppings. Then as I opened the packet to eat, she even offered her stool for me to sit down by the pavement. A kind soul indeed.

Street side barbers.

The pavements and roads are so busy that cleaning can only take place at 11pm to 4am. They clean the streets everyday. So the streets are neat and tidy. It is also not uncommon to see shop keepers sweeping the pavements in front of their shops during the day.

Passed by this 'art production house'. Here you see lots of replicas of the works of Van Gogh, Cezanne and other famous painters.

This is the posh street of District One. We came here for our dinner. The restaurant is reminiscent of those from old world Parisian charm.

There are these posh districts and also these naughty districts.

This pix is taken in a street side coffeeshop selling Pho (Vietnamese beef rice noodle soup). I love these quaint Coke bottles. The orange squash bottle is the same as what we used to have in Singapore for 'Green Spot' in the 1960s. I felt like time had stood still.

This is the only communist symbol I saw in my whole trip in Saigon. The pix of Ho Chi Minh and the hammer and sickle red flag.

A colonial symbol from the French era. Probably a Catholic church.

This is a Taoist/Buddhist shrine along the backlanes near the hotel. The priest was very friendly and waved to me and urshered me to visit the shrine and take pictures if I wanted. I noticed that the diety figurines have smooth glazed faces and circular aura depicted behind them. Somehow, it looks very similar in style to the statues of Mother Mary in street corner chapels in Italy.

This is a Buddhist/Taoist pagoda behind the hotel.

It has a giant statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

... and a statue of a meditating Buddha, with a few children playing around it.

... and children who refused to leave me alone. :)

... they love to be photographed. Aren't they beautiful? So innocent and vibrant!

Actually, it seems not so long ago that I was the one being photographed by Western tourists at Mt Faber, Singapore. :) I still have vivid memories of those days when Singapore was a 'very developing' country. Those events inspired me to travel around the world 'when I grow up'. So I did and went on to lived in 17 cities across 4 continents and traveled to 10 others. It is a dream fulfilled that still feels like a dream!

Spotted this laid back cafe near the hotel that serves fruits, ice cream floats, cocktails and coffee, so we decided to relax there. Notice that the chairs are all faced outwards French cafe style. Ok, the seats are a bit modest here, but it does the same job.

Then while I was enjoying my ice-cream float, a beautiful angel fairy appeared.

She came closer to me and gave me some magic tokens and say that I can find her again using them.

After she left, I took a look at the tokens and they are free login credits to an online game. So Cybergames and fantasy has entered Saigon.

The Vietnamese people are so disciplined, organised and industrious. Look how close they park their bikes to one another so as to maximise the parking space for others. Also the bikes are neat and clean. People are also neatly and smartly dressed.

This pix speaks volumes. The old phone set speaks of economy of this two-star hotel I stayed in. Notice also that they wrap the air-con and TV remote controllers in clear plastic, so that they will stay clean and probably last longer? Also typical is the kistchy plastic flowers. :)

Whenever I ask for the key to my room at the reception, I would say "401", in which the receptionist will respond "402", which I would correct him by saying, "No, 401"; which he will repeat "402". But, eventually, I will get the key for 401. I don't know what happened but I always get the right key. So somewhere, he thinks 402 is 401.

About 3 out of 10 people speak some English. Young people are keen to learn English. Hardly any young people speak French. Some old people, but very few of them, speaks French.

I am very impressed with the young Vietnamese who served me. One day when I came back to the hotel, the receptionist was cleaning the front glass panes, but on seeing me, rushed to get my key for me. Then she continued cleaning the glass, door, door knobs etc. Upstairs, as I reached my room, three young men were cleaning my room - one in the toilet, one vacuuming the floor the other wiping the table, door knobs, bed head...etc. Needless to say, the room was immaculate! And this was just a 2-star hotel!

You like a souvenir to surprise your friend at home? :)

More kistch! :)

Going Home.

Saigon is mostly low rise urban sprawl. It is about 160km by 120km.

Last, but not least, do remember that the pixs above doesn't talk, so you didn't get to hear the traffic humdrums and the motorbike invasions in the city. The video below will give you a better idea of the dynamics and noise level of the city.

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