Vietnam, a Study in Contrasts

August 6, 2018

March 17-8, 2018

We drove by too fast for me to have our tour guide translate this billboard, but I deduce it is an 88th-anniversary tribute to the Communist Party, which Ho Chi Minh founded on March 2, 1930. Or possibly on February 3. Our guide opined that, though it’s been 45 years since the Vietnam War ended, his country hasn’t made the same progress Japan had made in 25 years following the end of WWII.


Hammocks everywhere. Outside places of business, like this furniture maker/vendor, but also glimpsed along the highway, deep within dark roadside cafés, where customers can simultaneously swing and swig.



​Two of my favorite shots of the Niet Ban Tinh Xa Pagoda in Vung Tau, aka the Temple of Nirvana, one of several religious ‘monuments’ we visited our first day. Another was the 120-foot Christ the King atop Mount Nho, which I viewed from below — too hot to walk up the mount.



Well-dressed woman buying doughy, pork-filled, steam-able dumplings called bánh bao at a glorified gas station cum rest stop on our way into Saigon the next day. It was unusual to see a woman in a western style dress. Even downtown, most, like the coffee vendor below, were wearing traditional long-sleeved shirts and slacks. Even those who weren't riding their bikes on city sidewalks.​

​First stop, above, was an artisans’ village with paintings, ink drawings, watercolors, sculpture, hand-carved furniture. That painting is apt: motorcycles and scooters are everywhere. The village was set along the Saigon River in a little-developed area on the outskirts of HCMC, where we saw the beginnings of a deluxe neighborhood...

You do remember that Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war — but locals still call it Saigon. On my previous trip here in 2016 with the Yale Alumni Chorus, a friend asked her husband, ‘Why did they change the name? Saigon is so much prettier than Ho Chi Minh City.’ Her husband replied, ‘Because they won the war?’


When I’d seen this same display in this same spot two years ago, I’d guessed — and Google proved me correct — that they are fish traps. Why are there fish traps for sale in front of the Saigon Opera House in the middle of the largest city in Vietnam? (Besides being a fabulous photo op.) We had passed a ‘fish pond’ on our way to the artisans’ village, near that ‘deluxe’ neighborhood pictured earlier, and I deduced that locals will fish for free food wherever they can.


I got a kick out of this ‘Mediterranean Bistro,’ situated in one of the few remaining authentic Old Saigon buildings, surrounded by skyscrapers.

I bet even this bistro has a lucky cat statue near the door. Next time you’re in a Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese restaurant or, hell, even a Mediterranean Bistro, look for the waving cat!  #





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December 4, 2018

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