‘The most startling reminder of France’s colonial ties with Vietnam recurs above the skyline, as you approach the city along the Saigon River, a tributary of the Mekong. The two towers of the Notre Dame Basilica have dominated Saigon since 1883, all parts of the structure having been shipped from France.’ (- from Chris Martin – ref. below).
Small shops and bars and cafes abound along both the narrow secondary streets and the wider boulevards. On the footpaths every so often, families can be seen cooking the up-coming meal and a variety of aromas waft everywhere. The cool of the evening sees families, friends or lovers strolling aimlessly, leisurely, seemingly contented in their relatively simple life-styles. An endless stream of motorbikes roar around and around without any purpose other than ‘being seen’.
Most of the larger hotels in both Saigon and Hanoi are living testimonies to French colonial rule. Hanoi is dominated by its tranquil Central Lake, but Saigon has its sprawl, its traffic and hustle and bustle and its huge central market place.
Despite official re-naming to Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, local Vietnamese (privately) still call it Saigon.
“America gave us Jeeps and Coca Cola. France gave
us literature and art. We take the former but what we
really feel at home with is the cultural gift!”
- Vietnamese academic interviewed by Chris Martin in Introduction to Vietnam, 1992.
This Jewel of the Orient,
Embellished no known king’s crown;
As an adornment, not viewed,
Pinned to any queen’s gown.
’Tis a huge sprawling city,
Three million people or more,
Still surviving in spite of,
Hundreds of years now of war.
Strange produce is bartered,
Along never-ending bazaars,
With old French vehicles congesting,
Horns blast from buses and cars.
Zig-zagging cyclos and motorbikes,
Serious accidents are rare;
Rules appear non-existent,
Drivers survive so don’t care.
Colonial relics, as villas,
Slums abound, along narrow lanes;
Tropical heat ferments garbage,
Flushed by monsoonal rains.
Remnant bunkers line its airport,
Military presence long gone;
Tearful re-unions for families,
At Ton Son Nhat, in Saigon.
Colourful pagodas are common,
Buddhists worship in them;
One recalls scenes of those martyrs,
Protesting the reign of Diem.
Binh’s Soup Shop on the outskirts,
Brass plaque recognises a debt,
Honours plotters and heroes,
’68’s revolt during Tet.
On each last day of April,
Northerners and ‘converted’, celebrate,
Presidential Palace surrendered,
When a tank crashed its gate.
And nearby, a tall building,
Chaos captured on film that day;
‘Choppers’ from rooftops to warships,
Then were dumped in the bay.
And the old bars and their girls,
Very few, obvious, are found;
This new socialist order,
Drove them deep underground.
Yet, in Ho Chi Minh City today,
Though it’s not quite the same,
Locals in preference make reference,
To Saigon its old name.