Yes, it's a lame title, but what do you want me to do? I just had dinner at a restaurant that featured fried scorpion and barbecued field rat (fresher, I suppose, than sewer rats). I'm not sure how that's an excuse, but I just wanted to mention it. Local color and all. Anyway, we are currently in Ho Chi Minh City, ne Saigon (that would make more sense if I could use accents on this thing)--or, as someone at an electronics store told us today, "Yes, Saigon--always Saigon."
So far, I would say it's ... okay. I expected it to be a BAMC (Big Asian Mega City, although I've also been toying with BACS--Big Asian City-State, but neither seems to work), and I'm not sure it is. Not yet, anyway. It's got the people, the history, and the crazy traffic, that's for sure. Although here is more scooters than cars--I have never seen so many scooters before in my life. Ye gods. And yet, despite the lack of cars, the traffic is still crazy, mostly due to large, uncontrolled intersections, which--as you might imagine--are fun to cross on foot. Of course, even with crosswalks, it doesn't really matter: half of the crosswalks at lights don't actually have walk/don't walk signals, and those that do change from walk to don't walk with no warning at all so you end up having to hurry across every street. Luckily, I suppose, China has prepared me well for this particular battle, although I have seen some pretty harried looking tourists waiting for a break to cross a particularly busy road. The joke is, of course, on them, because there is no break. Ha. Or something. I guess that's not a funny joke, but whatever. Did I mention the field rats?
Anyway, back to BAMC. Or BACS. Whatever. It's got everything I mentioned before, it seems to have a lot of good little restaurants and boutiques and things like that, but what really seems to be missing is the money. Or money in large quantities, at least. It's definitely richer than Hanoi though. In Hanoi, people only turned on the lights and fans in their shops when customers walked in; here, everything is air-conditioned. (Actually, I could tell when we were in an expensive store in Hanoi because they had A/C. We went into three that did; Holly bought stuff in two of them. Beyond that, I have no comment.) And there's a few Western chains around (AKA "places you have to be rich to shop")--I've seen KFC, Benneton, Adidas, Nike, and even a place selling D&G--but not nearly as many as in other BAMCs. Even the big famous hotels here--the Continental and the Majestic (read The Quiet American, already!) are pretty run-down--run-down enough that I wouldn't want to pay as much as they are asking to stay there. And the ladies on the street wearing their conical hats carrying around fruit in baskets balanced on a bamboo pole across the shoulder, who were everywhere in Hanoi, look terribly out of place here. Instead, I see people selling fruit--always something exotic, like passion fruit, lychee fruit, jack fruit, and mangosteens by the thousands (Google it--they are very sweet, but very good)--from baskets on the back of bicycles and Honda Dreams (scooters) or even, once or twice, what looks like a produce store. God Forbid.
However, Saigon is still Saigon, and it does have some interesting stuff. Today we went to the War Remenants Museum, which dealt with War of American aggression, and that was interesting. (They used to call it the American War Crimes Museum; presumably they changed it to get more tourists.) It's strange to see a war written about from the other side--how obvious the propaganda aspect is. For example, I remember one photo that had a woman looking off sternly into the distance, and the caption said something like "A Vietnamese patriot looks at the American forces with hatred." Sure. To me, she just looked bored, but what do I know? They also had tanks, Hueys, jets, bombs, and all sorts of stuff like that, as well as some pretty horrific pictures of people who had been shot/killed/blown into their constituent parts by US bombs. It wasn't exactly pretty. Tomorrow we are going to the "Reunification Palace," which used to be the center of the South Vietnamese government, which should also be interesting. (It's the place the VC made for when they took Saigon: they bashed down the gate with a tank (very famous picture) and planted the red flag with the yellow star on top of the building. The day after tomorrow we are going to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which the VC used for the Tet Offensive (I think) and Tay Ninh, the "Holy See" of the Caodaists (seriously, read The Quiet American already), an interesting religion that was founded in the 20s, had their own army in the Indochine War, worships Jesus, Buddha, and the Hindu gods (does that make them Unitarians?) and believes that both Victor Hugo and Sun Yat Sen are saints. It should be interesting. Then, the next day--the final day in Saigon--we are going up the Mekong in search of a renegade colonel. Kurtz or something like that. Ha--just kidding. Well, about the last part; we are going up the Mekong, which should also be interesting. Don't worry--I do have "Ride of the Valkyries" on my MP3 player. Seriously. Is that weird? I think maybe it is.
Anyway, I guess that's about it. I'll tell you about Hoi An--where we went between Hue and here (watch The Quiet American--it was filmed there)--some other time, but the short version is that I liked it ... eventually. It's completely overrun by backpackers though, with all their big frame bags and utili-pants that have straps and clips and zippers everywhere, which sucks. Luckily, I got over it. Whatever. Now I'm off to read Heart of Darkness. That is weird, right? I thought so ...