Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)

I loved HCMC (the short name for Ho Chi Minh City), but I also didn't stray too far from about a 5 block radius that encompassed my hotel, my office, the Reunification Palace, and (coincidentally) Max's apartment (the PiAer in HCMC).

The city is definitely much more Westernized, and there are a lot of foreigners walking around. I saw an upscale shopping center with lots of Gucci, Ferragamo, and other designers that could have been Bloomingdales in NYC. In other words, there is definitely money to be made in HCMC.

Interestingly, a lot of Vietnamese also refer to it as Saigon, and the names seem to be interchangeable. That seems kind of in keeping with the Vietnamese view of the "American War" - it happened, it was pretty awful while it happened, it changed a lot of things, but now it's over. I haven't found much resentment of Americans at all - in fact, I've experienced none - and as far as I can tell, it's something that's in the past and that few people get really touchy about. So it's not a major no-no to call HCMC Saigon, for example.

In HCMC, they've kept the palace which was the southern Vietnamese headquarters almost totally intact, and you can go downstairs and see the rooms with all of the maps, rotary telephones for calling the battlefield, the emergency radios and the President's "war-bedroom" Diem hung out when he needed to be near the phones. It's really interesting - and you can check out my pictures on my Picasa album.

I also got to try some delicious teas - kinds of juices with fruit in them, and these are fruits which have gelatinous textures like nothing I've really experienced before. I can't quite decide how to describe them. I also got to eat a lot of food from the region of Hue, one of the old imperial capitals of Vietnam. It's supposed to be culinary heaven, and certainly the food from there was some of the most unique I've tried yet. They do something with rice - I think whipping it in to a light fluff and then steaming it - which turns it into something that is slick and a bit gooey. It looks like a piece of white fish, actually, but it's rice. And you can eat it plain, or with things stuffed inside, or as the outer layer on a roll with beef and other things in it. Really interesting...

Anyway, it was 3 days of work with a little sightseeing and lots of eating - and quite fun! It was good to get back to Hanoi though, even though I think it is MORE humid here!

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