Friday, October 07, 2005

Sane in Saigon

A step out of the comfort of your air-conditioned hotel room and you're confronted with the crazy Saigon traffic and heat! But meditate a moment, and take a step of faith - you will find the whizzing motorcycles part like the Red Sea. So too the still, hot air which suddenly turns to wet thunderstorms and then stops again like a tap turned off. A reflection of - Saigon - a city that never is what is seems to be.

A CLEAN SWEEP - Saigon seems impeccably spotless for an Asian city! And all this without heavy littering fines. At a key corner opposite the Opera House, where the menfolk seem to gather for tea and a chat, helpers sweep away rain water so the streets don't turn muddy.

CRAZY TRAFFIC - Ten years ago it was whizzing bicycles but now its an endless stream of motorbikes and increasingly larger SUVs. There are no traffic rules, only an unspoken agreement to not hit you (or so it seems)! Walk confidently but make sure you catch the driver's eye before crossing. Never dash across! See how this driver teeters along the double white line. Hey, which lane is he on?! Check out the oncoming car! But all seem oblivious, noone seems worried....except the Singaporean backseat drivers.

TRADITION AND MODERNITY - The past and the future coexist side by side, each building upon the other. There seems to be a stark jump between elegant European architecture of the 19th century to functional blocks of the 1960s and 70s and then the sparkling steel-clad high-rise buildings of the 21st century. A dilapidated residence beside the spanking new hotel

WAR & PEACE - Talking to the Vietnamese, their cheerful and patient ways often belie a troubled past where many may have lost a parent or been separated from a relative in recent wars. But they don't carry their troubles like a large chip on their shoulder. Instead, their optimism is real and infectious - especially in vibrant Ho Chi Min City where the rosy economic climate seems to promise much for young couples. Here a wedding car is parked beside an American jet plane used in the war.


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