Independence Palace / Reunification Palace

Disclaimer: I know very little about the Vietnam War.

I didn’t really do my research before I came here. In the course of hitting 8 or 9 countries, it was inevitable that I would slack on getting a good history on a few of them. But this outing made me want to gain some understanding and research the Vietnam War. From what I’ve learned so far, it seems extremely complicated.

First of all, there was a lot going on in Vietnam before the war, which is called “The War of American Aggression” here. And the video we watched at the end of the Independence Palace tour in Ho Chi Minh City gave me a whole new set of propaganda that did not at all match with the propaganda I was taught in school.  I know that the US didn’t win the war, and that some only admit that reluctantly, but I had no idea that (per the movie) the Vietnamese had such a glowing and complete victory over the “US Imperialists”. Or that all the POWs were released and went home when the US gave up in shame. I know that’s not right at all.

I’m sure I was not taught 100% truth about what happened, but that movie I watched was certainly not all truth, either.

It’s funny…when I first thought about coming here, I thought I might get a bad reception because the war was not that long ago, and we did invade and kill a large number of people, so I assumed there could be some difficulty in being an American tourist here. But, except for some cultural and opportunistic rudeness which might be worth a future post, people for the most part have been really friendly, and nice, and helpful. Well, the movie I watched at the Independence Palace would explain that nice, friendly attitude as belonging to a smug, dominant victor, laughingly tolerating the wide-eyed, insignificant American tourist, whose country foolishly invaded and then went home with their tales (sic) between their legs. But that doesn’t feel like truth, either.

I think that people tend to be kind to foreigners in spite of our respective governments, and that foreign policy is sometimes a hurdle that people get past to realize that we’re all just human beings, sometimes living at the mercy of our country’s policies and decisions. I’ve found that I feel well-treated when I travel, despite anyone’s feelings about what my government may be doing or may have done. It’s so good to be accepted just for being a person, and not have to worry about being held accountable for your government’s actions. This goes both ways, of course. There are many governmental policies around the world that I do not agree with, but I try not to hold that against ordinary citizens of those countries. It wouldn’t be fair, right?

The following photos are from the Palace- which was preserved in time and reminded me strongly of a Mad Men set. There are beautiful rooms and offices, and there are a large number of war rooms consisting of nothing more than an office chair and one of those old metal office desks with a rotary phone on top. I found the “recreation room” delightful- especially the wine barrel bar at the back. And here’s a link to their website.

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Lotteria Shrimp Burger!

What luck! My train to Nha Trang was cancelled! Which gave me an extra 3 hours in the train station… to discover Lotteria! Now, just because it’s fast food doesn’t mean you have to start judging. It’s not McDonald’s, right? So, I’m justified in eating there. Especially because I don’t have any other options… plus- they have SHRIMP burgers!!!  Just like the delicious one we had in Japan. Why don’t we have these in the US? They’re perfect! It’s a light, melt-in-your-mouth patty of hot, fried shrimp! Crispy on the outside, and delicately buttery shrimpy on the inside! Like a crab cake, but far better. Mmm…  And at 38,000 Vietnamese Dong, it’s not half bad.

  (20,000 VND = $1)


Also, the lemonade was thirst-quenchingly delicious. Sweet, citrusy, and non-carbonated. Ahhhh…


And the mini-blizzard was barely 50 cents!

Ho Chi Minh City markets

Markets seem to be an integral part of any major town here, or maybe I just make them a priority on my walks around. 🙂  I think it makes sense, though. In the absence of big box superstores and massive grocery stores, you need markets.

(Photo: Shopping at the night markets can be so tiring!)

If you come by Ben Thanh Market at lunchtime, you will be knocked out by the heavy smell of fish sauce. And where Ubud had its batik, HCMC has its embroidered silk. Why didn’t I get a bigger suitcase???  And, to be honest, I walked around for about an hour before I realized how much else there was- there are so many shops selling designer knock-offs that I know of a couple of people who would be in heaven here amongst the purses and shoes and bags. I, of course, am more like a magpie and continue to be drawn to the colorful native-looking crafts. Want! And if you miss the markets during the day, you can come back at night when they all open up outside of the marketplace, lining the streets with alluring goodies and spilling light into the night.

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Ho Chi Minh City roads

Do not attempt to cross the road!!!

Wow. Talk about adventure sports. I never considered being a pedestrian to be quite this dangerous before. The crazy traffic patterns in Saigon remind me of the street crossing in Tokyo where it looks like a herd of wild animals all moving as a pack in a flowing march of humanity. Except here, it’s motorbikes, and cars, and people trying to cross amongst them.

So you try to avoid crossing the street for as long as you can. Then you realize that to get to that tourist spot on your map, you have to cross a street sometime. So, first you cheat and try to cross only when you can glom on to a confident local daring the traffic. But so few people walk in many areas, that at a certain point, you’ve got to take the plunge yourself. But here we have the problem.

You have to do everything the OPPOSITE of how you would in the west. If traffic is coming at you, you don’t run, you slow down. What? That would never work! Oh, but it does. Once you’ve successfully fought all your instincts and DEcreased your pace when traffic is flying at you, you can see how the traffic patterns rely on the pedestrian being slow and deliberate so that cars and motorbikes can drive AROUND you, based on where they predict that you will be when they get close to you. Yeesh. But it works. I mean- not always- I’ve read that pedestrians get hit all the time here, but you can see it working right in front of you. And it’s kind of fun. It makes you feel like you’re in that old arcade game Frogger. Just try not to get squished!

I even thought it would be great to take a video of the experience to share with you all, but decided I was too terrified and unwilling to split my focus long enough to pay attention to both the camera and to not dying. But then, finally, the other day, when I was crossing at the edge of a roundabout near the marketplace, I found myself in a pack of about 6 other people, with equal numbers on either side of me. And I decided to make a quick movie while I relied on my fellow man… as human shields. So, here’s a short video to give you a slight taste of the experience (and thanks to Fay for being one of those human shields :-).

Mrs. Saigon

I made it to Vietnam! Ho Chi Minh City is an intimidating place to arrive at – in a downpour with a darkening sky and having to cross the busiest roundabout with the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen. It’s noisy (so many horns honking and motorbikes revving) and polluted (many people wear masks over their noses and mouths) and the streets feel really crowded. But after some time here, I feel more comfortable and can appreciate its energy and life. It’s lit-up nicely at night, and the markets make the streets come to life with random, bright, stuffed-full shops lining the sidewalk. Actually, not so random.

There’s a Simpsons episode that kept coming to mind, in which Homer decides he needs some hammocks, but he’s living in a new town and doesn’t know where to find them. He asks his new boss, who muses on the names of several stores that carry hammocks… and Homer replies: “Oh! The Hammock District!”

That’s what HCMC is like- I was walking down the street and passed aquarium store after aquarium store. And I realized:  I must be in the Aquarium district! Until the stores changed to infant formula stores, and I was then I was in the Formula district? Which melded distressingly (or in sequence?) with the alcohol and cigar stores district. It’s an interesting way to do business- with all your competitors clustered tightly around you. I wonder how it works out for all the stores. Maybe they see more traffic, because everybody knows exactly where to go to get exactly what they need?  Regardless, it’s always good to see a different way of doing things. But I never did find the hammock district…  🙂