First Day After Touchdown in Saigon

Today, we had the pleasure of starting our day with a traditional Vietnamese breakfast at the Victory Hotel.  In particular, I devoured the beef ragu and the pho noodles.  After this, we were greeted by the gracious and energetic students of UEF, where we enjoyed a well-planned and organized welcome ceremony from our Vietnamese friends.  At the ceremony it was interesting to see that an official from the Ministry for Education had come to greet us, even though UEF is a private school.  At lunch, I indulged in 2 Bon Mi sandwiches that were out of this world, and interestingly they had pate on them, which was a pleasant surprise.

Even being jet lagged, I got a boost of energy on the city tour because of the sheer excitement of seeing a well known Southeast Asian city up close for the first time.  It was informative to here how prominent buildings located in the French Quarter, such as town hall and the opera house, were transformed from houses of congress (during the pre-1975 years) into various ministries of the Communist government that gained control in 1975.  Another detailed piece of trivia that I received from our tour guide, who gave himself the pseudonym “Jonny Walker,” was the reason why the Secretary of State, during the Clinton presidency, decided to demolish the old Saigon Embassy after Hanoi and Washington reconciled in 1995; apparently, the United States feared that there were wire taps, cameras, and other pieces of spy equipment hidden away by the Vietnam Communist government, so instead of searching inch by inch of the consulate, they decided to blow it up and build a new one.  I believe this to be true, even only if  in part, since I am familiar with America’s history of fearing all elements of anything to do with Communism.  Still, they probably knocked down the old embassy/consulate because it brought back bad memories of the Vietnam War (or American War).  Throughout the tour, I found it incredible (not completely sure why) of the vast amount of Vietnamese flags that hanged alongside the Communist Hammer and Sickle, as well as sporadic propaganda posters stationed throughout the Downtown District 1.  Patriotism is something I admire (being from the United States, where the American Flag is ever-present in daily life) but, truthfully, there is something about the hammer and sickle that still gives me butterflies in my stomach.

Huge evidence of the presence of globalization is the Metro Project we saw going on in the center of Ho Chi Minh City.  It is being funded by a gigantic loan from the Japanese which, on paper, the Vietnamese government will pay back with minute interest in 20 or so years.

Tonight’s dinner consisted of numerous courses of traditional Vietnamese spring rolls, meats, fish, and vegetables.  It was surprising to me that the shrimp were served with the legs and antennas and shells still on.  As was described in the culture smart book, many of the dishes were served over large pieces of lettuce.  We rolled up the various vegetables and meats in this lettuce.  For dessert we received a delicious milk-like beverage that reminded me of a watery vanilla milkshake with a hint of coconut.

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