Our second day in Vietnam started with a lot of coffee. Jet lag is definitely still affecting us, what with our days and nights being almost completely switched from what they are at home. After breakfast (and the necessary amount of caffeine), our group headed over to UEF for today’s classes. The first was a lecture on Urban Planning and Development in Ho Chi Minh City, including a slight land acquisition history of Vietnam as a country. The lecturer was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgable about the topic, and answered questions for us about environmental concerns in HCMC, the troubles of urban sprawl, how the government is facilitating growth and trying to overcome poverty in the city, and more. After this lecture, we again had a Vietnamese language class. We learned a song, and practiced addressing people of different ages with the different Vietnamese pronouns. It’s certainly getting more tricky now that we’ve moved past the alphabet, so I’m eager to see if we will feel prepared when we go to a market in a few days and try to haggle with the vendors in Vietnamese…
After classes, we bussed over to a different district of the city for lunch and our afternoon actives. Lunch was at a Japanese restaurant where we were expected to take off our shoes and we sat at tables very low to the ground on mats. The food was absolutely spectacular.
Our afternoon following lunch was dominated by a company site visit to Phu My Hung Development Co., a company that has built large districts of Ho Chi Minh City. We were able to see firsthand the planning that goes into residential housing projects. The Phu My Hung district that we were in was the New City District, and later in the afternoon we were able to take a guided bus tour of all the five sectors within this city district, including commercial, financial, and residential areas.
Phu My Hung’s city districts and development projects are more modern, well kept, and upscale than the “outside” city. The representative from Phu My Hung told us that aquiring a residence in Phu My Hung’s districts is relatively similar to acquiring them in the US: getting a mortgage and trying to pay it off as soon as possible to avoid high interest rates. This cannot be said for all living areas in Vietnam.
The New City District is a very upperclass area to reside and/or work. The prices of different residences within Phu My Hung’s districts range from apartments to condominiums, to huge villas (I’m talking 4 million USD). Because of this, there is a large price range represented by Phu My Hung residences. However, the cheapest apartments are still about 100,000 USD to purchase. This tells me that this high end community is meant for wealthier citizens, not normal citizens, because the average salary in HCMC is around 2,000 USD a year. The development of Phu My Hung’s high end district corresponds to the globalization of the Vietnamese economy and the subsequent worsening of the wealth gap in the country. Phu My Hung’s prices are an example of progress, as well as a stark reminder of the incredibly poor conditions other Vietnamese people reside in. While it is wonderful that areas of the city are becoming more developed and modern, I can’t help but feel like a large chunk of the population is being left behind without a care.
Phu My Hung’s environmental policies are pretty basic compared to the US standards. They have water treatment facilities, solid waste disposal facilities, and try to incorporate as much greenery as possible into their districts. However, the New City District is build on a manmade foundation built on top of swampy rice-paddy land, so by definition the New City District is not completely environmentally friendly. In terms of the environment, I got the overall impression that normal US environmental standards are considered going above and beyond in HCMC, and what the Vietnamese consider sustainable, we would consider very basic policy.