Shipyards and Palaces

This morning we visited the Cat Lai Terminal. Here we saw endless, and I mean endless shipping containers stacked in rows. Even more were being loaded and unloaded onto ships of wildly different sizes, while still more were being busily packed with massive bags of rice and fertilizer from the Mekong river delta. The most amazing thing to me was this packing process. It simply consisted of a conveyor belt moving bags from small ships to a line of waiting workers. When the bag reached the end of the belt, the worker would quickly throw it over his head, practically sprint into the open container, and toss it into the growing pile. They would then rush back into line and do it all over again. All of this was done in over 90 degree weather, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Their stamina was incredible.

More specifically about the terminal, Saigon Newport Corporation (the state-owned company that is in charge of the terminal) provides loading and unloading (as well as storage, inspection, and customs) services to feeder ships. It was explained to us that feeder ships are the smaller class of cargo transporting vessels, while mother ships are the larger, intercontinental ones. When the freight is within the control of the terminal, a new software (that has just been implemented) is used to keep track of the location and status of each of the containers. This site is so important as a port because Vietnam lies at such an important intersection of major Asian trade routes. There is only one other port of the same scale in Vietnam at the moment, and plans are in place to expand Cat Lai to allow the larger mother ships to dock directly at the terminal.

Later in the day, we visited the Independence Palace, a landmark in the center of Ho Chi Minh city. Originally, the French Governor’s Palace stood on this site. It was torn after an explosion took out half of the palace, then the current structure was built by the South Vietnamese government. When the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the gates of the palace, the end of the war was definitively marked. For the North Vietnamese, this palace now stands as a symbol of victory and reunification for Vietnam. As an American, it was a bit eerie to see this monument of the loss of the war.

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