Rather than have classes today, we visited several significant landmarks around Saigon. First, we headed to the Cat Lai Terminal (the biggest terminal in the area) in order to see how shipping is done in Vietnam. It was shocking to see the sheer quantity of goods being transported on a daily basis and how multiple interconnecting systems worked together to ensure maximum efficiency. One of the most interesting aspects of this port is how customs is handled; there is multiple degrees of searching done to each imported crate (from 10% to 100%) as well as an x-ray process so that all goods can be carefully inspected. Still, I would be surprised if there isn’t a fair amount of smuggling done given the sheer size of the port. The convenient location of this port, close to Saigon and easy access to many waterways, is what makes it so valuable and versatile for Vietnam as a whole.
Though the visit it Cat Lai was enjoyable, for me the highlight of the day was our stop at the famous Reunification Palace, the former capital of South Vietnam. It was very interesting to see how the building has been preserved as a landmark, almost as a trophy to the success of the Viet Cong. We constantly heard rhetoric like “the liberation” of the south from the republic “regime”. Today it seems like the Vietnamese simply look at the palace as an icon of the past and a rather powerful symbol. In fact, one of the UEF students we have been traveling with mentioned that the Reunification Palace was her favorite place to visit due to its major significance. If Vietnam’s communist government is ever overthrown, it will be interesting to see how the perception of this palace will change.