After spending yesterday in the heart of crowded and bustling Ho Chi Minh, today we got some perspective on different aspects of life in Vietnam. We began our second day with an engaging lecture about rural development in the Mekong Delta. In contrast to Saigon, the Mekong delta consists of small-scale businesses and farming. I was shocked some of the pictures of the infrastructure, especially one of children crossing the “monkey” bridge to get to school, which is essentially a large stick crossing the river which they must shuffle sideways on to balance. In the United States, we do not have anything that compares to this (as far as I know), but if we did I would not expect to find it so close to such a large city. Despite the transportation problem, Dr. Dong Le Hoa explained to us that development in the area has given most people access to at least “acceptable” levels of services such as credit, education, and healthcare.
After lunch, we visited our first company, the Phu My Hung development corporation. Phu My Hung designed the new city center, which had a noticeably different look and feel than the other parts of Ho Chi Minh that we had seen. The traffic was less chaotic, there were more parks, and the people were less densely populated. It was explained to us that foreigners are an extremely important demographic, as they make up a major portion of all occupants of the city center. As we drove through the area, I felt that it looked more similar to some places in America than the rest of Ho Chi Minh. We also saw many foreign restaurants, from French to Japanese. This combination of American, European, and Asian influence indicates globalization. However, I also wondered if this focus on foreigners prevents more Vietnamese people that would like to live in the area from being able to.
Our tour leader explained the efforts that Phu My Hung is taking to develop sustainably. This is an issue we talked about often during first-year engineering classes, so it was interesting to see how an actual company uses these principles. The area was designed to keep housing moved back from the water so parks could be placed along the waterways instead in the hopes that less litter would make its way to the rivers. Additionally, there was a lot of space allotted for parks in place of more housing so that more trees could be planted to improve air quality. We were also shown one natural area that was left intact. Climate change is also a significant issue in the Mekong. The agricultural production in the Mekong is vital to the economy of Vietnam, making up over fifty percent of domestic rice and ninety percent of export rice. The area is very threatened by rising sea levels; nearly a third of the delta could be inundated by 2100.