Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vietnam: Welcome to Saigon

Considering that this blog is supposed to be about my experiences in Vietnam, I suppose I should start writing about the country I have lived in for the last 3 months!

There is so much that can be said about this country, and I'm not even going to attempt to tackle a small portion of it in this single post.  One thing I can say for certain is that every day here is an adventure.  Even the boring days tend to pack a crazy event or two into them.

After my first two weeks in Southeast Asia, we boarded a bus for the eight hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to the place I was to call home for next ??? (months, years, ???): Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, also referred to as Saigon.  I had been to Saigon 9 months earlier, and that initial visit had made me want to return to live and work for an extended period of time.  As is evident from my first 5 blog posts, I loved Cambodia, and I found myself wondering if I should have stayed in Cambodia or maybe gone on to teach in a different country altogether like Thailand.  However, when we pulled into Saigon and I first stepped off the bus, I was immediately reminded of why I was so intrigued by the city 9 months earlier.

Approaching the Cambodia-Vietnam Border

Almost in Vietnam Country

Saigon officially became Ho Cho Minh City in 1975 when the North Vietnamese took over the city, effectively ending what we refer to as the Vietnam War.  While Ho Chi Minh City might be its official name, many people still refer to it as Saigon.  I have to admit, I haven't taken a single photo of Saigon in the three months that I've lived here.  I've been so caught up in trying to infuse myself into the culture that I've been doing my best to not look like a tourist with a camera strapped around my neck oogling everything I walk past that is slightly different.  Now that I'm moved into an apartment, working a steady job, and as settled in as I'm going to be I guess it's time to get out there and start taking some pictures.

As I said before, Saigon is a fascinating city, and there's no way I could begin to sum it all up in this blog post.  Life moves fast, traffic is chaotic, food is delicious, exhaust fumes are nauseating, people are friendly, language is confusing, heat is sweltering, rats and cockroaches are plentiful, rooftop views are spectacular, fruit is fresh, cost of living is cheap, cultures are clashing, and construction is never-ending.  I think it is safe to say that it is unlike any place in the world.  The city is changing daily, and I often wonder what this place is going to look like in 10 years.  If I left today and came back in 2022, I probably wouldn't recognize it.

I suppose I should attempt to focus on something, so I'll close this post by mentioning the first thing any visitor to Saigon notices: the traffic.  There really isn't an appropriate adjective to describe the chaos of Saigon's traffic.  I've been driving a motorbike for a little over two months, and while it can be extremely fun, I do have to be very cautious.  I try to be as careful and alert as possible, and I'd like to think that I'm a decent driver considering the conditions.  I've had a few passengers who would disagree with the previous statement, but every passenger is the best driver, right?  (And with that sentence I just lost about 3 friends)

One of my friends took this photo of me out of a cab window

Crossing the Saigon River on the massive Phu My Bridge

A few nights ago, my housemate and good college friend Mike and I were heading out and he grabbed his camera to catch a video of the traffic from the back of my bike at around 6:30 PM, roughly as rush hour is starting to wind down.  Mike runs an extremely popular blog detailing his travels in Asia that gets readers from literally all over the world.  He posted the video to his blog, and I invite you to click on the following link to check out the video to get an idea of what we experience on a nightly basis!

Finally, someone recently created a time lapse video of the traffic in Saigon that has been circulating among all of us out here.  While one can never truly understand and appreciate the intensity of the traffic without actually witnessing it, this video does capture it about as well as anything I have seen:

I hope that these videos have begun to explain one reason as to why I find Saigon so alluring.

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