Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Archives

January 23, 2007

Good Morning Vietnam

. . . or good afternoon, actually, since it took me an hour to get through the immigration line at the airport here in Saigon!

It was a short flight here from Singapore. It looks like they are building a new terminal complex at the airport, but the one I went through surely wasn't it. After picking up my luggage--which had been removed from the carousel during my interminable wait in the arrivals hall--I took out 1,000,000 dong from the ATM (a bit over $60), arranged a taxi, and left the building to find hordes of people waiting outside, as if the Beatles had arrived in New York City for the first time. (Interestingly, this is the first country on my trip to use a currency other than the dollar.)


The ride across town to my hotel was an adventure in itself. The streets were choked with cars, trucks, bicycle-driven carts, and more motor scooters and light cycles than I thought existed on the planet. I saw literally thousands of them. And not one helmet! It was pretty common for folks to cover their mouths and noses with a bandana of sorts, which made it look like we were driving through groups of bandits. The rules of the road here must be more like suggestions. It felt like Mr. Toad's wild ride, in that more than once I looked ahead to see a couple of cycle riders heading straight toward us in our lane, only to veer off at the last second. There were precious few traffic lights, meaning negotiating intersections, plazas, and roundabouts had an "every man for himself" feel to it. But people seemed used to it and I got to my destination in one piece.

The hotel is very comfortable, clearly a place that caters to Western business travelers. Things are dirt cheap in this country: the taxi, meals, Internet access in the hotel.

When I settled into my room, I tuned the television to Star Sports (an international ESPN network) to catch the tail end of Roddick's one-sided win over Mardy Fish. This advances Roddick to the semifinals, where he'll likely face Roger Federer.

I am about to head out to check out the local sights.

Song Of The Day #23

Because I will forever associate it with the opening of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now--and the opening lines of the film, spoken by Martin Sheen playing Willard: "Saigon . . . shit; I'm still only in Saigon," an unforgettable line that I have been repeating to myself like a mantra the past few hours since arriving in the city--here is "The End" by The Doors.

The Doors - Greatest Hits - The End


My hotel runs a free shuttle twice an hour down to the central business district in town, which makes it convenient to check out the city. Unlike the more developed Asian cities like Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Singapore, there are very few skyscrapers here. My hotel is the tallest building in its district (Saigon is divided into a number of districts) and even in the center of the city, there are only a handful of ] hotels and office buildings with more than, say, 6-8 floors.

I still can't believe the traffic. Moving through town in a van is like a shark moving through the ocean, surrounded by schools of fish (scooters) heading in seemingly all directions. It would be madness to rent a vehicle here; I can't imagine crossing the street, let alone driving on one! Vehicles go wherever they want, cutting across the road with impunity. Of course, might makes right, so the bigger vehicles wind up getting the right of way. And there are SO many motorbikes; they are what bicycles were in Beijing 25 years ago (or what cars are on the Southern California freeways today!).

You can still detect the French influence in the city, with its broad, tree-lined avenues and older buildings reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

January 24, 2007

Song Of The Day #24

As much as I try to purge this tune from my mind, it's an infectious ditty. I've seen the music video a couple of times during my trip and it's memorable too: "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" by the Scissor Sisters.

Scissor Sisters - Ta-Dah - I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

Tennis Coverage


My hotel in Saigon gets the Star Sports network, which carries the Australian Open, just as it did in Singapore; the difference is that in the coverage here there is no commentary. Over the weekend, I listened to Vijay Amritraj providing the analysis on each match--supposedly from a Singapore studio, I'm told--but here I guess the idea is to provide a linguistically neutral presentation. So it's basically the raw feed, with live match sounds and the post-match on-court interviews. Though at times the play-by-play and color men and women in the booth can be overbearing, I find it's a little dry to listen to just the match sounds.

No Federer/Nadal Showdown This Time

The top two men's tennis players will NOT be meeting in the year's Australian Open, as a very much on-form Francisco Gonzalez continued his strong run (wins over Hewitt and Blake) at the tournament by bouncing Rafael Nadal out in straight sets. The marquee match left in the event is the Federer/Roddick semifinal tomorrow. Gonzalez will take on Tommy Haas in the other half of the draw.

January 25, 2007

Song Of The Day #25

The song title "Let's Go" is fitting for another off-to-the-airport-and-into-another-country-day for me. This song from The Cars' second album evokes memories of my 9th-grade cross country season, sitting in the team captain's living room, listening to this song (on a vinyl record playing on a turntable, of course) instead of doing our assigned workout.

The Cars - Candy-O - Let's Go

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