Saigon is a frustrating place for me in many ways. Knowing the French history, as I walk through Saigon my eyes are drawn towards French-looking things, and I ask myself whether they are coincidences – such as a coffee shop with a French name, named so only because it sounds posh, as this example shows with two such French-named coffee shops next to each other:
or truly part of the French legacy (such as the system of Arondissments used to district the city).
Here is a case in point:
As I’ve written about before, French traffic signals are some of the best design traffic signals in the world. Is this just coincidence, or a vestige of the French legacy? Here is a similarly looking traffic signal in France,
The Mekong Delta has a magical name. Say it to any American, and it invokes powerful images from erstwhile conflicts. But the reality today is much different, as this snap shows:
Here we have an electric fisherman plying the waters with an electric fishing pole. He simply sweeps the electrically charged pole along the bottom and stuns any fish he might encounter. Unfortunately I was a tad late with my camera, but while I was there he pulled a huge one-meter-long eel from the Mekong River:
Here it is – this is it – the mighty Bitexco Building in downtown Saigon,
If you’ve got great peepers you’ll see a little spec on the left side of the building. Here’s a blow-up using my telephoto lens, showing the window cleaners hard at work in the intense, Saigon heat:
Continuing the series, if I see a peepal tree somewhere, you can be sure I will take a picture of it. I found this one in Ho Chi Minh City,
Captured here in breathtaking black and white, just behind the statue of Ho Chi Minh sits the People’s Committee Building of Ho Chi Minh City, also known as the Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon:
I call her Saigon – just like I still refer to the Sear’s Tower in Chicago and Candlestick Park in San Francisco – but the young generation know her as Ho Chi Minh City. This is a truly stunning view of the statue of General Ho Chi Minh,
Saigon and Paris are very similar in one regard: the cities themselves are organized into numbered districts.
In Paris a district is called an Arondissment, there are a total of 20 of them, and the districts appear clockwise starting at the center:
In Saigon a district is called a Quận, there are a total of 19 of them, and although the districts start at the center, they are not as neatly clockwise as in Paris:
Why is Saigon similar to Paris? Does this have to do with the history of the French in Saigon? I suppose it does, but I don’t know the details.
Many people don’t know this, but each full moon in a year has a unique name. The full moons in January, February, and March are known as the Wolf Full Moon, Snow Full Moon, and Worm Full Moon, respectively.
Well, for the last time in zillions of years the first three full moon’s of 2019 are also so-called super full moons, when the moon approaches so close to the earth that even the International Space Station is in danger of a collision!
I was privileged to have the accident of catching all three Super Full Moons on film for 2019. This is the January Super Wolf Full Moon,
This is the February Super Snow Full Moon, snapped from my apartment:
And this is the March Super Worm Full Moon, snapped from downtown Winterthur:
On April 29, 1975 Hugh Van Es of United Press International at Gia Long Street took what became the iconic photograph of the U.S. evacuation of the Vietnamese city of Saigon,
Being in Saigon, and 44 years and one day later, I decided to hunt for this place. It’s not easy to find! First, the street has been re-named. Second, it’s not on any tour maps. Third, it’s almost entirely surrounded by modern shopping centers and high rise skyscrapers. But after about two hours of exploring in the hot, humid, healthy Saigon sun I found it!
Here is the top of the building, right across the street from a modern indoor shopping mall:
And here is a blow-up so you can see the detail on the top.
Interestingly, I spotted a large number of American tourists walking in and out of the shopping mall, all of them unaware that they were standing underneath a true historical landmark. It’s a shame that the city of Saigon does not do more to recognize this location.
As this snap (and many others I’ve shown) shows, the skyline of downtown Saigon at night is just mind-blowingly spectacular:
In my last post I showed the Ben Thanh tourist market, which by the way has a floor layout that looks like this and raises all kinds of interesting questions in my mind about how you rent space here, how the rental agreements look, how much the vendors pay per square foot, and the like:
But be that as it may, a business partner of mine who lives here gave me a great tip: if you are looking for souvenirs, then the best place is the Post Office. In addition to it being an historical landmark itself, it has government operated shops where you can find all the souvenirs offered in Saigon, but at a tremendous cost savings.
I could be wrong, but as far as I know this Post Office was designed by the same architect that created the Eiffel Tower.
Ben Thanh dates back to the 17th century, and it is the largest tourist market in Vietnam. You can buy all sorts of “fake” goods here, in other words, low cost and low quality goods that look like and have the brand labels of their more expensive counterparts.
This is it from afar:
This is from up close, at one end:
And this is it from up close, at the other end:
Continuing the series, if I see a peepal tree somewhere, you can be sure I’ll take a picture of it. I found this one in Saigon:
If you’ve been to Saigon, then you know how it is. The city is filled with hundreds and hundreds – if not thousands – of above-the-ground transformers that look like this:
Now, I am not an electrician, so I could be wrong, but it looks as though these units are converting three phase electricity to two phase electricity, as this close up shows:
What are these transformers here for? What do they do? Are there indeed underground three-phase electrical cables – which in and of itself would be an amazing thing?
For me this is still just a mystery to be cleared up one day!
If it looks like you could pronounce it but it has dozens of diacritical accents on each and every letter, it’s got to be Vietnamese.
And indeed, the Buddhist pagoda of Vĩnh Tràng in the South Vietnamese city of Mỹ Tho near the Mekong Delta is pretty darn impressive:
There is a wonderful Buddhist template in Vietnam, in the city of My Tho just next to the Mekong Delta, and in the next few blog entries I’ll share some snaps.
But this one caught my attention, just as you walk into the temple you are greeted with this wonderful sign:
Now, not being a Buddhist myself I’m afraid I don’t understand the significance of this. I always thought Buddhists aspired to something more transcendental, rather than just birth-to-grave.
Thanks to modern, ultrabright LED lighting, the nightscapes of mega-cities like Saigon just keep getting better and better, as this snap shows:
Many Asian mega cities have truly amazing night markets, and Saigon is no exception:
Continuing the series, here are more cables in Saigon,
I caught this bus driver taking a mid-day snooze in the luggage compartment of his bus in downtown Saigon:
It’s obviously not the first time he’s done this, as you’ll see his approach to his hammock is well-tested:
Automobiles are few and far between in the capital city of Vietnam, Saigon – the streets are ruled by scooters, known to the locals (despite their manufacturer) as Hondas:
How do you cross a busy street like this? It’s easier than you might think: you just close your eyes and start to walk slowly. The drivers are so careful and aware of what’s in front of them, that they will easily move to avoid you.
The Saigon skyline, along the Saigon River no less, at night:
The development of ultrabright light emitting diodes has transformed how cities look at night.
Continuing the series, when concrete meets roots in Saigon,
OK, it’s not a real Chinese junk – it’s a restaurant boat.
But be that as it may, here’s one view, taken during the day from the 50th story of the Bitexpo Financial Tower in Saigon:
And here’s another view, taken at night from the Saigon River itself: