Posted by: Richard Marshall | September 3, 2009

More touristy stuff in HCMC

Independence Palace

Independence Palace

I ended up getting let off the hook as far teaching goes until Saturday, so I spent Tuesday trekking and perspiring my way through the city to take a look at some of HCMC’s other tourist attractions. I particularly wanted to see the Opera House, and thus found my way to one of the city centre’s more glamorous districts. I also found myself marvelling once more at the bizarre mixture of architectural styles and the messages the urban landscape conveys (please forgive the pretentious turn of phrase, but I can’t think of a better way to express it). On the one hand there are all the colonial buildings which are just so incredibly French. The Opera House has chandeliers and a sweeping rounded staircase, and is bedecked with muses and pan-pipe playing fauns; the Town Hall has details of Marianne everywhere; the Virgin Mary stands dourly outside the cathedral while the names of great Frenchmen are emblazoned on the Post Office. The city seems to recognise that all these buildings are tourist attractions so they keep them in pretty good condition. Nevertheless, this is the People’s Republic of Vietnam, and especially in the build-up to their Independence Day on September 2nd the town was full of red flags, gold stars and hammer and sickles. Old “Uncle Ho” is clearly idolised and his image is everywhere. A large statue of him stands outside the town hall facing off uneasily with Marianne. The most incongruous blending of French colonial and Vietnamese socialist styles I came across was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. The building is an old palace, initially used by the governor of Cochinchina but also as the residence of the ill-fated dictator of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, who added a stuffy and rather Spartan bomb shelter. For the most part, though, it is all breezy colonnades, chandeliers, elaborate cornices and so on. The display, on the other hand, is actually rather crude propaganda. One would have though, for example, that the communists were the only people who ever opposed colonialism in the country, and that they were unflinchingly united in struggle from beginning to end, which seems unlikely to me. Unlike some of the other museums, the English captions haven’t been checked or updated, and end up having sentences such as “The economy crisis 1929-33 increase crisis and contradiction in capitals countrys” or “This fighter flown by Cde X in heroic Ho Chi Minh campaign. Bomb many enemies aircrafts”. Outside are the inevitable collection of tanks and aeroplanes – this city must be the only city in the world to display so much captured American military hardware. Despite the official socialist line, though, Vietnam is embracing capitalist economics with a vengeance. I haven’t quite managed to get a good photo of the hammer and sickle hanging outside a Gucci or Louis Vuitton boutique, but it is a frequent sight. Glossy skyscrapers are going up everywhere. Yesterday I went to a school social in what is clearly the high-end residential district of the city – fancy complexes and housing estates which looked like suburban Sandton (with an inevitable Asian twist, of course). It felt like being in a different city.

Still working on the damn photos…

City Hall

City Hall

Uncle Ho

Uncle Ho

Opera House

Opera House

HCMC Museum

HCMC Museum

Saigon Centre

Saigon Centre


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