Ho Chi Mihn City or Saigon? Both are used.

Trip Start May 28, 2008
Trip End Aug 26, 2008

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, June 29, 2008

Our children are seeing and doing so much every day with ease, and I sometimes forget that they are in unfamiliar surroundings. It takes a moment to remember to cut them slack when they freeze up, like when Stirling wouldn't say hello to some Vietnamese children trying out their English greetings or when Gailen just stops walking at all and we've had to turn back to grab him. These events are infrequent, other than the usual kid stuff (Stirling complaining about what food she wants or doesn't want or Gailen acting the expert about new places he knows nothing about). Overall, I'm impressed and both children are getting what I hoped for: some exposure to the real world, and some new perspectives on how things are done (or can be done).

I've asked each child to engage strangers in foreign locations to try to perform basic tasks, and both have produced good results. Gailen can find the time of day or a restroom in any city or town so far, and Stirling has made her first fruit purchases at local markets. We've had Gailen settle the bill in a number restaurants, and his currency exchange math has been very good. I've given each a child a small budget to allocate when looking at menus, and Gailen was even able to negotiate for a lower price on fresh coconuts to drink at Saigon's Ben Thanh Market.

80 million people...

20 million motorbikes.

We've grown accustomed to endless streams of motorbikes, cycles, and scooters in Asia but were still in awe at the ocean of motorbikes filing downtown Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on a Friday night. Cruising toe to toe about 12 abreast in each direction, with parking areas invisible under the canopy of seats and handlebars. Amazing.

Saigon on the weekends is alive with cafes, restaurants, motorbikes, and many families in parks. Would love the visit here again, although Laura's arrival was not up to par.

- Demian

My first night in Saigon was not a good one. The eleven hour bus ride had really done me in and I was in no shape for any forays into the city that evening. This was quite unfortunate after learning about the amazing nightlife that Saigon had to offer. Watching the city rocket by, sitting in an outdoor cafe, in my opinion, is a wonderful way to spend an evening. So... things would have to wait until the next day.

The next morning was a mixture of really great Vietnamese coffee (which is really strong espresso strength coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Starbucks is a ugly step child next to this!!!)and a huge indoor market that you can buy just about anything at. The market overwhelmed me at first, I just don't do so well with overzealous hawkers pulling at my arm and shoving their merchandise in my face. So it took a while for me to get used to it. You'd think that after so many countries, I'd be used to this by now, but alas, not quite there yet. Still working on it...

Later that afternoon we went to the War Remnants Museum. This museum's collection is what was left over from the 'American War', back home we call this the Vietnam War. I suppose, this is all a matter of perspective. There were old American tanks, planes, bomb and shell fragments, etc. to view and take your picture with. Not really my cup of tea. There was also an intensive photo collection documenting the horrors of this war. I think what I most took away from this experience was something I already knew: that war is really horrible, doesn't solve anything, and it is the women and children that suffer the most. There was a very nice Vietnamese children's art exhibition within the museum that Stirling (I wasn't about to let her see the photos in the regular part of the museum) and I spent a lot of time in: the subject was peace. World peace, what a wonderful concept. These were truly wonderful to see, some great budding artists here.

After this, we needed something light, so we took in a charming water puppet show. This is a must see, truly. The sets are exquisite, the live music divine (a six person ensemble playing traditional Vietnamese music using traditional instruments), and these wonderful puppets that splash on top of the water (and under)telling their stories. All of the lyrics were in Vietnamese, but that really didn't matter, it was the puppets that told the story, anyways.

So I have to say that I really loved visiting Saigon and would love to come back someday and spend more time exploring the city. I found that even after a few hours I was already beginning to decipher the written language, which was the first time since coming to Asia that I was able to. The Vietnamese writing system is an adapted version of the Latin alphabet, which I can totally recognize. However, the spoken language would probably take me years, since one word can have 6 different meanings depending on the tone used. I learned that the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup called 'pho' is pronounced more like 'fa', I thought it was pronounced 'foe'. Nope that is actually the word for street, but spelled the same. Gotta work on that one!

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