Vietnamese people, generally speaking, are kinda serious people. Right next door you have the nearly always cheery and jaunty Cambodians, and next door to that it’s “the land of smiles.” In Vietnam though, a lot of people initially present a very severe business-like facade. A little small talk usually breaks through the facade, but in general people do seem to carry themselves a little differently here. Even the shopkeepers aren’t as energetic. Many of them have figured out that their job can be a lot easier when they set up shop as a “fixed price” establishment. It’s pretty common here, and the fixed price places generally have way better prices than the retail warfare markets where you have to haggle incessantly. Whoever figured out that just putting price tags on the goods with the actual price you’re willing to sell it for would bring the westerners to your shop in droves was a real genius. Then the shopkeeper gets to just chill and not harass every passerby on the sidewalk that averts their eyes into the shop. People come, look around, then maybe they leave, they find out who has the best stuff for the best price, and then they come back, or not. It’s what we did. I mean, it’s a system we’re comfortable with in the west. It is a little colder and more strictly transactional though. Convenient, yes. Entertaining, not really. I’m ok with that though. You’re mostly left alone walking down the sidewalk here. That’s not to say people aren’t out to scam you and part you with your money here. They just try to do it in different ways…. more discrete ways. Taxis often have rigged meters that can be switched to give fares 5-10 times higher than normal, and drivers will give you a tour of the city even if you’re going a block or two. Most restaurants have a regular menu and a “foreigner” menu. Can you guess which menu has insanely inflated prices? Lots of fixed price shops will mix and match pricing between USD and Vietnamese Dong. The exchange is about 20,500 to the dollar, so it’s a conversion that can be a little difficult to work out quickly. Another thing they’ll do is be ambiguous about what the price is for. Oh, that price? It’s for each piece (say, in a set). Stuff like that. Another way you might be parted from some money or belongings here is, just like anywhere for that matter, from robbery. The well known method here is snatch and grab of purses and cameras from a motorbike. I’d heard of this, and the common sense advice is to keep bags locked, forward, stay away from isolated areas, and don’t walk right by the curb where a motorbike could easily get close to you. The problem with that last suggestion though is that motorbikes are everywhere. Everywhere. Moving through HCMC is swimming in an ocean of them. And they don’t obey any rules whatsoever. They’re always on the sidewalks. They’re supposed to pull onto the sidewalk to park the motorbikes, but they go blasting down the sidewalks, honking at pedestrians the whole way. So, I can see how the snatch and grab robbery from a motorbike could be a thing here. All you can do is try to be careful I guess.
Today we checked out the Independence/Reunification Palace, The War Remnants museum, and went to a water puppet show in the evening. The Reunification Palace, as it’s called now, it kind of an odd shrine to the end of “The Vietnam War” or, depending on your nationality “The War of Imperialist American Aggression.” The Vietnam war is easier to remember though, so I’ll just stick with that. Anyway, the palace is where the South Vietnamese government was headquartered, and it was the place where tank #843 busted through the front gates of then Saigon and officially ended the war. The place was immediately turned into a museum and they’ve maintained everything just how it was found in 1975. The old disco furniture is the main reason to visit in my opinion.
The War Remnants museum is where they really lay the propaganda on heavy. It’s pretty blatantly one-sided. That being said though, I’ve really already heard the other side (our side). So, I’m pretty ok hearing their side too. They had a lot of really graphic photographs that I’ve never seen, but they also had all the iconic (and graphic) photos that we’ve all seen, just with slightly different captions. For example, American GIs that appear to be forcefully moving a row of Vietnamese with their hands tied to somewhere are “forcing a group of Vietnamese into concentration camps to be tortured.” Stuff like that. A lot about agent orange and it’s continued impact on the country. Really though, one sided or not, what in the hell were we ever doing in this country? What a stupid waste of human life on both sides.
There were a lot of artifacts from around the world, and they did spend a lot of time on the anti-war movement in America. This particular piece kind of hit me:
Catching a water puppet show is definitely on the tourist circuit in HCMC. There’s one main theatre that has a few (usually sold out) shows a couple times a day. They only cost a couple bucks for a 50 minute show, and it’s pretty entertaining. I’m not sure I picked up on how the whole illusion is maintained, but basically it’s very elaborate puppets on sticks in the water doing all kinds of crazy stuff, fighting, dancing, hunting, etc. They have traditional Vietnamese music playing live while little short stories play out in the water. It’s actually pretty entertaining.
That’s it for today…. another full day in HCMC tomorrow….