With the soaring Saigon skyline descending into a generic urban blandness, it's time to ask: what's left of us?
A British reporter recently traveled across Asia for a series of stories on how megacities are losing or have lost their distinguishing characteristics.
Nick Van Mead is deputy editor-in-chief of Guardian Cities, a sister publication of the popular British newspaper, The Guardian.
Saigon was on his list and he ended up staying at my house thanks to Airbnb.
One morning, Nick sat by the window and squinted at the Saigon River flowing in the sun.
Then he looked up, pointed at the skyscrapers in the city and remarked that 80 percent of Saigon was built with modern architecture.The city now looks like any other city in Asia, he said.
Comparing the city to what he remembers on his last trip here, 10 years ago, Nick said there were so many things that had turned Saigon into a city people would just visit and leave, without any lasting impression that remains in their mind.
The city's unique features are fading as hundreds of historic buildings are demolished to make way for modern real estate projects, he said.
Not far from where Nick was sitting that morning was a refrigerator to which I had pasted magnets I had collected from places I had visited. There was a mask of indigenous people in Bali, a portion of Nasi Kandar, a Malaysian dish of steamed rice served with a variety of curries, a Czech beer bottle opener, a Bangkok tuk tuk, a glass of beer from Munich, the Eiffel Tower and a girl in the Vietnamese ao dai.
"What are the most special things of Saigon?" he asked, looking at those magnets.
"The Independence Palace, Cu Chi Tunnel, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office, the War Remnants Museum, and don’t forget banh mi and hu tiu (a Cambodian-Chinese noodle soup that Saigonese have adapted to their taste)."
Later, I took him to Ton Dan Street in District 4, one of the most famous food streets in Saigon.
A paradoxical encounter
At a streetside eatery, as Nick focused all his attention to finishing a bowl of mi vit tiem, a Chinatown-style noodle soup with a herbal broth and roasted-then-stewed duck meat, I talked non-stop about Vietnamese street food culture.
We were so absorbed, we didn't notice two local men on motorbikes approaching our table.Before we knew it, a rider had jumped down, swooped over to where Nick was sitting, and snatched the backpack he'd placed at the foot of the table.
Even as we looked at what was going on, the daughter of the woman who ran the diner, screamed for them to get lost, and swung the half-long soup ladle at the thief.Almost immediately, the mother, holding a toddler, joined in, screaming and screaming.
The situation got out of hand, the two robbers retreated, leaving us, especially Nick still stunned, gaping, duck bone in hand, sweat dripping from his face into a bowl of noodles mixed with broth. remaining. Bok choy.
When the thieves wanted to leave, the restaurant owner wrapped a wet tissue and gave it to Nick.Smiling, she told him in Vietnamese to continue enjoying her meal, as if nothing had happened seconds before.
Nick has found his voice.“The most special thing about this city is the people.This is also the identity of Vietnam."
I asked him to explain what he meant by our national identity.He replied: “That is what allows people elsewhere to distinguish Saigon from Chinese, or Saigon from Bangkok or Singapore and any other city in the world."
It's a heritage that's more felt than seen.The South Vietnamese, Nick feels, are very open-minded, sincere and kind, and also easygoing, unlike his own people, who “always ask for too much."
It is as though the residents' personality is the "gene" of a city, creating its core identity, drawing people to it and making them remember it and talk about it.
After sharing a few of his personal observations about Americans, British and French, Nick said that while the storm of economic development is turning HCMC into Singapore or Seoul, one thing hasn't changed. is human nature.Rub! It was a relief, for me.
Saigon's modern icon, the Bitexco skyscraper, seen via a corridor of decades-old living quarters.Photo: VnExpress / Thuy Tran.
A city is not much different from a human being in that it is not easy to tell a person's true personality at first glance.Therefore, people who stop by a place just for sightseeing will have a hard time getting a sense of its true character.To do so, visitors must delve deeper into the different walks of life of the locals, from the widest avenues to the narrowest alleys.A superficial glance will not reveal much, at least all the nuances of ideas, beliefs, aspirations and desires in the heart of a society.
I call Saigon home.I make a living here.I observe and I make choices.I know there's a pothole on the corner near where I live that I should avoid whenever it rains.I know that I should close the windows at night to protect my ears from karaoke and shield my apartment from the smoke coming from the charcoal stove where the pork is grilled across the street.
Nick notices different things and tells it to the world.Describing Dong Khoi Street in the city centre, he said it illustrates the "scale of change" took place.
"Art deco and modernist buildings of the early 20th century declined during the Vietnam War, but the area experienced a late revival with boutiques by Gucci, Dior and and Louis Vuitton..."and the highlight of the Saigon River these days is" a splendid showroom with a bright yellow Lamborghini Huracán and 3 different Bentley models..."and finally," The historic center is increasingly brimming with generic architecture that could be anywhere in Asia."
Given the worldwide readership that the The Guardian enjoys, Nick’s piece would have been read by many, and it is, a damning indictment of sorts, the saving grace being the friendly, hospitable people of the city.
This savings has a high value.It is an indirect tourism service that creates lasting impressions in the minds of tourists.It compensates for defects in other respects.Visitors' good impression of the cultural identity, customs and behavior of the local people in a place is a particularly valuable product in the tourism industry.It is a product that fulfills an "intangible" need. visitors such as learning and deepening understanding of new cultures and cultural exchanges.More than 90% of a person's spending decisions come from the hypothalamus of the brain, which also determines people's emotions.
It is not difficult to find foreign articles praising Vietnamese people as the strength of the country's tourism industry.Over the years, Vietnam has been consistently featured in the list of the friendliest countries in the world, endorsed by international sites such as American Hubpages and InterNations.
At the same time, it is not difficult to realize that the locality, which is a tourism resource, is not included in any development master plan of the industry.Of course, it is not easy to include an intangible element in such plans, but recognizing that it has a very important, tangible impact requires the attention of policymakers, businesses. and other interested parties.
Ironically, in an age of blurring globalization, the need for nations to define their own identities is more important than ever.Reports have detailed how languages and other cultural features are disappearing in many parts of the world, and the homogeneity of urban landscapes is only the most visible symptom of "modernity". erode national identity and international diversity.
In Vietnam, despite the tourism boom in recent years, agencies repeatedly point out that we have a low rate of return visitors.The similarity of our urban landscape will only exacerbate this problem.Why should anyone come here when they can go elsewhere for the same sights and even sounds? The answer is not only that we care more about preserving our cultural features in all aspects - architecture, cultural artifacts, traditional everyday items we have used for a long time, our musical traditions, etc., but we also find ways to keep our lifestyle intact.
For example, Southerners in our country (including Saigon people) have their characteristic hospitality and openness, it is difficult to know if this will withstand the onslaught of modernity and survival battles after that or not. Can we find a way to preserve these characteristics that can stand out despite the uniformity of air-conditioners and concrete, glass and steel buildings?
That's the question: Can we preserve the intangible to reap its tangible benefits?
*Hong Phuc is a journalist at VnExpress.The opinions expressed are personal.
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