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After an overnight stopover at my son’s home in Los Angeles, we flew Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong then transferred to a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. When we exited the airport, the crowds were in the thousands, apparently families waiting for loved ones. It was a chaotic, noisy, but peaceable and happy scene.
After almost 24 continuous hours of travel, we checked into our hotel, the Park Hyatt, which is very beautiful. The city is teeming. The population is about 13 Million. We decided to go on a Jeep tour of the city at night. There were six in our party, and we traveled in two Jeeps. The Jeeps, the guide said, were American vehicles left behind at the end of the war. Sturdy, heavy metal, a top made of camouflage canvas (furled up, it’s hot here, in the high 80s, and the peak of their tourist season.).
About the name of the city. It was Saigon until the war ended, and it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. People use the names interchangeably.
Saigon-HMC is booming. The government is socialist but the economy is capitalist. Commerce is the life blood of the city. In addition to countless small indigenous shops, there are fancy western stores.
The traffic is other-worldly. The streets are filled with motor scooters, cars, and buses. The air pollution is horrible, and it is not uncommon to see people on scooters wearing face masks. There are more motor scooters than anything else, and they weave in and out of the other vehicles. Riding in the Jeep, I was tempted to close my eyes a few times for fear of a collision, which never happened. The motor bikers, most with two riders, were utterly heedless and bold. Add to the mass havoc on the streets the overflowing sidewalks, bars, cafes. This is a very busy city. HMC at night reminded me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, times 10, and stretching for miles, not just a few blocks.
The Jeep tour took us first to a rooftop restaurant for a Vietnamese meal. The views were staggering. HMC has a large number of high-rise buildings, many of which are illuminated with undulating and beautiful neon lighting. After dinner we went to one of those high-rise buildings, which has a rooftop bar, spotlights, and a rooftop swimming pool. The background music was American pop songs.
There are cranes everywhere in the central city. New office buildings, new residences. A thriving middle class and even a wealthy elite.
This is what I learned about the education system. Schooling is free for the first five years. After that, families must pay. Superior students receive scholarships. About 52% of the children of high school age attend school.
Tomorrow I will meet with the president of a local university, American style. I’m looking forward to learning more about this beautiful country.
One other thing: I feel deeply ashamed of our war here. One of the guides said today that his parents taught him to look forward, not back. I have vivid memories of that terrible time. I feel awful about the lives lost on both sides. I grieve for all those who died. I am not able to forget what we did here.