Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ngã Sáu Church (Joan of Arc Church)

Yet another pink church in Saigon.  This is the Joan of Arc Church and was built from 1922 to 1928.  The church was inaugurated in May 1928 and was dedicated to Jeanne d'Arc (St. Joan of Arc).  A statue of her can be seen above the entrance.  Locally, the church is known as Nga Sau and comes from the 6 streets that "tumble" across one another in front of the church.  The church is located at 116B Hung Vuong Street in District 5.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inside of University Housing

I recently visited a friend of mine who is a university student here in Ho Chi Minh City.  I took some pictures of the house so that people might have an idea of what the living space is like.  In the picture you can see a ladder leading up to a flat sleeping area that covers the study area (the desk) and the bathroom (the open door).  Clothes are kept above the mini refrigerator and cooking is done in the sitting space (area from where picture is taken).  These entire apartments would fit inside of the bedrooms of most American houses.

See an older post on Saigon student housing.

More Amazing Vietnamese Electrics

I spotted these very low electrical wires the other day while going around the city.

I have been warned several times about the electric wires in the city.  This picture shows just how close you can find yourself next to live wires every day.

Football Overreactions

This post was a draft from a while back.  Sorry that the info is 1 month overdue...

In Vietnam people enjoy football tremendously (soccer to those of us from the States).  Like many countries around the world football is the most popular sport in the country.  As with many soccer-obsessed countries, the world cup is a great time for celebration and watching matches with friends.  However, Vietnam suffers from the same problem that plagues many other football adoring nations: gambling.  Gambling here often goes along with unpredictable consequences such as bankruptcy, loss of valuables, and even loss of one's home. Many football gamblers have gotten into serious financial troubles due to World Cup gambling.

There was a story here during the middle of the World Cup about a young man who was found drowning in a part of the Saigon River near downtown Ho Chi Minh City. The young man was rescued by some passersby and once he regained consciousness he was taken home.  After talking to the man, it was found out that he had lost so much money from World Cup gambling that he had to borrow money and couldn't pay the debt. Thus, he decided to kill himself to remove the burden from his family. 

He was not the only person who made this kind of decision to die to escape gambling debts. There was another attempted suicide via drowning that happened near the same place in the river during the World Cup. After being rescued, the victim explained that he gambled all of his family’s money away in football pools. He wanted to relieve his guilt for what he had done to his family so he went to the bridge and jumped into the river. 

Not everyone who goes into massive debt take their own lives, though.  I recall reading about someone that lost too much gambling on the Cup. He tricked his colleagues into loaning him thousands of US dollars and dumped the money into bets. Ultimately, he lost all the money and then he fled his life completely.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Can Gio District: Short Weekend Trip

Over the weekend I decided to get out of the city and away from the crowds so I took a day trip to Can Gio, the southernmost district of Saigon.  Can Gio is an island and has a number of secluded beaches.  Although the quality of the beach is not the same as some of the other beach destinations in Vietnam, the quietness and seclusion make it a good destination for people in Saigon who want to escape the noise and crowds of the city.

Can Gio is by far the largest district in Saigon; it covers over 700 km2 (roughly 1/3 the size of all of Ho Chi Minh city).  It is also the least populated of all districts- according to the 2009 census, the district had a population of just over 68,000.  The next least-populated district had almost 100,000 people according to the same census.  This combination of huge area and low population make Can Gio a very quiet and relaxing place for a weekend getaway.  The way to access Can Gio is by ferry which departs from Nha Be district.  The cost is a bit over 1 usd each way for a car (cheaper for motorbikes) and the ferry leaves roughly every 15 minutes during the day time.

The point of departure is nice and has lots of things to see; you can watch Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) ships offloading their chilly treasure, large container ships hauling cargo down the river, high-speed hydrofoils zipping tourists about, and small wooden fishing boats practicing traditional fishing techniques.  The river is a hub of activity.

During the ferry trip I saw part of the Vietnamese Navy.  This is a Soviet Union Tarantul class corvettes armed with 4 SS-N-2 anti-ship missiles (two missile houses visible on side near pilothouse), 1 x 76mm AK-176 main gun (front), and 2 x 30mm AK-630 Gatling Close-In-Weapons-Systems.  Two of these ships were parked along the ferry route to Can Gio.

The resort we picked was called Hon Ngoc (hồn ngọc roughly means "beautiful soul").  It was very quiet and there were few other people there.  The food was excellent as well; everyone with me said that their restaurant really knew how to cook.

Next to Hon Ngoc was a larger resort with more people (and more noise).  The other resort did not impress me much by itself.  They did, though, have a really great building for having large banquets or parties that was built on an the end of a long pier and was very pretty.  

I thought Can Gio was a great place for a short getaway.  However, the one negative thing about my trip there was the return to Saigon from Can Gio.  We arrived at the ferry terminal at 4:30 and did not get on the ferry until 6:30 due to the huge number of people wanting to leave at the same time and lack of ferries to accommodate everyone.  If they only built a bridge...

University Housing

Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City is located in the Thu Duc district of Saigon. VNU-HCM has over 50,000 students and a campus that is the largest university in Vietnam.  Degrees are offered for technology, natural sciences, social and humanity sciences, literature, foreign languages, and business.  The degrees normally take 4 years to complete and the curriculum is structured similar to the curriculum in the States.  However, the student housing is a bit different than the housing in the states.  Below is some of the university run off-campus student apartments.

The entrance to one of the student housing areas.  Notice that there are no lights- I imagine it is scary at night time...

In front of the housing is a very natural green space.  The grass (?) was over 1 meter tall and the entire housing area was surrounded by trees, grass, and shrubs.

The housing is located 5 minutes from the university so the location is very convenient.  The only drawback is the general sketchiness of the place.  If I were studying at the National University in Saigon I would definitely look for other options.  I am told that the dormitories on campus are nicer.  Hopefully I will have a chance to check them out soon and post some info about them as well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Lai Documentry on PBS's "American Experience"

I have recently started a course in Vietnamese and am trying to find a balance between studying, working, and blogging so I haven't really had a chance to publish anything for a while...

That being said, I have recently seen a documentary on PBS that I found to be moving and informative about the killing of hundreds of unarmed people in the village of Sơn Mỹ located the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam in March 1968.  This event later became known as the My Lai massacre.

The story of the killings and the subsequent cover-up is an interesting narative beginning with the naivety and idealism of the troops, progressing to the hell of war and My Lai and ending in the cover ups and the very slow delivery of (some) justice.  Writer/director/producer Barak Goodman skillfully lays out this interwoven story in his 90 minute documentary “My Lai" for PBS's documentary series "American Experience."

This complex and emotional documentary not only tells the story of American soldiers involved (Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division (the Americal Division)) but also explores the nature of combat and it's psychological toll in Vietnam. The documentary also presents the bad intel that led to the events of My Lai, damning problems in the command hierarchy (leading all the way to a two star general) and the command's cover up, and the following political and judicial repercussions in the US. 

The film consists of archival footage as well as new or never made public material.  For example, the film team obtained home-movie footage of Charlie Company during its training in Hawaii and non-combat deployment as well as film shot in the My Lai area from the helicopter of Hugh Thompson, the American pilot who intervened to save some of the villagers from the massacre (who, along with crew was much later awarded the Soldier's Medal, the highest honor a soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat situation). 

Remarkably, the filmmaker even obtained exclusive interviews with several soldiers from Charlie Company.  In many of the interviews with the solders of Charlie Company, the soldiers seem to be defending their actions.  They cite such reasons as they were following orders, they were given intel that everyone in My Lai was known to be the enemy, and that they could find fault with the system of war more than with themselves.  However, their emotions give an impression of deep personal hurt and remorse.  The filmmaker also obtained interviews with survivors of the massacre in the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam.  It is painful to hear how they describe the My Lai massacre; many of them were only children at the time and saw their entire families killed.  

The film has been justifiably nominated for three Emmy nominations.
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