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Same, Same--only different

Walking the "old city" of Ho Chi Minh City

all seasons in one day
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Saigon_Street_Scene_early.jpgCathedral_of_Notre_Dame.jpgSaigon_Today.jpgBen_Than_Market_Inside.jpg
Today was meant for exploration. Almost anywhere you go in Vietnam you will see a tee-shirt that says "same, same," I have no idea where the saying came from, though given the number of "Good Morning, Vietman" tee-shirts for sale I assume the "same, same" shirt came from a movie too. Huong was lucky enough to have a chance to see her brother and sister, so Tra, Richard, and I decided to do the Lonely Planet walking tour of "Old Siagon." We had done a similar walk for Hanoi and that had been time well spent. Since we had seen some of the tour earlier in our stay, we decided to start at the Ben Thanh Market and end our walk at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I certainly expected 'Old Saigon' to be fairly similar architecturally to Hanoi. It was not.
Driving from the airport I had seen a number of Western stores that I had not seen earlier--Starbucks, Victoria Secret's, GNC Nutrition, etc.--so seeing a "California Yoga" sign should not have been surprising to me, but it does seem out of place. These theme that Ho Chi Minh City is more westernized than the other places we have been was certainly on display on our walking tour. What the tour suggested to me, and I think to Richard, was the fact that Saigon did not suffer from the war the way Hue or Hanoi did. Thinking about the Reunification Palace (or Independence Palace as it was called before 1975), Ho Chi Minh City was an island of tranquility compared to places like Cu Chi or Vinh Moc. This does not mean that Ho Chi Minh City was peaceful. I have a feeling that it was similar to Damascus today. The residents of Damascus suffer from car bombings and occasional attack on their city, but the war against the "rebels" seems elsewhere. News reports suggest Damascus maintains an aura of denial about what is happening in the country at large. That is my sense of what Saigon was like for most of the American phase of the war. The Tet Offensive challenged that illusion, much as the rebels attack on the Syrian Army Headquarters did a few years ago, but the war seemed/seems elsewhere. The result is that Ho Chi Minh City has the feel of city unlike any other we have visited.
The difference between Ho Chi MInh City and Hue or Hanoi was manifested itself at the Fine Arts Museum. This is the third Fine Arts Museum we have visited on the trip--Hue and Hanoi being the others. The Ho Chi MInh Museum was different in so many ways. First, there was much more art devoted to the 20th century, and so much of that art seemed removed from the War itself. You do not escape the war, but the focus of the war is different. Look at the picture below:
White_Reed_Picture.jpg
In Hanoi, this picture would focus on the soldier, but here, the title of the picture "White Reed" asks you to pay attention to the nature around the soldier. This does not mean the war, and its aftermath is ignored, as the following two pictures indicate.Memory_of_1968_Image.jpgUnfortunate_Woman.jpg
The first photo references the Tet Offensive of 1968, and the other is entitled "unfortunate woman." The first photo is one you would find in Hanoi or Hue, but it was the second picture that I was drawn to. The sculpture "Unfortunate Woman" strikes me as something Kathe Kollowitz would have done following World War I. There is something universal about the woman's loss. Is she a beggar, or has she lost a family member to the war? This was a sculpture that I could see in almost any museum in the world today. As we moved through the museum, an earlier article that I had read came back to me. The article challenged Vietnamese artists to become more original and less imitative. As I moved through the museum, I saw references to Salvador Dali's persistence of memory, the aforementioned Kollowtiz and many other Western artists. In Hanoi's fine arts museum we were informed that during the early the early 20th century Vietnamese artists engaged with western art to challenge imperialism. I am not sure that is what happened here. Still, the museum offered both more of the same, only something different.
If we start in Ho Chi Minh City for our course, the museum offers two images which students will have to engage with as we move northward because we have encountered both sculptures repeatedly on this trip. In Ho Chi Minh City, however, the impact carries a very different resonance than in the north. It is truly "same, same, only different."Handful_of..h_Sculpture.jpgGrasping_anti-tank_weapon.jpg

Posted by MJMullin 21:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged market city museum arts ben chi ho minh fine thanh

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