Friday, April 13, 2012

Last Day in Saigon

Women walk through Ben Thahn Market in Ho Chi Minh City Friday morning. 

This is our last day in Vietnam. We fly back to Phoenix very early Saturday morning and thanks to the International Date Line and the physics of flying west to east we arrive in Phoenix 10 hours after we leave Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling, remarkable place. For many Americans, especially for those over 45 or so, it might be hard to separate modern Ho Chi Minh City from 1960's Saigon. The Vietnamese have built a whole industry around War Tourism. There are museums across Vietnam dedicated to the Vietnamese struggles against outsiders (not just the US but also the French and Chinese). The famous hotels of the war, the Rex and the Caravelle, which fell into disrepair after reunification, have been renovated and now outshine their old selves. They are still popular with people who are drawn here by memories, good and bad, of the war years. 

Ho Chi Minh City is a lot more than Saigon (but truthfully the word "Saigon" evokes a sense of place and rolls off the tongue in ways that "Ho Chi Minh City" never will). It's a city of nine million people, the commercial center of southern Vietnam and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. 

Ostensibly Communist (the official name is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam), Vietnam today is capitalism run amuck. You can buy a real Panerai watch at high end jewelry shops in Ho Chi Minh City and fake Panerai watches in almost any market in Saigon. Real RayBan sunglasses in Ho Chi Minh City, counterfeit RayBans in Saigon's markets. Ho Chi Minh City is Saigon. Visiting HCMC and Hanoi, watching construction crews work on luxury condominiums in Ha Long, I wonder if Ho Chi Minh and other deceased leaders of the revolution would recognize their country. 

We leave HCMC at 5:30AM and arrive in PHX at 3:30PM. Sadly, those are local times. HCMC is 14 hours ahead of Phoenix. We leave here at 3:30PM Friday Phoenix time and get into Phoenix at 5:30AM Sunday Vietnam time. I think. 

Actually, if I spend too much time thinking about it my head starts to spin. Whether it's 10 hours or 24 hours, it's a long time on airplanes and in airports. And lots of "jet lag." I don't know why, but coming back to the US from Asia is always harder for me than coming to Asia. The jet lag coming over is bad for about a day, but coming back it can last a week. I'm sure there's a scientific reason for it, I just don't know what it is. 

If you've been following this trip on Facebook you might think we've done nothing but eat. That's not true, it's just that most of the Facebook photos have been of our food. This has been a pretty productive trip, we've seen and done lots.