HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What do students do in Saigon?

Two friends from New Orleans recently visited Saigon, so I used their presence here as an excuse for an activity in a few of my classes: I asked the students to write a short "guide" to Saigon: what to eat, what to do, what to see. After living here for seven months, I obviously have a pretty good idea of what's good and what's bad, but I was interested to see what young locals had to say. Here are some excerpts from what they wrote (I've included their grammatical mistakes for authenticity):

John wrote that "You can eat fast food, pizza, noodle soup, KFC, pho, hamberger, beefstick," while Max and James noted that "There are a lot of foods in Vietnam like beef noodle, steam rice, rice, dog meat, bun bo Hue." The group of girls named "Juliaz" (Judy + Liz + Susan) noted the availability of "country cuisines. You can eat Chinese food, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Indian food right in the middle of the city." Of course, they also included classic Vietnamese dishes, "especially, you can eat...food like pho, banh xeo - Vietnamese pancake...etc." Bill, the evil genius, gave a rundown of food in his typical, idiosyncratic way: by rating dishes by their percentage of deliciousness. Lobster, for example, got a 98%, while fries only maged 82%. Bun bo hue received an amazingly specific 95.23%, and broken rice scored 97.8%. According to Lucas, "the most strang food you will eat is call banh cuon only Viet Nam have it and best to is banh cuon hou nam."

Shopping made up the bulk of the suggestions for things to do: "You like to go to the mall for shopping. You have two choice Vincom, or Saigon Square, if you go Parkson you can shopping and play bowling for fun." Another student weighed in with "I'd like to mall because Saigon Square, Vincom is a good choice to shopping." Other places mentioned were the zoo, "with a lot of protected species," as well as Dai Nam amusement park, Ben Thanh Market, and Dam Sen waterpark.
The Vincom Center

The traffic circle in front of Ben Thanh Market
A couple students also suggested mingling with the locals: "Live with people in area to have more experience about people in Vietnam." Also, "you should visit some school like Hai Ba Trung or Colette school, met the student in Vietnam."

It was when students wrote about the sights to see that I got a sense of just how strongly the legacy of Ho Chi Minh is implanted into the minds of Vietnamese. Almost every paper mentioned Nha Rong Harbour; according to one group, "that's the place where our Uncle Ho left to find the way to save our country in the year 1911." Another group mentioned that "Nha Rong Harbor is the best place you should see. It all about Ho Chi Minh president, 'Uncle Ho'." Another group mentioned Independence House, which Westerners know as the Reunification Palace, which is "like White House, where the South Vietnam president lived and worked. Vietnamese calls 'Dinh Doc Lap'."
Reunification Palace
There really is no equivalent to such a cult of personality in the U.S., not even with George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.

I thought that, overall, the best quote came from the group called "Juliaz", at the end their short essay - "But on the most of it, the people are very friendly and honest. They'll treat you like family."

I got a kick out of seeing these suggestions, since they are much different from something I would write (and not just because of the grammatical/vocabulary mistakes). While I do eat lots of cheap Vietnamese food, I also enjoy the occassional Western meal and more upscale bar/nightclub. Those types of places are, by and large, out of the price range for most of my students. This is not to say that they are poor; in fact I would say most of them are solidly middle class, but there is such a difference in expectations when you come from a rich Western country like the U.S., and when you grow up in a developing nation like Vietnam. The great thing about Saigon is that there is something to do for almost any budget, whether you're a teacher or a student.

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