Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ho Chi Minh City ( I )

October 2004

We bumped out of Singapore through muscled clouds that flashed and dropped rain on the Straits, finally clearing across their boiling tops into bright sunshine and a slight feeling of relief. As we bore north the hazy coastline of Malaysia kept us company on the left until geography and navigation separated us and we whispered along on our own for a while. The first sighting of Vietnam occurred when glancing down and “discovering” the Mekong, or rather a large substantial arm of it. Cook’s Young Nick would have missed his rum ration for such a late discovery but such is air travel. As we sank towards our destination a clear day presented a vast green and flat vista, peppered with white blocks and dots of (farm) houses. Drawing closer we found these clustered more and more tightly together, gathering palms and foliage around them until there was quite a collection of green laced hamlets making for a very scenic view. Sheening through it all the hard steel blue and grey of water, lit off occasionally by blinding white as slabs of sun reflected back to us. We flew almost a complete 270 degree circle of the city to finally land, a circuit which presented us with plenty to absorb. The river with its busy shipping, although with many trading activities happening on its banks rather than in one major port facility. Cement plants are noticeable by their number – that is, cement clinker production rather than the final wet product. Perhaps indicative of the pressing as well as the opportunistic needs felt around here right now. Wide open gardens and colonial residences. But mainly box on box poor mans housing, sprinkled with the occasional new residence with a tiled rood.

Land and turn off the runway to rain stained views of fighter and bomber revetments, open and closed, reminders still of the Vietnam War. And then be reminded that this whole experience is about slowing down (we have just finished an IPO and need to recharge) - clearing immigration is a slow shuffling process. We edge our way towards an immigration official sunk in a low chair into his booth. He is careful about his job, meticulous but slow. Anything out of routine is cause for pause and the damp which caused the wrinkled pages in Judy’s passport had him leave his bunker of glass and timber and consult with a colleague. Never mind that the visa was in order. We are finally squeezed out onto Ho Chi Minh City, into a pleasant thirty degrees, the polite smile of a crowd clearly used to waiting, and a small cardboard sign which read “Pickled Eel, Vietnam is this way” with a thin arrow pointing to the left. Humour intended, and humour induced, helping set the tone for the rest of the visit immediately.

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