Dispatch 3 – Ho Chi Min City (Saigon)

Occasionally, staff members at San Francisco DEM have an opportunity to travel abroad. They frequently write back with their observations. The following is the third and concluding observation from Assistant Deputy Director, Bijan Karimi, during his visit to Hanoi, Vietnam.

HCMC vs Saigon – Officially the city name is Ho Chi Min City; however, this name was given by the north after the civil war and many locals still call the city Saigon.

After a two hour flight to Ho Chi Min City we met with the American Chamber of Commerce representative to get an idea of the local business landscape. He highlighted the significant differences between HCMC and Hanoi, driven primarily by the experiences during the American War (their name for the Vietnam War). Saigon (what locals still call it) is the economic engine of Vietnam and ~10 million people call it home.

Our first meeting with officials was the most important one. We heard from the Vice Chairman of the People’s Party about his concern for improving disaster preparedness to deal with infrastructure issues, climate change & flooding, and sustainable development. We exchanged gifts from our jurisdictions, took a few photos and promised to continue the conversation Monday. He also indicated he looks forward to adding substance to the HCMC-SF relationship through this exchange. The day ended by meeting with other party officials and discussing areas that we would explore during our meetings on Monday.

After five non-stop days the team had the opportunity to slow down a little and enjoy some sight-seeing over the weekend. We visited the Remnants Museum which tells the story of the American War from the Vietnamese perspective, toured Independence Palace (capital of S. Vietnam during the war) and travelled to Cu Chi to view some of the tunnels used by the Viet Cong (VC) to move underground between Saigon and the Cambodian border. These tunnels were used by the VC to mount surprise attacks on an American base that had unknowingly been built right on top of the extensive structure.

During our final day in Saigon we met with members of the Flood Control, Urban Flood Control and Climate Change Steering Boards. Each expressed concern for improving disaster preparedness and was open to future exchanges where we can discuss specific techniques. After a meeting with the local VCCI chapter we concluded our visit to Saigon as dinner guests of the Vice Chairman.

Traveler’s Notes:
• Pig’s ear doesn’t taste like much. Durian smells like decaying fish, has the consistency of an avocado and tastes like fermented pumpkin.

• You are expected to haggle when in the markets. Be sure to give it a try. Practice at one place and then work up to the thing you really want to buy.

• A cut on any part of your body puts out a ‘welcome’ sign for bacteria and they move in right away. Make sure to have band-aids (not that they actually stick) and some Neosporin in your travel first aid kit.

• Have an open mind – never know what new experience will come your way.

Generally speaking:
• Learn a few phrases in the native language – it goes a long way to break down barriers.

• Learn to use chopsticks.

• Have fun. It’s easy to focus on not having the comforts of home, but then you miss out on new experiences.

• Don’t be an ugly American; represent your country well and be respectful.

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