Over the past few months, propaganda billboards, have sprung up all over Saigon. In style, they could date back to wartime Hanoi. They mark 40 years since the end of what is known here as the American War. Lamp posts across the city have also been draped in red and yellow starred national flags and hammer and sickle banners.
But on Saigon’s main street, known as Tu Do St (Freedom St) during the Vietnam War and today as Dong Khoi St (Total Uprising St), something’s amiss.
Towering above the national flags and the hammer and sickle banners, are ads for those great symbols of global capitalism, the junk food brands - Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s Pizza . They’ve managed to get their brands into prime positions for the celebrations that will take place across the city tomorrow.
Confused? Welcome to communism Vietnam style.
While Vietnam has recorded impressive economic progress over the past 25 years, dietary progress has been more patchy. The city’s changing skyline gets plenty of attention. The changing dimensions of the city’s people gets less.
A city where nobody was overweight 25 years ago, now faces problems of childhood obesity and diabetes, fatty liver disease and other ailments that reflect a diet that is increasingly sugar intense and fatty. Junk food is playing its part.
The city’s impossible streets and its motorcycle obsession mean that few people walk here either. Their grandparents may have trudged hundreds of kilometres along the Ho Chi Minh Trail but most young Saigonese find the idea of walking more than a few hundred metres scary.
If Saigon’s 40th victory celebrations needed a sponsor, it might have been better to have gone with something other than fast food brands.
They don’t really represent progress.