Walking around Saigon yesterday, this billboard brought to my attention the fact that last week was the 40th anniversary of the renaming of this city from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City in July 1976. That might have seemed pretty important, though as far as I can work out, it passed most Saigonese by. If you spend any time here, you’ll know that, despite the change, the name Saigon is alive and well - in both popular and official usage. The city seems to have two co-existing names. The billboard contains three disconnected messages. One reads “Tighten the sovereignty on the islands of Vietnam”, referring to the disputed islands that were the subject of this week’s ruling in The Hague, that China has expressed considerable displeasure with. The other reads “40th anniversary of the official honour of Saigon, carrying the name of President Ho Chi Minh”. The final message at the bottom reads, “Build Ho Chi Minh City with a good quality of life, civilisation, modernity, devotion and love”. I couldn’t help but feel the irony in the last statement. As I was trying to photograph the billboard, I was having to carefully avoid being knocked over by motorbikes invading the pavement. If quality of life and civilisation are connected in any way with being able to walk downtown streets without being knocked over by motorbikes, there’s quite a way to go in Ho Chi Minh City. I love walking, even in Saigon, so the pavement invading motorcycle is one of my pet hates here. It’s dangerous, it empowers motorcycle riding bag snatchers, and it makes walking pretty unpleasant. Remarkably, this stuff happens right under the nose of the local constabulary, metres away from the centre of government and outside international hotels. Nobody seems to even view it as an infraction.
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