Thursday, March 26, 2015

Saigon - Benh Tanh Market

Date: 30th December 2014

We skipped few stops which are not so important to us and instead ask the cyclo driver to drop us at Benh Than Market as the last delivered point. They have no issue to follow our request so long as it’s within their contracting hours, i.e. 2.5 hours. We were lucky as they dropped us right in front of the halal local restaurant, Hajah Bashiroh being famous for a Vietnamese Beef Noodle soup that was on Anne’s search list a night before. There are many other halal restaurant in a nearby area too. After we bid our farewell, we went inside and a bit surprised to discover quite a number of Malaysians were enjoying their meals. Everybody spoke in our mother tongue including the waiter and the cashier. We did shopping in remaining hours. By the time we took a cab back to the hotel, we were too exhausted.

Ben Thanh Market is a large marketplace in a central district (district 1) of Saigon city. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon which had an important symbol of the Ho Chi Minh City. The city has been an attractive tour destination for most Malaysian “Makciks” who would love to crowd the place with other tourists seeking for local handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs and  as well as local cuisine. Surprisingly to find quite a number of vendor who speaks a remarkable Malay language inside the market too, it shows how much Malaysian tourist (the makciks). Remarks: Makcik means aunties in Malay word/language.

One of the Malaysian makcik fallen deeply in love with this laces suit

The market developed from an informal markets created by early 17th century street vendors gathering together near the Saigon River. It was formally established by the French colonial powers after taking over the Gia Dinh citadel (former province of South Vietnam surrounding Saigon city in 1859). This market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt which later became Saigon's largest market. In 1912 the market was moved to a new building and called the New Ben Thanh Market to distinguish over its predecessor. The building was renovated in 1985.

Apart from being a major hub for the network of city buses serving Ho Chin Minh City, Ben Thanh Market is also a hub for several lines of the planned Ho Chi Minh City Metro; Line 1, currently under construction which will connect Ben Thanh with Suoi Tien Park and Long Binh in District 9. On separate note with regards to Line 1 Metro construction, scheduled for completion in 2018, the city government has approved the USD1.1 billion budget in 2007. The metro will run for 19.7 km from Ben Thanh Market, underground for 2.6 km past the Opera House, Ba Son Shipyard, and then cross the Saigon River on an elevated track, passing through District 2 on the way to Suoi Tien Park and the terminus in Long Binh in District 9. In all, Line 1 will include 14 stations, with 3 underground stations (Ben Thanh, the Opera House and Ba Son). Line 2 is also under construction.

The vendor who speaks good Malay, an excellent marketing girl who made Anne lost her words during bargaining

Beautiful couple bag that we both chose in Benh Tanh Market

Ben Thanh Market is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city, whereby this prominent shopping center was built in 1914 by the French, who originally named it as “Les Halles Centrales” or the Central Market Hall. The main structure that houses the market is made of reinforced concrete and occupies an enormous area. Its most famous feature is the massive clock tower that dominates the neighbourhood.

It is home to several hundred shopkeepers. The market offers an amazingly extensive and varied selection of merchandise, ranging from food and leather goods to household items and clothing, as well as hardware and livestock. The atmosphere here is one of high energy and tremendous bustle as products arrive from around the country and, throughout the day, merchants sing out their wares, customers haggle, and tourists wander in search of great deals.

Kindly take notes that there are many gates to the inside market. On entering through the main portal on Le Loi Boulevard, general merchandise is on the left. To the right is closing and textiles. Moving farther in, to the right are dry goods, such as tea, coffee, and spices, as well as packaged foods. Halfway in, fresh foods are on the right and food stalls, where meals are available, to the left. The eateries here are famous for both quality and price. Since the signage is in English as well as Vietnamese, you will have no problem to order by simply pointing to the posted menu.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Saigon - Thich Guang Duc Monument

Date of visit: 30th December 2014

The cyclo driver allowed us to have our photo shoot session at where the monument to remember Thic Guang Duc is located after seeing how hard I focused my lenses to snap a sharper image from a far distance. He even tried to explain what the place are about. Knowing that he failed to do so, he took me to read what was written on the monument stone and the big banner about the plight of Thich Guang Duc and his followers.

Beautiful grandmother and her granddaughter didn't know that I wanted to snap the foundation stone behind. In the end, I decided having them both with the monument stone added even more beautiful background

Thich Quang Duc, born in 1897, was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963 (where the monument was located). He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by the then dictator, Ngo Dinh Diem. Photographs of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diem government. Journalist Malcolm Browne's photograph of Quang Duc during his self-immolation has won the 1963 World Press Photo of the Year, a Pulitzer Prize. John F. Kennedy said in reference to a photograph of Duc on fire, "No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one”.

Later on, Quang Duc's act increased international pressure on Diem leading him to announce reforms with the intention of mollifying the Buddhists. However, the promised reforms were not implemented, it led the dispute to deteriorate further. With protests continuing, the ARVN Special Forces loyal to Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing Quang Duc's heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks followed Quang Duc's example, also immolating themselves. In the end, an Army coup toppled Diem, who was assassinated on 2 November 1963, 5 months after Thich Guang Duc heroic moves.

Despite the shock of the Western public, the practice of Vietnamese monks self-immolating was not unprecedented. Instances of self-immolations in Vietnam had been recorded for centuries, usually carried out to honor Gautama Buddha. The most recently recorded case had been in North Vietnam in 1950. The French colonial authorities had tried to eradicate the practice after their conquest of Vietnam in the 19th, but had not been totally successful. They did manage to prevent one monk from setting fire to himself in Hue in the 1920s, but he managed to starve himself to death instead. During the 1920s and 1930s, Saigon newspapers reported multiple instances of self-immolations by monks in a matter-of-fact style. The practice had also been seen in the Chinese city of Harbin in 1948 when a monk seated down in the lotus position on a pile of sawdust and soybean oil and set fire to himself in protest against the treatment of Buddhism by the communists of Mao Zedong. His heart remained intact, as did that of Quang Duc.

For the record, Islam prohibited this kind of act, as what beliefs and written in the Quran as well asin the other Holy Book, Torah and Bible.

The body was re-cremated during the funeral, but Quang Duc's heart remained intact and did not burn. It was considered to be holy and placed in a glass chalice at Xa Loi Pagoda. The intact heart relic is regarded as a symbol of compassion. Duc has subsequently been revered by Vietnamese Buddhists as a bodhisattva. During the ARVN Special Forces of Nhu’s attacked to all Buddhist pagodas across Vietnam, they have intended to confiscate Quang Duc's ashes, but two monks had escaped with the urn, jumping over the back fence and finding safety at the U.S. Operations Mission next door. However the special police managed to confiscate Quang Duc’s charred heart.
Remarks: A bodhisattva is an ordinary person who takes up a course in his or her life that moves in the direction of Buddha. Actually, anyone who directs their attention, their life, to practicing the way of life of a buddha is a bodhisattva.

The location chosen for the self-immolation, in front of the Cambodian embassy, raised questions as to whether it was coincidence or a symbolic choice. Trueheart and embassy official Charles Flowerree felt that the location was selected to show solidarity with the Cambodian government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. South Vietnam and Cambodia had strained relations. Prince Norodom Sihanouk in his speech had openly accused Diem of mistreating Vietnamese and ethnic minority Khmer Buddhists.

Source of info: Wikipedia

Saigon - War Remnants Museum

Date of visit: 30th December 2014

Our next stop after Saigon Notre Dame Basilica and Saigon Central Post Office was at the War Remnants Museum, a war museum located at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. The museum is open all days (including holidays) and its opening hours are from 7.30am in the morning till 5pm in the afternoon. Take note that the museum is closed for lunch from 12pm till 1 noon. A nominal ticket price of 15,000dong (less than USD1) is chargeable to foreigners whilst the locals paid a preferential ticket price of: 2,000dong /per person. Visitor’s students, students, armed forces, veterans, senior officials of the revolution ticket price has been reduced from 50% to 100%. For those visitors who are war invalids and martyrs' families and those with children under 6 years of age and children in remote areas, they are free to visit at no charge.

The War Remnant is currently one of the most popular museum in Vietnam, attracting approximately half a million visitors every year. According to the museum's own estimates, about 2/3 of these visitors are foreigners. We were told that locals are a bit sensitive about the place where the viewing of the exhibits need to be taken with a grain of salt. Some locals claim that Vietnamese regime has borrowed images from the West and inserted them into a distorted history, using images of the war to substantiate their version and views on Vietnam War history.

But it’s true, visiting these kind of places do bring back some sadness. Anne and I would try to bypass anything related to war and killing but in this case we had too, since Trip advisor has ranked the place as 1 of a must visit place when in Saigon. The museum primarily contains exhibits relating to the American War (known to the American as the Vietnam War) also known as the second Indochina War, but also includes many exhibits relating to the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.

The museum is operated by the Vietnamese government, whereby an earlier version of this museum was open in September 1975, as the "Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes", located in the premises of the former United States Information Agency building. The exhibition was not the first of its kind for the North Vietnamese side, but rather followed a tradition of such exhibitions exposing war crimes, first those of the French and then those of the Americans, who had operated at various locations of the country as early as 1954.

In 1990, the name was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, dropping both "U.S." and "Puppet" words. In 1995, following the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States and end of the US embargo a year before, the references to "war crimes" and "aggression" were dropped from the museum's title as well. It now became the "War Remnants Museum".

The museum comprises a series of themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment placed within a walled yard. The military equipment includes a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" bomb, M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber. There are a number of pieces of unexploded ordnance stored in the corner of the yard, with their charges and/or fuses removed.

One building reproduces the "tiger cages" in which the South Vietnamese government kept political prisoners, which we did not visit. Other exhibits include graphic photography, accompanied by a short text in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and war atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. The photographic display includes work by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa that he donated to the museum in 1998. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, the last time being in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses allegedly deformed by exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, contained in the defoliant Agent Orange.

Source of reference: Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saigon Central Post Office

Date of visit: 30th December 2015

At the time of our visit in December 2014, the historic Saigon Central Post Office was being painted with a bright yellow colours. Apparently, the work was stopped as it sparked off criticism from the public for being too gaudy (as can be seen from the photos that I shared in this entry), not matching with its original grandeur look. Recently (in March 2015) it finally getting a new colour, a shade of yellow much lighter to the above photo. The building was last painted since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. The new colour (from 8 colours submitted by the Post Office management) was voted by all 14 members of the city's planning and architecture board especially for the 123-year-old building, being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city’s downtown area.

Saigon Central Post Office is a post office in the downtown Ho Chi Minh City, near Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city's cathedral. The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century. It has a neoclassical architectural style. It was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel in harmony with the surrounding area. Today, the building is a tourist attraction whilst continuing its services in postage business.

There are a special note of two painted maps that were created just after the post office was first built inside the Saigon Central Post office. The first one located on the left side of the building is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled ‘Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892′ which translates to ‘Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”. The second map of greater Saigon is titled ‘Saigon et ses environs 1892′ translating to as ‘Sai Gon and its environment 1892.

The building was constructed in between 1886-1891, about 20 years after the adjacent Saigon Notre Dame Basilica was constructed. These three-story building, which was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel, none other than the famous architect who created the wonder of the world, Eiffel Tower in the French capital, Paris. The architectural design of this Central Post Office represents the French colonial style. Being inside the building, you have no doubt that it is indeed the biggest post office in Vietnam and is an important commercial center of the Ho Chi Minh City. Due to a limited Internet access in business enterprises and hotels, this Central Post Office also serves as a major communication center of the city where natives and tourists get in touch with the rest of the world.

Looking at this classic colonial structure, we can’t help it but thinking of Paris Train Station when we first entered the Post Office building. It really does remind us of the European railway stations. The modern skylight of this grand old structure resembles the famous European buildings like Paris’ Les Halles or Milan’s Galleria of the late 19th century. You may grab a souvenirs like postcard, fridge magnet, t-shirts and other attractive local items as there are many booth are placed inside the buildings.

The central pavilion, with a huge clock and symmetrical extensions on both sides, added its beauty. This fascinating building with alcoves and logical fenestration is an outstanding display of French design influenced by Renaissance architecture. The arched windows of the Central Post Office are adorned with decorative capstones. Engaged piers, crowned with imaginative human-headed capitals, make the frames of the windows. The green window shutters resemble any other French colonial architecture.

The main entrance of the Central Post Office is decorated with intricate ironwork. Once inside, you cannot afford to miss the huge maps of Vietnam on both sides of the building’s main entrance. The elegant interior is considered to be the most interesting feature of the Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City. The vaulted and shining interior with its glass canopy, huge ceilings and a giant portrait of Ho Chi Minh, is enough to charm me.

The post office has been the busiest post office of Vietnam besides providing the usual mail services also offers phones and fax machines for public use. Stamps and souvenirs are sold from the counters within the post office. The specialty stamps counter of the General Post Office offers some interesting collector sets for sale. You have by all means spending some time to visit the famous Central Post office in Ho Chi Minh City to make your trip to Vietnam a memorable one.

When we stepped out from the building, we saw a group of kindergarten crowds on a visit with their teachers. This kind of incident, meeting group of this small children made my day. I took advantage of sharing their moment of joy by snapping half of their group photo as can be seen below. I hope the teacher may find my blog, so that they can share this photos with their students.