Took a day trip to Nanjing… since it was business related I saw absolutely zero of this former capital. I did however get to experience some amazing [and fast] trains, not to mention some seriously enormous stations)…
After buying a very nice copy of Lonely Planet Vietnam (for $3), we headed straight to the
Reunification Palace (called ‘Independence Palace’ during the American occupation and as ‘Norodom Palace’ during the French), which is said to have remained largely untouched since the PAVN tank bulldozed the gates outside on April 30, 1975, marking the very end of the American/Vietnam war. I don’t know how truthful that statement is, but the interior decorating does scream 1960′s!
Completed in 1873, the French built the palace after their successful colonial conquest of Cochinchina, with building materials mostly imported from France. It served as the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the American war, and was even under Japanese control for several months at the end of World War II after defeating the French in a successful coup. It was then bombed in 1962 by two rebel Southern Vietnamese Air Force pilots and destroyed. President Diệm ordered it rebuilt, but was arrested and assassinated after yet another coup d’état in 1963. A couple more coups later (both failed and successful), the palace was inaugurated in 1966 by Nguyễn Văn Thiệu (who’s name should ring a bell!).
(If you aren’t familiar with Vietnamese history (and this sort of thing interests you), check out some history books, as I did prior to my visit, and although I am somewhat of a history nut already, Vietnam has a very interesting and colorful heritage full of upheaval… worth checking out).
The basement had an interesting layout of old military command centers and bomb shelters, as well as a massive kitchen and shooting range… among other things. If you get the chance to visit, make sure to watch the hilariously propagandist and not-at-all biased films as you exit.
The vespertine photography adventures continue… Saigon-style.
Notre-Dame Basilica > Motorbikes! > Rex Hotel
Saigon AKA Ho Chi Minh City (locals still refer to the city center as ‘Saigon’, while using ‘HCMC’ for the larger metropolitan area… I just use Saigon because it sounds cooler), boasts a population around 10 million and served as the capital of South Vietnam leading up until the end of the war… so, lot’s of history. Although I wasn’t alive at the time, I have the images of the helicopter evacuations from the roof of the US Embassy branded into my brain… as well as the VPA tank crashing through the gates of the Freedom Palace, which pretty much marked the end of the American occupation of southern Vietnam.
At first glance the traffic is BONKERS. Saigon has 6 million registered vehicles… of which 5 million are motorbikes. Thank god they pay attention to traffic lights… mayhem [somewhat] averted. I’ve traveled my fair share and had prepared for the worst (from everything I’ve heard/read), but the Vietnamese people definitely have some common sense and general understanding of efficiency when it comes to dealing with traffic situations (very much unlike the people I’m currently surrounded by, who are utterly clueless in these regards). The relentless convoy of bikers does offer a challenge to those new to the game, but I found that as long as you went with the flow (which there certainly was, and everyone followed), it wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard others complain about. That being said, I rented my very own motorbike to cruise them mean streets of Saigon! (more on that later)
Day 1 saw the first excursion to get a grasp of the city, walking from my hotel located a good 30min from the city center, getting my first proper Vietnamese meal (a mean bowl of pho… oddly enough at the very same restaurant Bill Clinton visited some 10 years earlier), then visiting the Ben Thanh market and eventually finding myself at the Saigon Notre Dame next to the amazing Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, where I sent a postcard to Mom.
Huai Hai Road is dubbed “Shanghai’s 5th Avenue“.
It is also the main street I walk along if I decide to hike it to my office, here’s a map to explain.
The blue line shows my path to/from work/home, and the fat green line is from shoot #1 (pictures 1-8) on a Sunday, while the purple line is from shoot #2 (pictures 9-14) taken the next day after work.
ps- can you spot the ghost dog?
For Christmas Day, a friend and I headed down to the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market (and had some street dumplings right out side)… and I kind of wish I had known about this before. Just think, having custom-tailored suits, coats, and shirts at a fraction of the price as the pre-made mass-produced and over-priced articles you find in shops (they even have official Boss, Armani, etc catalogs for “help” with your design). You just got to know how to bargain, which I can’t say I’m too good at, but I think we got a decent deal on our “kungfu-style” shirts (I refer to it as my “Chinese pimp shirt“), for 160RMB each. After walking around the market (it’s 3 full floors inside a building on 399 Lujiabang Road) and doing some research, typically suits go for 400-600RMB and dress shirts around 100RMB… all of course depending on size, material, and quantity you are buying.
After the Fabric Market, we followed a tip of a nice (and free) view of the infamous Pudong skyline, located on the roof bar/restaurant of the Captain’s Hostel located just off the Bund (which has been closed entirely for renovations since I arrived here). [sorry, those pics will have to wait another day or two]
This is the first post in my “Mission: Lunch” series, which will showcase some of the lunches I have had the [mis]fortune of having over whichever given week. This was a pretty damn good week… although I have to admit that some of these meals were prior to this past week, hopefully you forgive me. Also forgive the iPhone camera quality…
First, a little background information… I work in an office building called the Huai Hai Tower located on Ren Min Road and (you guessed it) Huai Hai Road, in south Huangpo.
View SHlunch47 in a larger map.
The first two images are from lunch a couple weeks back, when it was still warm outside. Kevin and I hit up a hole in the wall, this is ALL they served… tangyaun. With 2 choices, vegetable or meat. The meat ones were absolutely delicious, simliar to a dumpling with a pork gravy inside. While the vegetable ones looked kinda like tea leaves mixed with crude oil, and were sweet as hell (*update*, wikipedia has me to believe they were actually filled with a “ground black sesame seeds mixed with sugar and lard“).
The next two images are from another little place located on Yunnan South Road, just off of Ren Min Road… authentic spicy chicken hotpot (notice the chicken foot!).
While the last two are from a random restaurant Kanishk and I randomly walked into (for dinner, hence the beer!) somwhere around Linping Road in Hongkou. It was filled with locals, so you know it had to be good. There wasn’t a thing we ordered that wasn’t spicy (besides the rice), I’d have to say that the Hunan-style cuisine is by far my favorite. The last picture is of one of my favorite dishes, consisting of green beans that have a light crunch to them, cooked with chili peppers and mixed with shredded meat (in this case pork, but shrimp & beef are also used).
So I figured out how to work the slideshow… here are some preliminary shots taken down Jiashan Lu (my street)… in my neighborhood which I refer to as South-Central French Concession (modern day Xuhui District).
I also finished my residency procedure just today, my permit should be sent to me in 2-3 weeks… the process wasn’t at all that bad. A lot of steps, and more paperwork than anything I’ve ever had to do before… but the longest wait at any government building/police station/hospital was only just over an hour (and that was today, at 4pm on a Friday). All the facilities were clean, nice, and modern (except the PoPo building) and people were generally friendly. Plus I had an “agent” with me (colleague from work) who helped me out tremendously. Actually the whole damn thing would have been near impossible considering all the non-Englishness. Thank you Pauline!