I’m not attracted to communism, after all what’s in it for me? Likewise I’m a little put off by what passes for capitalism today – conspicuous consumption, a high degree of cosying-up to the state for contracts and favorable terms and the inevitable corruption that arises. Remembering of course that corruption requires two parties to occur – the official and the beneficiary. So I’m interested to witness the “socialist capitalism” or “managed embracing of free market principles” here in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the unified Vietnam became a communist country. Recently it moved away from a strictly communist ideal. And it’s this juxtaposition of communism and capitalism that interests and intrigues me traveling around Vietnam.
The bright yellow star set on a deep red background is everywhere, not only on official buildings. Official buildings, mainly military, still carry the hammer and sickle alongside the Vietnamese star. Red flags are to be seen everywhere yet there’s a capitalist vibe in the air. Everyone carries mobile phones and wifi is free, just about everywhere.
We rose early today and walked through Tao Dan Park searching for photographs. The park was filled with a vibrant, colourful and energetic air with people of all ages and sizes exercising. There’s a circuitous pathway that takes in the circumference of the park and linked by various paths from one part of the park to another. The main pathway was filled with people walking vigorously in groups, chatting, laughing and enjoying the fresh air. Round and round they went, circuit after circuit, working up a sweat and starting their day well. Elsewhere the badminton courts were filled with energetic players bouncing and shouting and laughing.
I came across a large group doing a form of calisthenics and led by an elderly woman who led the exercises and counted out the repetitions. She looked to be in her mid-sixties, but I may wrong, and could comfortably touch her toes and do all the exercises. Next to her group was a smaller group of people doing Kung Fu led by a placid faced young man who looked to have all the suppleness of a rubber band.
Several paces away from these two groups an old man led an elderly couple in Tai Chi while his other student, a middle aged lady, practiced Kung Fu moves across the path from her teacher.
Across the park, a group of elderly ladies practiced Tai Chi, first some warm-moves, then forms with the Tai Chi sword and finally with the fan. It was beautiful to watch, elegant, refined and dignified.
An old man sat down near to me and began a series of exercises designed to strengthen and cleanse his Chi and I spotted a lady who must have been eighty-something doing the same whilst elegantly seated in full lotus position.
An American Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh on business and accompanied by two young girls, engaged in conversation with me specifically to ask me to take his photograph with the two girls and for the girls to practice their English. They were delightful as they bashfully asked me to mail them the photograph.
The park contains a temple that looks to be of Hindu origin, several rockeries carefully arranged to look like scenes from Halong Bay or similar places and two massive hedges shaped into two beautiful dragons. The park is a green oasis in the city and full use is made of it by its people. It’s an organized park, made to be used and enjoyed.
We took early morning coffee at the tea room at the edge of the park and just in time too as everyone who had been exercising suddenly flocked to the tea room for tea, coffee and more socializing.
Mostly the people in the park seemed to be of an age of mid-forty and upwards, although there were young people there too. But I wondered if this skewing of the age group to middle age amd older was as a result of having more time and money on their hands, or whether it was an awareness of a need to keep fit and healthy or whether it was a result of communist programs implemented post 1975.
South Vietnam’s presidential palace was built in 1966. But on 30 April 1975 the Viet Cong crashed through the main gates of the palace and Saigon fell. The palace has been left as it was found on that day, although the gates have been fixed. We passed the palace on our way to the Saigon river and the botanical gardens. It’s quite one thing to see documentary film of the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of consular staff and favored refugees and another to actually stand in that place and see it for yourself and I enjoyed standing at the gates and imagining what took place and the emotions that played out. On the one hand, celebration at victory and on the other, sorrow and fear.
We ended the day taking photographs from a stylized bridge over the Saigon river. Once again Ho Chi Minh’s citizens came out to exercise and the bridge was the scene of many people running, stretching and meditating. A huddle of young teenagers were rebuked by several people for being too noisy and for being disrespectful to a sign on the bridge (they were banging it). The teenagers took heed and calmed down and life carried on peacefully. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that.
I’m still no clearer on what makes these people so happy and content-looking. Nor do I have a handle on what remains of communism and to what extent capitalism is being embraced. But it does seem as if everyone have a little something for themselves, whether a job, a small business or a single-person enterprise