There are always changes when one returns to a place after several years. Judging from the changes I had seen in just the three years I had lived in Ho Chi Minh City, (2005-2008), I thought I would be ready for the difference between 2008 and 2011. I wasn’t. Or maybe I was but still find it rather shocking.
The traffic was insane when I left and now I find I am without adjectives to describe what it has become. The shuttle bus in from where I live to the center used to take about 20-25 minutes. A few days ago it took nearly 40 minutes. It’s just one big parking lot on all the streets. When last here, it was mostly motorbikes, (Vespa’s), trucks and taxis, and not that many private cars. The motorbikes seem to have multiplied like bunnies and a lot more people are driving cars. If streets were jam-packed three years ago, and are super jam-packed now, what will happen in five years time? I don’t think I will stick around to find out.
The quiet neighborhood where I used to live and where I am now in a hotel, still boggles the mind with its massive change. I was having trouble figuring out where all the traffic on the main road was coming from and where it was going to. True, there are numerous, massive, new apartment buildings here, but the people traveling through this area do not live here. I finally found out that this road/highway has been extended in both directions and bridges have been built connecting outer sections of the city. Even though it is always busy, traffic does move along and has enabled people to get from point A to point B much more efficiently.
The problem with the main intersection is that there are about 6 lanes in each direction; some for motorbikes, some for cars, and some for trucks. This means that if you are in the motorbike lane and want to turn left, you must cross in front of the car and truck lanes that are going straight ahead. And if you are a pedestrian trying to cross you have to continuously look left and right and then back over your left shoulder and right shoulder because no one cares that you are crossing the street. Just when you think you might be OK, a motor bike appears, going in the wrong direction, trying to cut in around cars and trucks. It’s a veritable minefield.
I used to love taking weekend and evening walks up by the river; so quiet and peaceful and green. That is no longer possible. At the time, they had just completed this spectacular garden walkway where you could stroll along a landscaped path and listen to the chug-chug of the boats on the river just a little bit away. They have now built giant, ugly apartment blocks on both sides of the garden path. The ground floors are all shops giving it a strip-mall look. I tried walking there last night and none of the positive energy of the garden has survived.
I suppose progress is inevitable and that entrepreneurs will open new businesses in a new area. But as I walked past new restaurant after new restaurant, with either no one inside or possibly two customers, I wondered just how long any of these will be open.
Having said all that, there are lots and lots of beautiful, quiet streets out here. I love walking along them, saying hi to construction workers on a coffee break, or waving to the ladies sweeping the streets, or stopping to admire a baby sitting with his granny on the front steps of a house. The people remain lovely and friendly. If they can seemingly ignore the clamor and clutter around them, maybe I can too.