Saturday afternoon in Ho Chi MInh City
We went into the city on a bus with our new friend George, who lives in the same faculty housing as we do, only #9 (we are #7). He is Thai, the son of teachers, has been in every South Asian country, got his Phd in English Language Studies at Leeds University in Yorkshire and is now here in a tenured position teaching and helping them set up their English language graduate program. The church in the background is the cathedral. On the right, the yellow building is the Post Office.
He took us through District 1 to an enormous pedestrian mall where a statue of Uncle Ho looks down toward the river. The mall is bordered by high-end international brand stores: Chanel, Hugo Boss, and splendid hotels. The building in the background is City Hall.
Down the mall by the river rises the spire of what’s called “the lotus building.” Supposedly there is a swimming pool and restaurant on the leaf of the lotus.
Guards in the mall go on roller blades. No guns – we haven’t seen any guns at all here, except in the War Remnants Museum
I’m trying to catch the color and flash of the motor scooter traffic, but haven’t really figured out how to do it. There are huge flocks of them, but they go slowly and smoothly and not more than 15-20 mph.
A couple of weeks ago a professor of landscape architecture from Italy, with his huge malamute dog, was here. He stayed a couple of rooms down from us, in one of these spaces tucked under the bleachers of the soccer stadium. He walked his huge fuzzy Malamute dog at night and I presume left it in his room with the air conditioning on all day. I asked him what he thought of the design of the campus and he laughed and said, “It’s very Vietnamese.” Since then I have been trying to figure out what he meant by Vietnamese design.
Based on this campus, I would say that it has to do with extremely efficient use of space. This campus is like a jigsaw puzzle. Twenty thousand students attend here, doing different activities weaving in and out without apparent traffic conflicts. There can be a regional soccer tournament going on at the same time as exams, a musical competition and the arrival of a new wave of students enrolling mid-term.
Multiple uses of space are a theme, too. People play badminton on the road around the stadium, rehearse dances on the apron in front of the gym, eat in the 11th floor faculty dining area carved out of the high roof of the student canteen on the 10th floor, and hold team study-group meetings on the broad covered terrace of the canteen. As is planning the whole thing out in advance, very carefully, which may be a Vietnamese character feature. The academic and administrative buildings are on one side of the canal and the housing and recreation is on the other. Overall, it’s a half-dozen towers, some terraces at the bottoms of the buildings, some roads and a playing field, all in the space of one New York City block. This includes the three gates, which have guard houses and guards at each one.
Although the campus is surrounded by soggy field that drain into tidal rivers, it is built as if it was going to be in the heart of a city. If you look down from the 11th floor dining room onto the open space to the west, you can see a barge pulled up along the riverbank and an excavator unloading the soil on the barge into a truck, which in turn takes the soil out into the field and dumps it, building a curving road. Hollis an Leanna say that when they were here two years ago, it was jungle. With a few months there will be buildings there.
Various 8 or 10-person delegations of students from Denmark seem to show up here regularly. We walk past them between the canteen and our room, Room #7. They are often assigned Rooms #5, #6 or #8, so we see them sitting on the threshold working their cell phones.
The most recent delegation was architecture students. Danes speak English very well. I asked one of them, “So, what do you think of Vietnamese design?”
One of them responded, “They do everything in teams so you don’t see much original creative thinking. They are very good at fulfilling an assignment, though.”
That rang an alarm bell in my mind. They do in fact do everything in teams. Our class has assigned the student projects to teams. I am not really sure how these teams work. We’ll see.