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Exploring the new Vietnam

  • Indra Harsaputra

    The Jakarta Post

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | Fri, January 11 2013 | 12:38 pm
Exploring the new Vietnam

To work: Women walk along rice fields in scenic Vietnam.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness,” said Kim Phuc, one of the victims of the war in Indochina, in an interview with US National Public Radio (NPR).  

Although the war is over, the scars from burns she sustained as a result of a napalm attack when she was 9 years old have left behind a story of atrocities of the Cold War involving North and South Vietnam and countries like the US, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia and China.

Kim, born in Trang Bang, Vietnam, became known because photographer Nick Ut took a picture of little Kim running nude along with other children against the background of several soldiers after a napalm bomb was dropped. The photo earned Ut a Pulitzer Prize while Kim was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador on Nov. 10, 1997. Today, Kim, who lives in Toronto, Canada, remains engaged in activities for child victims of the war, having set up The Kim Foundation International.

But there are others besides Kim, all who also remember the cruelty of the war. The greater part of the global community became familiar with Vietnam because of the war with the US, which has become a theme of many a Hollywood movie.  

“It’s part of the picture of Vietnam in the past. Today Vietnam is far more advanced, seemingly wiping out the nation’s murky past. Vietnam’s economy is growing fast, competing with other countries in Southeast Asia,” said Nguyen Tien Dung, a journalist at one of the radio stations in Vietnam.
Moving violation: Motorcycles are the primary means of transportation in bustling Vietnamese cities.Moving violation: Motorcycles are the primary means of transportation in bustling Vietnamese cities.
Nguyen noted that rapid growth in Vietnam had prompted Ciputra, a property developer in Indonesia, to build housing complexes in Hanoi. Indonesia’s cement company, Semen Gresik Tbk, has also invested in Vietnam by purchasing most of the shares of Thang Long, Vietnam’s cement plant.

“Many Indonesians have opened businesses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Some of them are working with Vietnamese companies as managers. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are hectic business areas with a lot of motor vehicles, no less than those in Jakarta or Bangkok, Thailand,” he said.

Apart from investments, Indonesian tourists are also visiting Vietnam, along with those from Japan and the US. Among the favorite tourist destinations in Vietnam is Ha Long Bay, now one of the finalists for The New 7 Wonders of Nature along with Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

“To reach Ha Long Bay you have to be patient because the motor vehicles here are forbidden to go more than 70 kilometers per hour. You’ll be fined if you exceed the speed. Some officers take bribes but you’ll have to pay a lot more, so you’d better avoid fines,” advised Nguyen.

Despite the damaged transportation facilities and infrastructure due to the war between France and Vietnam in 1954, Hanoi emerged as Vietnam’s capital after peace was achieved, with North and South Vietnam unified on July 2, 1976. Hanoi, taken over by France in 1873 and occupied by Japan in 1940, is now a rapidly developing city.

“Luxury cars from Europe are roaming the city. Some people may still harbor a feeling of hatred toward Europe and the US, but they hope they can get paid for their services in US dollars or European currencies,” Nguyen said.

Along the road from Hanoi to Quang Ninh province with its limestone-rich mountains, farmers working in paddy fields can be observed. Vietnam’s national flag adorns houses in Hanoi. A number of streets are decorated with photographs of Nguyn Sinh Cung, better known as Ho Chi Minh, the prime minister ( 1954 ) and president of North Vietnam (1954-1969).
Picturesque: A man works at a port in Vietnam.Picturesque: A man works at a port in Vietnam.
“With the post-war peace between North and South Vietnam, many people from the North have been studying and seeking employment in Ho Chi Minh City. When the Lunar New Year arrives, most of those of northern origin return to Hanoi to celebrate the holiday,” he said.

Ho Mathaly, 34, a Vietnamese student who studied at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, took The Jakarta Post for a sightseeing tour of Ho Chi Minh City. “I’m a Muslim. Besides mosques, we have many churches here. Notre Dame is the city’s most famous cathedral, where many brides and grooms take their photos in European dress,” he said.

With its French Gothic architecture, Notre Dame is located in the hub of Ho Chi Minh City. It has two bell towers 60 meters high and was built during the French colonial period in the 1860s. The name Notre Dame and its structure resemble Notre Dame in Paris.

There are also some western classical-styled buildings in Ho Chi Minh City like the Reunification Building (Dinh Thng Nht) and the Municipal Theater (Nha hat Thanh pho), which has led to the city being nicknamed “The Pearl of the Far East” (Hòn ngc Vin Đông) or “Paris of the East” (Paris Phng Đông).



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