With increasing speed, the run-down, shabby vestiges of a centrally planned economy are being torn down, repaved and painted over in Vietnam. I returned from Hanoi today. The metal chairs in the passenger lounge of the Hanoi airport used to look like they belonged in a Terry Gilliam movie -- all banged up and scratched like a 50 year old bit of retro junkyard kitsch. But today I arrived to find that they had been painted over with a fresh coat of shiny grey paint. Still kitschy, but they looked about a million times better. "Damn," I thought, "I gotta start capturing this stuff on camera before it's gone."
Also, the new international terminal of Ton Son Nhat airport finally opened in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). Now domestic flights have moved from the ridiculously cramped quarters of the old domestic terminal (the airport in my home town of Burlington, Vermont is bigger) to what used to be the international section. When I returned to HCMC today I picked up my bag at the old international arrival baggage claim, then walked right out through the area that used to contain the X-ray machines and customs inpsectors. Several feelings well up at once -- the excitement of my first visit to Vietnam nearly 4 years ago, stepping out to a nearly empty parking lot full of weeds, to a feeling that I'm smack in the middle of big and historic changes rolling across this country. I haven't been inside the new terminal yet, but it looks pretty cool and modern from the outside.
I've also noticed that the crazy, uneven patchwork of broken tile and asphalt is being torn up to and replaced with smart new sidewalk tile in many parts of town. Ah, Saigon, we barely knew ye.... At least I can say that I was here before McDonald's showed up. I heard that McDonald's and Starbucks are on the way soon.