Ho Chi Minh: Dates in the Pavement

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I hate crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was not made for pedestrians. Turns out that when it comes to the bottom line, I am actually extremely risk-adverse as a pedestrian. Or maybe I am a soft and flabby urbanite. Or maybe I just don’t have a death wish?

Perhaps it was the law-abiding Singaporean in me who was extremely averse to crossing the road if the bikes and cars did not stop first. Unfortunately, the traffic NEVER DIED DOWN, so on at least 2 occasions I was frustratingly stranded on the wrong side of the road for up to 20 minutes. (Mom, if you’re reading this, you probably never want to visit HCM, because if you already hate crossing a 4 lane road in Singapore, then you’re going to HATE having to cross an eight-lane road in HCM where the traffic WILL NEVER STOP. Oh my word just thinking about it…)

I don’t normally talk about my neuroses and latent anxieties on this blog but that time I was in Jatinegara in Jakarta and people were sitting near a live train track and everyone seemed cool with it? NOPE…. Live train tracks and DANGER OF INSTANT DEATH are still inextricably linked in my mind. Or that other time when I was walking along the North Circular Road in London next to high speed traffic on the motorways? Yeah even though I’m safely on the pavement which is well away from the main bulk of the speeding cars, and even though London’s motorways are supposed to be one of the slowest yadda yadda, if there are vehicles speeding next to me then I’m still fully at HIGH ALERT. Because speeding metal boxes whizzing past me still translate as DANGER OF INSTANT DEATH.

I mean… I’ll still walk around places which feel risky (because I don’t want to let fear to keep me from doing what I feel like doing) but it doesn’t change the fact that its actually still anxiety-inducing for me.

I was attending a wedding in Ho Chi Minh last week and on the first day I arrived I immediately had two near-collisions. (TOP TIP: DO NOT SUDDENLY WALK BACKWARDS!!! BUT OBVIOUSLY DUH NO ONE EXPECTS PEDESTRIANS TO WALK BACKWARDS IF YOU SHOCK THEM BY BEEPING YOUR DEAFENING HORN AT THEM.) I developed a tension headache almost immediately. I even began plotting routes which would minimise my need to cross the road. I was like, Goodbye Family Mart across the road I will never know you because you are on the wrong side of the road and I will never get there. Welp, guess I won’t get to the Independence Palace because I can’t cross the tiny road in front of it. (Two days later I finally managed to cross that road).

I was chagrined to have been told by Rich that the street I was on (Phạm Ngọc Thạch) was in his opinion a great road to walk down with old trees lining it and the turtle roundabout at one end. YEAH I KNOW IT IS TOTALLY LEAFY AND NICE BUT I STILL CAN’T CROSS THE ROAD!

Anyway, despite my instant hatred for crossing roads in Ho Chi Minh City, I eventually found a good reason to get me walking about even though I was fearful of the roads. As it turns out, in Ho Chi Minh City you’ll find a lot of dates stamped into the pavements, on the telecomm network and drainage system covers. The words on the pavements indicate that the dates were left by Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNTP) and Ho Chi Minh City Urban Drainage (Cong ty Thoat Nuoc Do Thi). I’ve only seen this in one other city (Paris) where I also spent a lot of time photographing these dates and mapping them out.

Here is a selection of dates inscribed into the pavements of Ho Chi Minh:

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This is not an exhaustive list of photos I took but it seems the earliest one I saw was dated from 1998. My favourites are the hand-made dates. What’s pretty interesting as well as is that sometimes the manhole and the cover for the manhole have a different date! Never seen that before in any other city.

More Ho Chi Minh posts coming up…