You see political poster art of the sort in this picture everywhere in Vietnamese cities, from billboards on the tops of buildings to posters along the walls of construction sites. This particular poster, according to a Vietnamese friend, announces the selection of a Party committee for Ho Chi Minh City for a five year term and celebrates Vietnam’s industrialization and modernization efforts. And the poster urges citizens to do their part to support modernization of the country.
The woman squatting is selling small snacks. The man is one of the thousands—or more likely, hundreds of thousands—of men sitting on motorbikes waiting to give people rides for a fee all over Saigon. A subset of this group hustle rides for foreigners and the constant solicitations can finally become fairly annoying, especially when a simple no is not enough for many of the drivers. Walking 50 meters involves fighting off multiple requests for rides, shopping, tours, massages, “massages” and lord knows what else. One does not want to be rude, but… Finally, the woman behind the other two has a takeout meal, either for herself or food she is delivering.
Ho Chi Minh City is a crowded place, with more than 8 million people and almost as many motorbikes. Everybody drives wildly and getting across streets can be something of an adventure. Hanoi was much the same, though marginally less congested than HCMC. There are still not many private cars in Vietnam. Not only are most people unable to afford cars, the government keeps duties on imported cars very high to prevent, by design one assumes, widespread car ownership. This is probably not a bad thing. One can only imagine what a traffic nightmare HMHC would be if most of the people on motorbikes in this photo were driving cars instead. Think Beijing or Bangkok. It will be interesting to see how Vietnam deals with car ownership as the country develops and its population becomes more affluent over time. In general I know I believe that, with a global population of around 7 billion these days, more than half of whom live in urban areas, we need to be rethinking our commitment to private cars as a way to get around cities.