To all you Hanoians out there, imagine half the road circumventing Hoan Kiem Lake being closed off. Not for a couple of days in honour of a meteoric cultural event, but for six months.
Yes, people of Hanoi, that’s what the Saigonese are suffering from at this very moment. A city centre split in two due to the closure of that thoroughfare, Nguyen Hue, as well as part of Le Loi, and part of Le Thanh Ton for good measure. It’s chaos. Well, not exactly. But rush hours have become bit of a nightmare and crossing downtown from West to East or East to West can get a little unpleasant.
Okay, we know you’re laughing. Them upstarts down south don’t deserve nothing, right? But you see, oh people of Hanoi, the cause of all this is a good one. Unlike you unfortunate people who have to suffer four seasons and bone-chilling winters, Ho Chi Minh City is getting a metro system.
But not just any old metro system. This one comes with underground shopping malls stretching from Saigon’s most famous landmark, Ben Thanh Market, to its other most famous landmark, The Opera House. In between it passes an even more famous landmark, the former Town Hall, now the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Building. There’s no messing about here — this one’s big.
As for you guys, up north, well if you’re lucky you’ll get a skytrain. We hear it’s only in the discussion phase, so don’t worry. We reckon you’ve got a few years yet. So while down south there is frustration and increased congestion, you guys can sit back and relax over a bia hoi or four and contemplate how wonderful the world is.
Mumble and Grumble
Even though Saigon knows the metro system can only be positive, this street closure thingumajig hasn’t been taken too well, oh people of the north. Yes, people are complaining. Businesses are shouting high murder, and residents, no longer the happy, happy people of yesteryear are grumbling over their café sua da, their copies of Tuoi Tre and their phablets. It’s become infectious.
You see, for those unfortunate to be located on the closed off streets, business is down, very down. 60 percent, we are told. Even 70 percent. And of course, there was no forewarning. The streets were just blocked off and that was that.
The cleverer business owners, like our friends at Pendolasco, are using this as an excuse to refurbish. Yes, with business down, now is the time to freshen up for the reopening of the city centre. But these people are in the minority.
You see, what all those poor people down south just don’t understand is that the metro system is being built for the greater good. And during the construction phase, those hard-off Saigonese just have to grit their teeth and bear it. The last time them people of Ho Chi Minh City were told of a huge change to the city centre, the destruction of Eden Mall, there were protests and non-compliant residents, and banners and all sorts of obtrusive, unwelcome events. The Vincom project to build a new Vincom, now called Union Square, got held up. It cost money.
And then when they tried to clear the whole of Thu Thiem, that sinking swamp area in District 2 on the other side of the Saigon River, some of the residents just refused to let those bulldozers bulldoze their houses. It took years and even now, the odd house or two has remained.
So, this time, things are different. Yes, the roads will be open again for Apr. 30, the 40th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Saigon, and yes the centre of Ho Chi Minh City will be all modern and crispy clean and characterful just like Singapore. But there can be no delays.
But to do this and to have that beloved metro system Ho Chi Minh City so desires, so it can ease congestion and become a member of the ‘I’m an important city because I’ve got a metro system’ club, sacrifices just have to be made.
To all you Hanoians out there, you’ll be next. It’s fun! We promise!