There have been several changes since I was here last year. At first cut, they may not seem significant. But they are, I believe, very important indications of the larger, underlying change that Vietnam is going through. For instance, the Binh Thanh District, in the 5th Ward, is a large suburban area. The houses are continuous buildings for blocks upon blocks, with each living quarters or house or apartment taking up, on average, perhaps three meters in width and 12 meters in length. This size varies considerably. Some houses are 6 or 8 meters wide, but only about 4 meters deep..... behind them and above them are other apartments, crammed and stacked and squeezed into the allotted wall space.
The streets in this section are almost always less than three meters wide, narrowing to only one meter at places. Last year, there was not a single street in the area that was more than mud and rocks. In the rain, it was a terrible mess. In the dark, it was treacherous. But now, these streets have a concrete surface. Miles and miles of hand-poured concrete, with center drains under square grates.
The concrete mix was carried up the streets and alleyways in buckets and wheel barrows. In the unfinished areas, the surface of the grates are 12 or 14 inches above the old road surface, so rounded curbing is in front of almost every doorway to keep the water on its course. Many people have been forced to re-engineer these front entries because of the new public improvements. Many of the houses still have the dirt and rock floors inside, at least in the initial courtyard areas.
And so, there is much construction going on. Right now, I can hear hammers from at least 3 different projects - along with about a dozen radios (all on different stations), children screaming and crying and playing, neighbors yelling at one another (especially the neighbor women with high-pitched, piercing diatribes of Asian sounds, unmistakably angry). All this taking place in the sweltering morning heat... low 90F and rising. It's been going on for centuries, and yet it seems like the birth pains of a New Saigon.
Here are a few more details on the street project.