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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The dream city: Thu Duc or Saigon

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Painstakingly preparing for the formation of a new city temporarily named Thu Duc, the HCMC authorities are trying to gather feedback on it from city dwellers. The author of this article gives some food for thought regarding this issue.

Developing the extension of what is called Saigon now to the east bank of the Saigon River has been a dream of Saigonese for almost the past century. More precisely, it has been since the construction of the Saigon Bridge in 1960 and Bien Hoa Highway in 1961 together with the well-prepared blueprints for the Thu Thiem Peninsula in 1968 and 1972. It was then rumored that the name for the new quarter on the east bank of the river was “New Saigon.”

In recent years, another name in line with direction is “Dong Saigon” (Saigon East) has been taking shape with stories about Thu Thiem new urban area and intentions for a new growth city which incorporates districts 2 and 9, and Thu Duc District.

However, when Saigonese were still affectionate toward the east bank, a city christened “Saigon East” emerged all of a sudden on the far bank of the Dong Nai River when the ground-breaking ceremony for the Saigon East residential project in Nhon Trach was held on August 16, 2009. There is nothing wrong with this. However, it causes the author to have some random thoughts about the name “Saigon.”

Needless to say, when it comes to geography or administrative boundaries, Saigon existed only before 1975. After this timeline, the date of Vietnam’s unification, Saigon and Gia Dinh [two separate administrative units under the former Saigon regime] were merged into the new HCMC. Ever since, Saigon has ceased to exist on an administrative map. Historically speaking, Saigon has disappeared as a location in the Southeastern region of Vietnam. This disappearance has made an intangible asset (the trademark of Saigon) be “cloned” in different places and different ways. Subsequently, calling a resident a “Saigonese” has lost its precise meaning or may be misleading.

Throughout the course of history, Saigon as a geographical name has changed many times. However, for the sake of explaining things to “find the border of Saigon on the administrative map,” this article deals only with two phases: Saigon before 1975 and Saigon in the old days. Before 1975, Saigon was the capital [of South Vietnam], and Saigon in the old days is in accordance with historical archives.

Saigon prior to 1975, whose date of birth was 1698, was a small city with eight to 10 districts named after a number, almost identical to what it is now, but then districts were all the inner city. Therefore, by calling somebody a “Saigonese” (a city dweller as such), it is meant that s/he has lived here or the urban towns of the former adjacent Gia Dinh. So, now if somebody who is living in HCMC’s District 12 or Hoc Mon District is called a “Saigonese,” it is not completely correct although the person in question does live in HCMC. The author makes this distinction to tackle the identity of a city-dweller and does not mean to constitute any discrimination whatsoever.

And Saigon in the old days is the Saigon in line with historical archives. It was an immense area whose boundaries were unclear. According to references written by reliable researchers, for instance that by Prof. Nguyen Dinh Dau, “Saigon as a region located on the west bank of the Dong Nai River.” That means it can be understood that the old Saigon might have covered different localities, including Thu Duc and “Saigon before 1975” as well as “Saigon since 1698.”

All the above stories are to undertake a review in order to see that the failure to make use of Saigon, a once famous trademark, should be regretted. Subsequently, the author once wrote in an article entitled “Where Saigon Now Is”: “Nicknamed Pearl of the Far East, whose prestige traveled worldwide, Saigon can be said to be a national asset. However, Saigon is now history and almost drifts away.”

As Saigon was a “hidden” name and had no real geographical boundaries, in 2010, the author suggested attaching it to the number districts in inner HCMC so that we would have Saigon 1, Saigon 2, Saigon 3, etc. But this suggestion failed to gain attention.

When the HCMC authorities came up with the idea of setting up a city within a city called Thu Duc, that reminded me of the name Saigon, which to me is a national asset. In this sense, as the old Saigon also included what is now Thu Duc, is it possible for us to breathe the life of the new Thu Duc into the soul of the old Saigon which is still existing? Thus, in the east of Saigon in the pre-1975 period, should the city in the making be named Saigon East or East Saigon?

Why Saigon East? Because Saigon East is Thu Duc, and Thu Duc of the old days was Saigon. Because Saigon East was the expansion of Saigon to the east. It inadvertently asserts the existence of a Saigon which is 300 years old imbedded in HCMC to the west. Furthermore, the name East Saigon has permeated deeply in the people’s soul.

What’s more, materializing a Saigon East conceived to stimulate creativity, drive forward sciences and technologies and lay the foundation for a future financial center is projected to face more difficulties than the subway line No. 1 or the 657-hectare Thu Thiem new urban area. Equally complicated is the combination of scattered resources now aimed to create a driving force.

Which is why the path to the dream city will be still very long given the great expectations and long-term goals if there is no concrete support or a strategic consideration on a national level and/or a strategic partner that has international stature and prestige.

By Huy Nam

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