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Luxury and Rubble

Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon OPEN ACCESS

Erik Harms
Copyright Date: 2016
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1kc6jz5
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  • Book Info
    Luxury and Rubble
    Book Description:

    Luxury and Rubble is the tale of two cities in Ho Chi Minh City. It is the story of two planned, mixed-use residential and commercial developments that are changing the face of Vietnam's largest city. Since the early 1990s, such developments have been steadily reorganizing urban landscapes across the country. For many Vietnamese, they are a symbol of the country's emergence into global modernity and of post-socialist economic reforms. However, they are also sites of great contestation, sparking land disputes and controversies over how to compensate evicted residents. In this penetrating ethnography, Erik Harms vividly portrays the human costs of urban reorganization as he explores the complex and sometimes contradictory experiences of individuals grappling with the forces of privatization in a socialist country.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96601-7
    Subjects: Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. The Phú Mŷ suspension bridge rises from a bend in the Saigon River a little more than three and a half miles south by southeast of District One, Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown core. From downtown, the bridge can be seen from the city’s expensive rooftop bars, at places along the banks of the river, and down recently widened avenues, where breaks in the urban fabric open up views to the edge of the sky. In this former French colony, in the city once (but no longer) called the “Paris of the East” or the “Pearl of the Orient,” these...

  2. PART I. LUXURY
    • One mid-February afternoon in 2011, four Vietnamese students dressed in white school uniforms with blue trim approached me to ask if I’d be willing to answer some questions for a school project. I had been standing on Nguyēn Ðúc C.nh Street, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s Phú M. Hýng New Urban Zone, immediately across the street from the Saigon South International School and its neighbor the Lawrence S. Ting School (where, I soon learned, the students were all enrolled in the same eighth-grade class). The lunar New Year celebrations had recently ended, the spring weather was still...

    • Lucy and Jake study at the Lawrence S. Ting School in Phú Mý Hung. Neither Lucy nor Jake lives in Phú Mý Hýng, but they commute there daily for school. Their friend Tom, who is also in their class, recently moved into a Phú Mý Hýng apartment complex called Skygarden with his parents and younger brother. All three students are in the same English class and have given themselves American names (not the same ones I have given them here). During my time living and conducting research in Phú Mý Hýng, we developed a friendly relationship. They would sometimes ask...

    • Doctor Cao, a visibly old but still energetic retired doctor in his early eighties, strode across Phú Mý Hýng’s Starlight Bridge (fig. 3.1) with long, exaggerated steps. It was just after 5: 30 in the morning, and his every movement expressed the vigorous will of a man fighting to remain independent and strong in the face of old age. Every ten paces or so he would stop, arch his body backwards, swing his arms out as wide as they could go, and then lunge forward to touch his toes. He was dressed in loose pajamas. His trim white hair gleamed...

  3. PART II. RUBBLE
    • For as long as Saigon has been a city, its cosmopolitan urban core has ended abruptly at its eastern edge, where riverboat wakes and tidal currents splash against the reinforced banks of the Saigon River. For most of the twentieth century, reaching the edge of the city was easy: one only needed to walk the end of the city’s famous tree-lined shopping and entertainment street known today as Ðông Khôi (Uprising) Street, previously known as Tu Do (Freedom) Street during the American War, and before that as Rue Catinat. The street there forms a T-junction with the river, and after...

    • For a brief few years, between 2009 and 2012, the advertising billboards that had for so many years blocked the view of Thù Thiêm from the other side of the river came down. Despite the impression commonly given by maps and plans for the city, the space behind the billboards was in fact not an empty wasteland but a bustling network of neighborhoods, graced by one of the city’s oldest Catholic churches and the immaculately maintained convent for the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross (Dòng Men Thánh giá). Across three city wards there were numerous temples, community...

    • 6 From the Rubble (pp. 183-210)

      In March 2014, Mr. Tâm, a recently retired sixty-five-year-old electronics repairman, plugged his digital camera into a television and played a video. The video, made on Tâm’s pocket camera in August 2011, shows three men pulling with all their might on a thick rope. It was filmed in Thù Thiêm, across the Saigon River from the old colonial boulevards and the new glass towers of District One. Everything in the video seems stretched to the limit—not just the rope, but the men too. Sweat accumulates in round stains on white shirts, graying with the dust of smashed concrete. The...

  4. In recent years, especially when it comes to conflicts over land, more and more people in Vietnam appear ready to make vocal demands for something called “rights.” Between 2008 and 2011, according to government sources, people paid 1.57 million visits to official offices to register complaints and denunciations(khiéu nai, tô cáo), and they submitted nearly 673,000 formal petitions(đon thu). Of those complaints, 70 percent were related to land. At the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, 98 percent of the petitions received each year were related to land issues.¹

    Most of these complaints focused on land clearance for...

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.