Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rising delta

The Mekong Delta conjures up images of flat, ordered plains of emerald-green paddies interrupted by the pastel confections of family tombs. This is the largest rice-growing area in the country; it produces more than 70 per cent of the country’s output. Canals fringed with palm trees are thoroughfares for the stacked rough white sacks on barges that are transported out of the Delta to Saigon and beyond. But, behind the scenes of rice-growing beauty, this rising dragon of Asia is peddling furiously behind the engine of growth. For every rice barge, another one, nearly sinking under the weight of toblerone-shaped mounds of sand, motors up to the Saigon river to deliver the sand to conglomerates who are building skyscrapers and new homes with abandon in the outlying districts of Ho Chi Minh City.
Roads that used to be lined only with billboards warning of the dangers of HIV now carry images reminding bikers to wear helmets — a law introduced almost three years ago but even these are now dwarfed by huge hoardings advertising industrial parks in the making.
Most of the delta cities are unattractive jumbles of concrete wonkiness, wrapped in disordered threads of electricity wire and quite often focused around a roundabout displaying a large proud socialist realism statue. It takes a bit of time to find the charming coffee shop, local pho joint, and enjoy the peace at a temple overshadowed by a taller, monument in modern concrete.

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