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Saigon’s Edge

Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City

Erik Harms
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
  • Book Info
    Saigon’s Edge
    Book Description:

    Saigon’s Edge explores life in Hóc Môn, a district that lies along a key transport corridor on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. Erik Harms puts forth a revealing perspective on how rapid urbanization impacts people living at the intersection of rural and urban worlds and opens a window on Vietnam’s larger turn toward market socialism and the celebration of urbanization.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7663-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Glossary
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Saigon, Inside Out
    (pp. 1-26)

    If you ride a motorbike to work from Hóc Môn district into central Ho Chi Minh City, take a change of clothes. In the dry season, the dust will turn your clothes a dull reddish brown. In the wet season, you are bound to be splashed with mud—assuming, of course, that you are lucky enough not to fall headlong into a brackish, water-filled ditch.

    I was offered this advice by Vân, one of Hóc Môn’s lucky residents, a young woman with an office job in the city.¹ The daughter of a vegetable merchant, she commuted by motorbike between the...

  6. Part I. Social Edginess

    • 1. Bittersweet Transitions: Urbanization on the Fringe of the City
      (pp. 29-60)

      There is an edge to Saigon but no physical boundaries. Depictions of the outer-city district of Hóc Môn form a congeries of symbolic references and everyday realities rife with double-meanings. In history books, Hóc Môn’s Bà Điểm commune is famous for the failed anti-French uprising led by Phan Văn Hớn and Nguyễn Văn Quá in February 1885. The name of the uprising, Uprising of the Eighteen Areca Garden Villages, indicates that this was a rural zone known mostly for its production of areca nuts and betel leaf and, as nationalist histories would have it, for its production of anticolonial resistance.¹...

    • 2. Power and Exclusion on the Edge: The Conflation of Rural and Urban Spaces
      (pp. 61-86)

      Power and exclusion mark the edge. In contemporary Hóc Môn the primary-colored distinction between city and country fades to gray. Yet despite their fuzziness, and regardless of how they appear from a vantage point above society, the categorical oppositions of rural versus urban and inside versus outside persist. For better or for worse, these categories inform the stereotypes and mental maps to which people refer both consciously and unconsciously as they make choices and live their lives in relation to the space and time of immediate action as it is perceived. This is not to say that people cannot see...

  7. Part II. Space, Time, and Urban Expansion

    • 3. Future Orientations in the Country of Memory: Social Conceptions of Time
      (pp. 89-120)

      Ten years ago there were hardly any houses here, said “Red-Faced” Minh “Mặt Đỏ,” thexe ômmotorbike driver who often gave me a ride to my field site from the end of the inner-city bus line.Just vegetable gardens and rice fields, a scattered bunch of leaf-roofed shacks (nhà lá).

      The air-conditioned Saigon Star bus with cheap fares subsidized by the city stopped at the An Sương bus station in Hóc Môn’s Bà Điểm commune.Xe ômdrivers would take me the final eight kilometers out to my field site in Tân Thới Nhì commune at the far edge...

    • 4. Negotiating Time and Space: Household, Labor, Land, and Movement
      (pp. 121-152)

      The constructs of rural and urban Vietnam and of the inside and the outside in Ho Chi Minh City fashion images and expectations of distinct spatiotemporal worlds bifurcated into discrete, opposed categories. As idealized asymptotes, the inside is understood as having a certain urban time orientation regimented by the clock and the outside as having a certain rural time orientation regimented by cycles of agricultural production. Both poles in this set of oppositions have potential advantages and disadvantages. If one could somehow harness the potentials and escape the limitations of both idealized poles, one could become a master of time...

  8. Part III. Realizing the Ideal

    • 5. The Road to Paradise: Building the Trans-Asia Highway
      (pp. 155-192)

      When he pulled up to the café Lam Sơn a few weeks after his accident, Ba Ven appeared as a silhouette against the steady traffic of motorbikes, buses, and dump trucks passing to and fro on the half-finished section of the Trans-Asia Highway behind him. Framed by the rectangular screen of bright sun where the café opens to the road, he took a few long minutes to park his motorbike, a baggy thin shirt several sizes too large billowing around him, light passing through the fabric, a shadow outlining his body within. He carefully dismounted, his motions slow and cautious,...

    • 6. The Problem of Urban Civilization on Saigon’s Edge
      (pp. 193-220)

      While conducting fieldwork in Hóc Môn’s Tân Thới Nhì commune, I undertook a series of interviews with elderly household heads in order to collect local histories and to learn about the transformations of spatial and social relations in the district. Hoping to follow the ethical protocols of research and to maintain an air of openness with the local district and commune authorities, I agreed to conduct these interviews with members of the commune’s Old People’s Association and to present a list of my questions to officials from the local branch of the Fatherland Front.

      The Fatherland Front is Vietnam’s “official...

  9. Conclusion: What Edges Do
    (pp. 221-238)

    The story of Saigon’s edge is a complex one entangled with the story of urban transformation; dramatic changes in the Vietnamese political and economic orientation to socialism, capitalism, and global integration; and the legacy of the Vietnamese Revolution and its changing trajectory in the postwar and postrenovation period. In telling this complex story about life on the fringes of Ho Chi Minh City, however, nearly all of my Vietnamese informants, companions, friends, passing acquaintances, and even local social science research colleagues turned to binary spatial and temporal idioms for imagining the world as a set of rural versus urban and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 239-260)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-280)
  12. Index
    (pp. 281-294)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)