I have heard and read quite a bit about the war in Vietnam. But after I arrived in Hu Chi Min City yesterday, I realized that I know almost nothing about this city that used to be called Saigon, where the name “Saigon” is still everywhere. Even the hotel that I am staying in is named “Saigon River Boutique Hotel”. I came here to give a talk on service-learning to a group of university students. Perhaps more importantly, I came to find suitable partners and locations, to prepare for a service-learning project in Vietnam in summer 2014.
After working through most of the day, my colleague and I went out to take a walk to the quaint and historical post office. Walking out the front door of the post office, we found the Notre Dame Cathedral to the right. I was not surprised to find it full for late Sunday afternoon mass. But I was mildly surprised to find it full of young people.
We could see a small crowd gathered outside the cathedral. What were they doing there? I noticed that the crowd was quiet and attentive. And they were all looking through the open front gate of the sanctuary. It looked like they were following the mass through the open front gate. And they were standing next to their motorbikes. Perhaps this was a way to attend mass without having to park their motorbikes?
Across the street in the park, underneath tall, ancient-looking trees, in the shadow of the cathedral, a bunch of young people were jamming. A lot more people sat around listening, eating mangos and snacks. We also stood and watched for a while, soaking up the atmosphere. Saigon is an interesting place.