Connecting Flight: Day 4, Thành Phố Ho Chị Minh

There is a belief that is too prevalent that progress must be earned in a linear and sequential manner. And while it suffices to say that it’s not linear nor sequential, it’s more interesting to me to think about how these trajectories we collectively set out end up swaying in their torque, bow, break and what it’s like to be out on that line. 

Physically exhausted from jet lag and strolling in the heat, I retreated to exploring the internet in my hotel room. I came across two primary events of interest in the media: the recent development project funded by the World Bank and the toxic waste spill that has resulted in over 70 tonnes of dead fish washing ashore. Both pertaining to governmental responsibilities and the biopolitical. 

The development project consisted of converting a canal that had previously functioned as a open sewer into submarine sewage system with an open body of water on top. The concrete tunnels would move waste waste and solid waste from the neighborhood to the connecting sewer system for treatment. The project had begun in 2002 and finished in 2014.   

These canals are not unique in HCMC and made me wonder when this part of the country that receives so much precipitation had been canalized and made into a concrete jungle, literally.   

The toxic waste scandal centers on a subsidiary of Formosa, a polymer manufacturer that also produces steel. In the coastal region of Ha Tinh, Quảng Banh, Quảng Tri and Thua Thien - Huế something got fishy. The scandal broke in late April when dead fish started washing ashore. The fisherman who make a living from them were horrified. But that’s just the beginning: even more scandalous was spokesman for Formosa, who made a statement essentially saying that the Vietnamese had to choose between industrializing or being a fishing country. What avarice! He later apologized for his words, which in my mind seemed to be indirectly admitting and validating the environmental destruction in question. In the weeks since the death event, many protests had been held to motivate the government to investigate. A diver also died nearby and further south, in Da Nang, government officials had to wade out into the water to prove to the tourist-based economy that no one (else) would die. 

Two explanations were given: first, a natural occurrence like an algae bloom suffocated the fish. Second, that it was indeed pollution. 

In my own research I found that Formosa had been the center of a scandal in Cambodia in 1998. The New York Times article  details how locals were abandoning the town after they discovered that officials had been paid to receive the toxic waste. Again, a question of the citizens’ trust in their governing body. 

The assumption by the polluter that in order to modernize, a developing country such as Vietnam is required to live through the problematic mistakes of developed countries 150 years ago is built into the notion of linear, sequential progression. If anything, learning from the mistakes of another country should be a strength, not a rite of passage, for these countries. Furthermore, the absence of these mistakes’ physical infrastructure should attribute to agility to these non OECD countries. Rather than mimicking the past for a future, hybrid models that draw from strengths that have sustained throughout time should be the goal of these countries.  


“Tons of Waste Stir Panic in a Cambodian Town,” New York Times, December 22, 1998http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/22/world/tons-of-waste-stir-panic-in-a-cambodian-town.html