September 2 is Vietnam’s National Day (Ngày Quốc Khánh). National day celebrates Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of Vietnamese independence from Japanese and French powers following the defeat of the Japanese in World War II. I was curious about this holiday because I wanted to gauge its relative importance to the Vietnamese people. Does National Day in Vietnam have the same importance that independence day has in the US or that Bastille day has in France?
It is important to note that Ho Chi Minh explicitly cites the United States and French declaration of independence in his own declaration. The reason for this is not to pay tribute to Western powers as political or philosophical influences, but rather, in a somewhat dialectical (Marxian) fashion, show to Western colonial powers that according to the very principles of Western liberal democracy, Vietnam deserves self-governance, self-determination, and emancipation from those Western colonial powers.
In Ho Chi Minh City, National day is almost celebrated by everyone. Everyone displays the Vietnam flag in front of their homes and businesses. The day is surprisingly silent. But further into the afternoon and evening, Saigonese meet at Nguyen Hue Pedestrian street, a recently built walkway surrounded by luxury hotels and artificial greenery, capped by Saigon’s city hall, an ornate French colonial style building.
At around 8pm, I drive my motorbike with my partner to Nguyen Hue Street. We noticed that, on the way, the streets were eerily empty. As we approach Nguyen Hue, we found ourselves packed like sardines in a sea of motorbikes. It is overwhelming, but we follow the stream of eager, impatient, but spirited Saigonese. At some point, traffic comes to a full halt. We are struck one street over from Nguyen Hue, able to see some of the spectacle through an alley peeking into celebration. Soon thereafter, fireworks go off all around us. People begin to abandon their bikes to take pictures of the fireworks, of themselves, and of themselves with the fireworks.
We decide to find ditch our motorbike at a parking lot nearby, and walk over to Nguyen Hue to catch the tail end of the celebration. Even though we are on foot, we remain stuck in a seemingly never-ending sea of motorbike traffic. At times, it seemed like the only way to get to Nguyen Hue was to climb over or walk on top of the motorbikes. But after some sneaky pedestrian maneuvering, we manage to make it to Nguyen Hue. The firework show had ended and most of the people celebrating were on our way out. We decided to make the most of it by finding a food stall to get something to eat. We find a stand selling Bo La Lot sandwiches. Bo La Lot is a kind of meatball ground with various herbs and spices and wrapped in betel leaves. Unfortunately, I indigestion hits me immediately soon thereafter, and I experience bathroom issues for about a week after.