peteg's blog - noise - books - 2008 08 23 Reilly SaigonTea

Graham Reilly: Saigon Tea

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Meh. Apparently the author spent three years in Hồ Chí Minh City and the best he could come up with is this. In a tale spread across three cities, Glasgow is the only one that is described in more detail than a tourist could manage after a day's visit, and if you really wanted to know about Scotland you'd be reading Irvine Welsh anyway. Reilly's evocation of Saigon hardly exceeds what one learns from the Lonely Planet, soured by the usual questions ("Why do the people smile so much after all that's happened?") that are never properly addressed by pop writers. Let's not even mention Melbourne, the book hardly does. One ends up with no greater insight about the places, the peoples, mixed marriages, cross-cultural humour or any other thing one finds canvassed here.

I found it especially irritating that his Saigon was little more than Westerner-friendly District 1, with District 3 being characterised as a rich people's ghetto, and District 4 as comprised entirely of criminal trash. He doesn't even mention Chọ Lớn! Lame, lame, lame... there is no depth here, and the humour is mostly clunky and derivative to boot. Sliding in some pigeon tiếng Việt does nothing for this book.

Apparently he is an editor at the The Age.

BTW, the best way to see Vietnam is from a motorbike. Walking everywhere gets old fast with all the street hawkers. If you don't want to drive, either find a mate who does or pay a local. Bring a helmet.