On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City
Publication Year: 2011
Unlike the idealized Vietnamese model of urban space, Hóc Môn is between worlds, neither outside nor inside but always uncomfortably both. With particular attention to everyday social realities, Harms demonstrates how living on the margin can be both alienating and empowering, as forces that exclude its denizens from power and privilege in the inner city are used to thwart the status quo on the rural edges.
More than a local case study of urban change, Harms’s work also opens a window on Vietnam’s larger turn toward market socialism and the celebration of urbanization—transformations instructively linked to trends around the globe.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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My warmest thanks to the people of Hóc Môn district, who tolerated my presence among them, answered my questions, and posed a lifetime of new questions. In particular, I thank our neighbors, who introduced me to the craziness of life on the edge and who exposed the nittygritty realities of “renovation.” Trí and Liêm showed me the intricacies ...
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Introduction: Saigon, Inside Out
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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 ...
Part I. Social Edginess
1. Bittersweet Transitions: Urbanization on the Fringe of the City
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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 ...
2. Power and Exclusion on the Edge: The Conflation of Rural and Urban Spaces
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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 ...
Part II. Space, Time, and Urban Expansion
3. Future Orientations in the Country of Memory: Social Conceptions of Time
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Ten years ago there were hardly any houses here, said “Red-Faced” Minh “Mặt Đỏ,” the xe ôm motorbike 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 ...
4. Negotiating Time and Space: Household, Labor, Land, and Movement
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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 ...
Part III. Realizing the Ideal
5. The Road to Paradise: Building the Trans-Asia Highway
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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 ...
6. The Problem of Urban Civilization on Saigon’s Edge
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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 ...
Conclusion: What Edges Do
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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 ...
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Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011