02 July 2006

Home Sweet Home, Saigon

Google Earth finally came to the Mac platform not too long ago and even though I had it installed on my PowerBook, I haven't made much use of it. My son had a little fun with it pretending to fly around and crashing down, I use it occasionally to see places where I may drive to for the first time - I hate driving so anything that helps lessen the pain is a welcome.

Today, I set out to find the islands of Indonesia where I stayed at during my time as a refugee from Viet Nam. In 1979, my parents left Viet Nam with their four children as boat people in search of a better life. It's a story worthwhile another blog entry or two.

Maybe because I zoomed into the wrong area of Indonesia, or maybe there wasn't any data on Indonesia and its thousands of islands, I couldn't find anything. It didn't help that not much was labelled. That's the thing with Google Earth. For the U.S. and other Western countries, plenty of data is available, but when you get to the rest of the world, there isn't that much to glean from.

I decided to travel a little up north and arrived at Ho Chi Minh City, better known to us Southern Vietnamese as Saigon. I searched for my old home but at first couldn't find anything. Map-reading is a skill not everyone is good at, but I'm proud to say that I have a knack for it. In this case, just having the map itself didn't help me locate my old home because, again, nothing is labelled. Luckily, I had a tourist map of Saigon in the room and was able to use that to match up the highlights of the paper map to the Google map. My parents bought the paper map years ago when they last visited Viet Nam as U.S. citizen. Many of the streets were renamed to glorify the Communist Party etc. Luckily, those around my old home were not. I first identified the Phu Tho Racetrack and the Cong Hoa Sports Stadium. I am pretty good with directions and had a hunch that we lived south of the racetrack and west of the stadium, and the Google map confirms so. Using some vague memories of the old neighborhood, I think I've pinpointed the Nguyen Van Thoai Apartment Building on the map. Even though Google maps are three or more years old, nothing seems to change much since I left Viet Nam. Wow, it sure does bring back many childhood memories. My walk to school, being lost and then led home by a good soul, getting a nasty nosebleed by some street thugs, shooting ants in the racetrack with a toy rocket-propelled grenade launcher... More to come in the next few days!

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