Doves and roasted pigeons

Arguably one of the most beautiful streets in Sài Gòn, Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa runs across District 3 and District 1.

With few exceptions, the street is lined throughout with rows of trees on both of its sides; and the dominant tree among them is familiar with the Saigonese—the tamarind (see more in “Emblems Of Saigon’s Quieter Beauty,” p. 48, the Weekly No. 22-’10 dated May 29, 2010).

Towards one end of Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa which is near the bank of the Sài Gòn River in District 1 is the block between Nguyễn Thái Bình and Nguyễn Công Trứ streets.

Not long ago, walking along this section of the street, a visitor might have taken notice of a sidewalk scene which is reminiscent of a city in the West, for instance Paris with its parks, gardens and squares:

Flights of white and grey doves leisurely walking on the ground or hedgehopping before the eyes of passers-by.

Roughly a decade ago, when the bird flu was still unheard of in Sài Gòn, this section of Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, paved with floor tiles and with stone curb, was characterized by warm sunshine and shades of the tamarind trees.

In the morning, on the way to work, one could enjoy the pool of sunlight dancing under the feet.

In late afternoon, on the way back, the same person could watch doves flying around or perching on power wires or branches of tamarind trees.

The doves belonged to a mosque in this block of the street.

In the mosque’s front yard there used to be wooden dove cages, and the birds were raised by the Muslim community in the mosque’s neighborhood.

But that peaceful scene changed totally overnight when Sài Gòn was under the attack of the bird flu seven years ago.

Shortly after the bird flu outbreak and the first death reports, the dove colony disappeared in the aftermath of the nationwide bird cull.

That peaceful scene in this section of the street even got worse off when it became a traffic nightmare following the construction of the East-West Highway just several blocks away.

Days and nights, swarms of cars in the street and motorbikes on the sidewalk not only scared away the last birds but also the last pedestrians who dared to venture outside their offices.

In Vietnamese poetry, flowers, butterflies and birds are often associated with romanticism.

In this modern world, they are also indicators of pollution in a given place.

Their absence may signify a high level of environmental pollution.

Approximately 30 years ago, power wires in Sài Gòn were a hot favorite for sparrows to perch on.

Such a scene could be seen throughout the city and is still a childhood memory of several Saigonese generations.

But all the scenes are gone now, particularly in the inner districts.

At a student condo on Trần Hưng Đạo Street in District 1, flights of birds, perhaps swallows, used to build their nests under the skybridge linking the condo’s two blocks.

Early in the morning and at dusk, the birds flew to and fro, singing and twittering.

As construction sites keep mushrooming, they are all gone, too.

In the first half of the 70s of the last century, Tao Đàn Park—Hồ Chí Minh City’s most famous public park—was still a “forest inside the city” in the eyes of young students.

Why so?

The park then abounded with frogs, butterflies, insects, birds and ferns.

Junior high school students and teachers of biology in the park’s neighborhood often considered it a kind of “botanical garden” where some specimens could be found to illustrate their biology lessons.

But this story is now only history.

Some time ago, the highway construction ended and the traffic nightmare on that section of Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa was over.

This part the street has returned to its former backstreet position.

After much nuisance lasting several years in a row, the road surface and the sidewalk have had a facelift.

Several doves came back.

However, when the mosque was torn down some months ago to build a new and bigger one, the doves have disappeared again.

In a city habitat for humanity, it requires not only living comforts and conveniences.

For years, when discussing municipal development, city planners have taken into account mammoth projects worth billions of U.S. dollars concerning subway systems, overpasses or elevated railroads.

Yet sizable green parks have hardly been heard of, let alone done.

If nobody will do anything to stop such a trend, then in this city, pigeons will be found only in restaurant menus:

“Roasted pigeons, please!”

By QUỲNH THƯ 

Source: The Saigon Times 5/6/2010

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