Now that I’ve been driving around Saigon for over a month, I have a pretty good handle on most major streets in District 1 and District 3. My acquisition of street names has coincided with starting to take Vietnamese lessons, and it is this convergence that has given me the idea for this post: History on the Streets of Saigon.
With the help of my excellent Vietnamese teacher, I was able to make the realization that I now know enough Vietnamese to start comprehending some of the Vietnamese I encounter everyday. While going off on one of many tangents during class the other day, we got into the topic of street names and we were able to decipher the meanings of a bunch of streets in downtown Saigon. What I found most interesting about this was almost all of the street names have significant meaning in Vietnamese history. Whereas in the United States street names can be as silly as Trumpet Circle (the street I grew up on), street names in Vietnam stand for something really important. So in an attempt to share some history and Vietnamese language with you, I have selected a few streets I spend a lot of time on and will explain their significance to Vietnamese history.
Cách mạng tháng Tám – Cách mạng means revolution and tháng Tám means eighth month (August), so this street is named for the August Revolution that took place in 1945. Vietnam spent most of history controlled by outside powers. The French occupied Vietnam starting in the 19th century, and Vietnamese national forces continuously failed to win independence. Then in 1940, the Japanese invaded Indochina during World War II. The Vietnamese nationalist forces (including Ho Chi Minh) were actually supported by the United States in an attempt to defeat the Japanese. On 1945 the Japanese surrendered to the Allied powers and the Vietnamese used this as an opportunity to take over offices held by foreigners. On August 19th, VietMinh (a national liberation front created by the Communist Party of Indochina) forces successfully won over Hanoi . Following this victory, more rebellions broke out in Vietnam and on September 2nd, 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s long awaited independence and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed. Although this independence was short lived (the French returned to Vietnam in early 1946), the August Revolution was the start of successful steps toward true independence for the Vietnamese people.
Ba tháng Hai – Ba means 3 and tháng Hai means second month (February), making Ba tháng Hai a date: February 3rd. This is an important date because on February 3rd, 1920 the Vietnamese Communist Party was formed using the beliefs of Ho Chi Minh, Marx and Lenin as an ideological basis.
Điện Biên Phủ – I mentioned that although Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945, the Vietnamese weren’t in the clear just yet. The French re-entered Vietnam in 1946 and it wasn’t until the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, that Vietnam won a decisive victory over the French. This was significant because the battle proved that local rebel forces had the capability of overthrowing a major western superpower. However, even greater significance to Vietnam and world history lies in the Geneva Accords that preceded the French defeat. Under the Accords, France withdrew from all former Indochina colonies and Vietnam was split into two sides: the North and the South. This division would eventually lead to what Westerns call the Vietnam War, but what Vietnamese call The American War.
Nam kỳ khởi nghĩa – Nam kỳ means Southern and khởi nghĩa means uprisings. Nam kỳ khởi nghĩa refers to the Southern Uprisings that occurred in November of 1940 against French rule in Indochina. Although the uprising was a failure, it was important in establishing national spirit for the country and people of Vietnam. On the 70th anniversary of the uprisings this past November, State President Nguyen Minh Triet said, “The Southern Uprising laid a foundation for our people to rise up and gain glorious victory in the August Revolution, and left profound and valuable lessons for revolutionary stages in the present and the future.” The Southern Uprising was also the first time the current flag of Vietnam was used.