Vietnam hub's iconic mounted general to ride away for subway

By Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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The statue of Tran Nguyen Han at the roundabout near Ben Thanh Market in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hung The statue of Tran Nguyen Han at the roundabout near Ben Thanh Market in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hung

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More people are taking photo with the statue of General Tran Nguyen Han in downtown Ho Chi Minh City these days following an announcement that it will be moved to make way for a major metro hub.
Saigon seem at once excited about the possibility of a new subway and sentimental about the loss of the general and his horse who have both ridden high above the historic Ben Thanh Market roundabout for decades.
Built by the government of the Southern Republic during the Vietnam War (1954-1975), the statue commemorates General Nguyen Han (unknown-1429) who helped Emperor Le Loi repel three Mongol invasions and establish the Le Dynasty (1428-1788).
The statue is located at the center of the roundabout that serves as a kind of joint between the top of September 23rd Park and connects the following streets: Le Loi, Le Lai, Tran Hung Dao, Huynh Thuc Khang and Phan Chu Trinh.
Thanh Ngoc, a university student, and her friends came out to take photos with the statue on Wednesday.
“A friend told me about the statue’s relocation several days ago. The image of this area is deeply engraved in the mind of numerous Saigonese. My friends and I often hang out here at night.”
“It is sad because the statue will be moved. It feels like I'm losing something quite familiar,” she said.
Falling apart
Located in downtown HCMC, the statue and the market once served as the city's most famous landmarks.
Built from cement poured over a wrought iron frame, the statue of a general releasing a carrier pigeon has degraded after several decades, despite numerous preservation efforts.

Simon, a tourist from England, taking photo of the statue of Tran Nguyen Han and the bust of Quach Thi Trang. Photo: Minh Hung
On July 27, 2013, the statue’s right leg collapsed and frightened tourists who were taking photos at the site. It hasn't been repaired, city officials say, because they're waiting for the big move.
Below the general's statue sits the bust of Quach Thi Trang, which will also be relocated. Trang was a student who was killed in 1963 during a demonstration against the government of the US-backed Southern Republic of Vietnam.
The bust was built in 1964, during a subsequent demonstration when tens of thousands of students surrounded the site and protected the sculptors from police.
The roundabout was named after Quach Thi Trang after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
Last week, city authorities announced the relocation of the two statues during the construction of the Ben Thanh – Suoi Tien metro line, which will run partly underground and partly along an elevated track.
Modern metro
The whole railway spans nearly 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) connecting District 1 and District 9. The 2.6 kilometer section from Ben Thanh Market to Ba Son Shipyard will be the only underground portion.
The US$1.2 billion project, funded by Japanese aid, is expected to finish in 2018.
Le Khac Huynh, deputy head of the project management unit, said there will be three stations in downtown HCMC: one at September 23 Park near Ben Thanh Market, one outside the city’s Opera House and one near the Ba Son shipyard.
The station at the September 23 Park will serve as a hub for three other metro lines connecting District 12, Nha Be and Binh Chanh.
Huynh said work on the market station will begin in 2015.
Meanwhile, workers are building barriers and cutting down up to 100 century-old trees in the city center.
The contractors have pledged to replace the old trees with new vegetation once work is complete.
Tran Ngoc Them, a professor of  of the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities who has researched and written extensively on Vietnamese culture, said that the statue should be moved for the sake of development.
“For the sake of human progress, we can relocate or pull down a statue of it is necessary,” he told Thanh Nien News.
“In this case, I think Tran Nguyen Han is not an extremely famous historical character, while the construction of the metro line is an important development that will serve the citizenry,” he said.
Many residents expressed regret that one of the city’s icons will be moved, but optimistic about the new subway.
Nam, a woman who has been taking care of plants around the statue for decades, said she has become “too familiar” with the site.
“We are very sad about that. My colleagues and I have bonded with this space,” she said.
Meanwhile, 57-year-old Tuan, a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver at the nearby Ben Thanh Bus station, hopes the new metro station will help him earn more money.
“There will be more passengers in this area and many of them can use xe om after arriving here by train.”

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