Duong Van Ngo, Vietnam’s oldest public letter writer, hasn't heard too many nice things about his workplace these days.
The 84-year-old worked for the postal industry from the age of 16 and has spent the past 24 years writing and translating English and French letters for visitors at the Saigon Central Post Office in his retirement.
He said he's sad about the post office’s new color and misses the old days when every visitor remarked on its beauty.
“Now people feel very strange. I don’t understand why the city did not choose the soft yellow color like before to repaint the office,” Ngo said.
Ho Chi Minh City is slowly repainting the 123-year-old building’s facade a bright golden yellow.
Though the people in charge of the effort claim that's the original color, many locals say it’s not.
Tourists, meanwhile, seem shocked by it's boldness.
The Saigon Central Post Office was designed and constructed between 1886 and 1891 by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel, the namesake creator of the Eiffel Tower.
The neoclassical building became a hot spot for tourists as part of the city's colonial core, which includes the Notre Dame Cathedral (built between 1877-1880), the former Cercle des Officiers (now the administrative headquarters of District 1) on Le Duan Street and several other French buildings on Dong Khoi and Ly Tu Trong.
The renovation, which began last September and is expected to wrap up by the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February, is the first since the Vietnam War ended.
Prior to the project, the paint and plaster had faded and worn away in several spots.
Vietnam Post and Telecommunication Group spent around VND5 billion on the effort, which included several repairs to a leaky roof.
But the change hasn't all been good.
Saigon Central Post Office before being repainted. Photo credit: Vietnam Xua Va Nay
Nguyen Thi Thuy Loan, who has been selling paintings for 30 years in the area, said: “I cannot stand the flashiness.”
Loan said she has heard so many tourists criticizing the color.
“The color makes it look like a pagoda rather than a post office.”
Son Dara, a tour guide, said almost every foreigner he took to the post office last week complained that the color hurt his or her eyes.
“Some people didn't believe it was the Saigon post office,” he said.
Le Kiem Hoa, chief of investment at HCMC Post Office, said they hired the Vietnamese paint group Kova to examine the original color or the building.
Hoa said they tried seven shades of yellow before choosing the one closest to the original.
“It’s a bit too bright, but exposure to rain and shine will tone it down.”
Architect Tran Dinh Nam, a lecturer at HCMC Architecture University, said Hoa was only saying that to justify a poor choice.
Nam said the new color has ruined the post office's ancient look.
“It’s too shiny and doesn't match the color of nearby buildings, especially the Notre Dame Cathedral.”
He said there are thousands of colors and choosing the right one for such an iconic HCMC building is no easy task.
Huynh Van Muoi, chairman of the HCMC Fine Arts Association, said the city did not consult them about the color as they had prior to the renovation of the HCMC Museum in the past.
“The French tended to use a light yellow," he said. "Not too bold.”
Hoa said he did not ask for the association’s help since the building is not designated an national historic relic yet, and the city post office can decide their own work.