The Faces of Places


In each country I have I visited over the past four decades there has been the iconic face.

In the early seventies in Spain, the face of Generalissimo Francisco Franco adorned the money along with the inscription, “the leader of Spain by the grace of God”.

Cuban billboards are replete with a smiling, bearded Che Guevara, exhorting that littering or unsafe sex are “counter revolutionary” and must be avoided.

And, although I have no plans to visit, the images of Dear Leader and his offspring appear to be everywhere in Orwellian North Korea.

Certainly in Vietnam Ho Chi Minh has a great presence, on posters and billboards, and also the money;  from the meager 100 dong (about 1/2 cent) to the largest bill, the 500,000 dong (roughly $25) delineated by colors.

But Ho is not alone.

On many street corners, especially in Saigon, another face beckons. He too is white bearded and mature, smiling, and serene.  That face is Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken!

Since 1998 the face of the Kentucky Colonel, along with his fried chicken, has been present in Vietnam.  Along with Pizza Hut, KFC has been joined by Circle K convenience stores, airport Burger Kings and a host of upscale US and European brands like Gucci and Prada.

The KFC and Pizza Hut experiences (at US prices) are the reserve of the growing middle class in Vietnam. Pizza Hut, unlike other pizza chains which failed in Asia, is considered a “nice family or date dining experience”. It is clean, well lit, modern, sanitized; someone’s fantasy version of America.

For me, I prefer Bo Tung Xeo for grilled beef cooked at the table, smoke rising, or the neighborhood Pho (noodle soup) that an older woman ladles fresh each morning.  Of course, such imagery is my version of what Vietnam “is”; exotic, different, part reality and part fantasy.

Back to Colonel Sanders, the Burger King, and Ronald MacDonald, I admit that I don’t eat fast food either in the US or anywhere else. There is one exception and the other day told a visiting friend about the new Subway in Pham Ngu Lao.  Clearly I was animated. She too was excited and said, “wow, how modern; where does it go?”

I smiled and told her “it doesn’t go anywhere; you need to go there and order”.


About Dr. Roy Nirschel

Thirty years experience as an educator; international traveler, occasional writer, on a personal journey. Author of My Seasons in Saigon (available at Upon the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States I promised to go to Mexico; I did! Carol and I are here now. In the spirit of full disclosure, I promised to go to Mexico if Hillary Clinton was elected president too. The Seasons in Saigon are over; I am uncertain about Vietnam for many reasons despite my love for the country. Now it is Mexico time.

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