Now in its 5th year in operation, the American Center under the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City sits on the 8th floor of Diamond Plaza, right behind two of the most iconic Sài Gòn landmarks: the Central Post Office and Nhà Thơ Đức Bà.
From the inside, one can glance over the cityscape, from Nhà Thờ Đức Bà right in the foreground to the Vincom Center and Bitexco in the background. It is here you can find young Vietnamese typing away in the library on big-screen computer monitors, some studying for the IELTS, others for their coursework.
The American Center has a special role in promoting cultural exchange. In the words of former Consul General Rena Bitter: “The purpose of the American Center is to be the place in Ho Chi Minh City where people can come to learn about American culture, practice their English, and receive free and unbiased advising about educational opportunities in America.”
Remodeled to its current layout in early 2015, the American Center is a fairly open space, with an entry lounge area where visitors can relax with a movie, a library which doubles as a computer room and a bigger conference hall reserved for events. The library at the Center is the main draw for me; while the selection pales in comparison to my local public library back home in the States, it nevertheless has a respectable set of books and reference materials, including a few items I would never expect to see in Việt Nam.
Anyone can sign-up for a membership card, which grants you book-borrowing privileges of up to 2 books at a time, for 2 weeks each. The Center is now equipped with 18 computers alongside 30 iPads for those who want to read eBooks or magazines.
The American Center also hosts a variety of cultural events in its 100+ person capacity conference hall. Mondays at the American Center host an English Club organized by a group of U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officers, where participants discuss current events, from the various shootings in the U.S. to LGBT rights.
Occasionally, book talks will be held at the Center. I had the pleasure of attending Professor Kimberly Kay Hoang’s talk on her latest manuscript Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work. In this work, Professor Hoang explores the inner workings of Sài Gòn’s sex industry and contextualizes it within global flows of capital. The Center also recently hosted Vietnamese American TV host Jeannie Mai’s talk entitled “How Do I Look?” on self-empowerment.
It’s events like these that make the American Center an interesting place to visit, so check out their calendar on Eventbrite (you have to book free tickets here) or Facebook to see if the Center is hosting something while you are in town.
Note: there is (usually) an ID check and thorough bag inspection so it is best to travel light and bring your passport/driver’s license. Access to the American Center is through the elevators at Diamond Plaza.