City of Ghosts
Migration, Work, and Value in the Life of a Ho Chi Minh City Saleswoman
Author: Robbie Peters
This article links motorbike use with the work and living conditions of young migrant women in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to highlight an example of the social and economic consequences of migration-assisted economic development in Southeast Asia. It traces a woman's life from her teenage years in the market of a small seaside town in Vietnam to her purchase of a motorbike, migration to HCMC, move into a rooming house, and work in a major department store as a cosmetics saleswoman. The reflections on urban life by the woman and her roommates lead the author to consider the notion that the condition of the unregistered and temporary migrant is like that of the unrequited wandering ghosts (co hon), which are said to invisibly roam the city's streets. While the author details the political economy of marginalization that situates the migrant saleswoman, he also shows how she struggles within it to constitute herself over time rather than in the present and to free herself from abstraction-producing social categories, both old and new.