Even though it was a week-long working trip to Ho Chi Minh city, I spent no more than approximately 7 hours over 3 days to photograph its people, culture, livelihood and socio-economic environment. If I have to sum up my experience of this bustling city, I’d have to say, it’s all about navigating through a throng of motorists on two-wheelers. The traffic is just horrendous! Of course, the beef noodle soup is simply delicious too.
I started off by spending some time lingering around Ben Thanh market. As with any new places, being in a foreign land truly heightens your senses. The sight, smell and sound of peddlers hawking their goods were constantly raising my curiosity. Traffic warden, tourists police, trishaw men, locals with conical hats; they were all interesting.
I started picking off the people around me, one by one. I had to blend in at a street corner long enough to be invisible. I caught this woman yawning as she steered her bicycle on a busy street.
This guy was just taking a break on his bike while he watched the flurry of activities around him.
I never thought observing someone crossing a busy street was this interesting and exciting. It was remarkable she managed to manoeuvre her way to safety.
I had dinner at Pho 2000, the beef noodle restaurant made famous by former US President Bill Clinton’s visit back in Nov 19, 2000. This was the view from outside the restaurant’s main entrance, at a busy intersection just right across Ben Thanh market.
After awhile, I caught a local pulling over, as he nonchalantly got down before getting back on to light up. I supposed the whirl of activities and crazy traffic around us help fed his distant hungry gaze.
Two days later, I was walking to the General Post Office, when I saw a lady by the road selling what appeared to be mangoes and some other fruits. She was unusually friendly and warm, unlike my previous encounters with the locals. I donned a curious stare and quickly engaged her in an exploratory conversation; i.e. what was she selling? how much were they? This kept her relaxed, instead of feeling like a caged bird being prodded by curious onlookers. Of course, I asked first if I could take pictures.
I went into the general post office and was totally blown away by its pre-war circa 50s era interior architecture with a Gothic style. I’m no architectural or historical whiz, but the intricate domed ceiling, columns, tiles and fixtures looked classical and ornate. A little research revealed that the building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century. It’s truly a well restored and maintained building.
At the end of the large hall was a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. I noticed one of the counter staffs was talking and laughing away. The glory of a long-gone but not forgotten leader and the vigour and hope of a new generation of Vietnamese people. I can’t depict this any better.
Traffic in Vietnam is chaotic at best, or nightmarish at worse.
Exploring Ho Chi Minh city’s residential streets and their quaint back alleys had been a laid-back, unique and adventurous experience.
I wandered through a maze of narrow paths, driven along by the sound of chatter, a dog’s barking, blaring TV, lounging tourists at B&Bs or the occasional laughter and cries of children.
Eventually, the path broke out into an open busy street, filled with bars, shops and restaurants. I picked a spot outside a bar and leaned on a street lamp, while observing the activities around me. Soon enough, a motorcycle pulled over just right into my 70mm zoom range. The young man got off, revealing his elderly passenger with a conical hat.
She looked calmed and relaxed as she waited patiently for him to return. I had to admit that she looked cool on the bike, as though she was the rider. On second thoughts, her backdrop was the iconic Bitexco Financial Tower. It then clicked! Two worlds apart, indeed.
I opened up at f/2.8, 1/40 sec at ISO800 (not ideal but necessary then). I was very pleased with this little takeaway piece of Vietnam with me.