Travels in Vietnam (1996) 1/14


 Cholon (Chinese quarter) of
Saigon. Looks like a scene
from a movie set..

Typical street scene. 
Few cars. Not even buses.
The motorbike and cyclo are
masters of the road.

Bridge in Cholon. A peddlar 
tries to make a few dong. 

Backyard scene in a Cholon
shanty town.

Saigon riverside. Whose law
in this urban jungle?

Undercover food market in
central Saigon (Ho Chi Minh
More market & street life 
Market stalls. Note the figure
in the foreground. Poverty
has kept Vietnam more
traditionally "Asian" than
many of its neighbours
Photography copyrighted to Thor May 2002; all rights reserved
These 107 photographs were taken during a five week trip through Vietnam (also Phnom Penh in Cambodia) in February 1996. The original prints were of much better quality - problems of contrast and resolution in the scans will be obvious to discerning viewers, but hopefully the results are still of interest. (I foolishly tried to scan several prints at once, to save time).
Vietnam is an extremely photogenic country, with quite striking coastlines. Even the slums have a movie set quality (except, no doubt, for those who have to live in them). I wouldn't be human not to notice also that there seem to be more beauty queens per kilometer in Vietnam than in any other country I have visited. And the cuisine, I think, is probably the best in Asia, full of fresh green things and bewitching aromas.
For me, the Vietnam trip was a long time coming. Starting in 1979, I had taught English to perhaps hundreds of Vietnamese "boat people" refugees in Australia, and especially in the early period, had quite close relationships with parts of these communities. It was natural to be curious about their origins. The visit confirmed earlier impressions of Vietnamese resilience and innovation. Also obvious were the spartan economic conditions (partly the result of American economic sanctions), the underlying corruption and lawlessness that comes from a struggle to survive, and ineffective, pig-headed government obstruction to efficient management.
For cultured English gentry in the 19th Century, a "grand tour" of Europe brought to life the paintings, the music, the history books and novels that had formed their early lives. There was some of this too in my trip to Vietnam.
By an accident of history, Vietnam plays a special part in the consciousness of Australians and Americans of my generation. For us as students, the Vietnam War was constantly in our minds as a kind of emblem of revolt. As a twenty-year old, my number was a on marble in a government lottery barrel to "fight the communists" in Vietnam. Luckily the number of some other patsy came up. Just as well too, for I was determined to refuse service. Like many of my compatriots, it wasn't that we liked Asian communist governments, but we deeply distrusted both the motives and the strategic wisdom of our own governments' wars with these regimes. We felt in fact that violent American opposition to nationalist movements in Vietnam (and earlier in China) had effectively entrenched the positions of hard line extremists in those societies. History, I think, has vindicated our judgement, but done nothing to lighten the losses of good men and women on both sides of the conflicts. 
Happy viewing, Thor
Busan, South Korea 2002

Vietnam (courtesy of Lonely Planet)