Archiv für den Monat: Dezember 2012

„Hô-Chi-Minh-Stadt“

Even though, there is – I guess – no obvious relation between me and Hô-Chi-Minh-City, there was something like a connection always. The story is maybe a bit strange but despite that… or even because of that everything ends with a fulfilled childhood-wish.

Sleepy Mario dreamin' of a better world

Sleepy Mario dreamin‘ of a better world

During Elementary School Geography was one of my favourite subjects. Not because it was so interesting or I was so good. Because it was so boring.

Great, now we have to wired things that don’t fit together, so its time to make the link.

karte_vietnamMaybe it was because I am an only-child but I had always and have a lot of fantasy. So during the time the teacher was explaining things I already knew or I was not interested in I looked through the atlas lying on my desk. Those maps were fascinating me and I tried to imagine, how those faraway places might look like. There was China, which I knew from TV, there were the mountains of Central Asia and there was… In the right bottom a place called “Hô-Chi-Minh-Stadt”. Yes, it had “Stadt” (German for “city”) as suffix.

There were places like Phnom Penh, Bankok, Jakarta, Manila and Tokio which sounded strange to me – and there was a city which had a German word. This made it to the most fascinating place in whole Asia. How might it look like? There were no pictures in the book, but for which purpose does an eight-year-old need pictures? I had imagination and started to “build” the town how it might look like.

Real or just a dream...?

Real or just a dream…?

I had no idea who Hô Chi Minh was of course, for me it just belonged to the name of this “Stadt” and the strange tone of this name which went – not like in the German language – always up and down gave it also its shapes.

Up and down, like it sounds

Up and down, like it sounds

Anywhen… it was probably the hundredth of the “einschläfernden” lessons I promised myself… I am going to see this place! Whatever comes – I am going to see “Hô-Chi-Minh-Stadt”.

Time passed on. Geography disappeared from my time table and so there was less time to imagine foreign places. I graduated from college, started to work and stopped working to travel whenever it was possible and did neither think of my dream and my promise any more.

It occurred one teacher once told us, the name is not “Hô-Chi-Minh-City” but Saigon and its a horrible place but I rejected this opinion. For me it was still Hô-Chi-Minh-Stadt and the most interesting place in Asia.

Then in 2012 my duties brought me to Cambodia and further to Vietnam. Through the borders, the Muslim-inhabited areas and the Mekong-Delta and suddenly I found myself in…

Hô Chi Minh City.

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Like in most of the cities I visited I was wandering around, some sightseeing, meet some new friends, eat what the locals eat and didn’t think much about it. But suddenly, one night as I couldn’t sleep I remembered. I started to remember what I thought of this place and I recognized that – by mistake! – I fulfilled one of my biggest promises to myself.

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 This was my story…

The story of the city is alternating and so is the place itself. I kept it calling “Hô-Chi-Minh-City” when talking to foreigners and once a friend of mine from South Vietnam told me, I shouldn’t call it like that. I should call it Saigon, the south isn’t communistic as the north. But… I guess I have my own story.

_DSC0814It used to be the capital of South Vietnam before the American War or -like we say in the west- Vietnam War. During those times there wasn’t just one Vietnam, there were two: The communistic north and the capitalistic south (which was a dictatorship), but they had the same President: Hô Chi Minh.

Now there is one united Vietnam and the capital is Hanoi in the north, but still you have he feeling Saigon is still a capital. It’s crowded. Lots of people! It’s loud. The city is busy and never sleeps and there are people working everywhere and always.

A city that surprises you always. Sometimes with small things as well...

A city that surprises you always. Sometimes with small things as well…

If you are a photographer and want to catch an image of its soul. You would have to spend probably one year or even more there to catch every place, every house, every pagoda, every church and every market.

Every day. Moving from the north to the south, from the east to the west. Not a break for even one day. The city and its people never rest. You’d probably miss something. In the end – you’d still haven’t got everything. One year’s over, you weren’t able to finish your work… And still:

The year wouldn’t be wasted.

There are things in this place you can’t even imagine.

Just as I thought I’ve checked out the biggest part of it I recognized how little I’ve seen and how much there’s still outside.

_DSC1056_miniCould I say, this place is like a dream? Maybe. So often I had the feeling the things which exist here can’t be real. Then the hot, Vietnamese sun and the polluted air let everything look like a dream.

I didn’t have one year. I had some weeks and I didn’t have any knowledge in Vietnamese, this crazy language.

Just once in my life I can remember I thought:”Photography is not enough to catch everything”, this was while I was riding my motorcycle through the valley before Bosanska Krupa in Bosnia. In Saigon I had that feeling always, not just for a moment.

Mostly it surprised me what the folks ate here. Can you picture „taste“?

You can’t photograph the sound as well. People are honking here all the time. Some vendors go through the streets and shout all the time what they sell. Can you picture that?

I tried to use all the technologies I knew of and which made sense.

_DSC0037_miniStrangely – I was kind of right with my fantasy: I imagined the city I guess mostly with one factor: The tones. I think, Vietnamese people can’t say even one sentence without running the scale up and down. The name Hô Chi Minh sounds even without those specified tones like an up and down and so did the city in my imagination… and so does the city in real! Almost no house has the same size and height of its neighbour. The architecture can be completely different between them! On the one side you’ll see a relict from French colonialism, on the other side the Chinese influence comes through and somewhere else is a stalinistic-bauhaus-styled housing block.

How can one human being catch all that flair and that atmosphere?

I’d say with passion, trying and a lot of patience.

In Austria teacher tried to bore me to death... Here the drives try to kill me...

In Austria teacher tried to bore me to death… Here the drives try to kill me…

I want to end this chapter with another episode of my vietnamo-austrian memories. At the same time I was almost bored to death in school at home I was among the first generation which could survive the biggest adventures at home. We had (like probably everyone) a Game Boy at home and I was playing “Super Mario Land” (which was probably named after me and my adventures). There were a couple of levels which should have reminded the player of China. Strangely… it didn’t really made any association to China for me – in my case the association led to Vietnam.

I made two Stopmotion-Videos here and was looking for a nice background music. There aren’t many good Vietnamese songs I knew, so I used the first melody which brought me to Vietnam… I guess you know already…

Nowadays as I think about it it might be the melody in the background which went up and down like the tones in the Vietnamese Language.

pn92_miniAnother target accomplished. Now I’m heading up to the north, to the Towers of Hanoi…

I have no idea how everything will look there. The people are going to be quite different there: Saigon has only two „seasons“: Raining/Not Raining. While Ha Noi has four.

But nevertheless I have to add one thing: There aren’t many cities in the world which I miss. But I guess Hô Chi Minh Stadt will belong in future to my list. Maybe because of the story behind it. Maybe because of the friends I found there. Maybe because of the fact there are still hundreds and thousands of things I haven’t seen there yet.

Or maybe because all of those.

Whatever awaits me next – I left the city and tried to keep some of its spirit.

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A Phnom Penh Special

I really liked Phnom Penh. Cambodia brought me some troubles but the capital was completely different. Sometimes like France, sometimes like Israel and sometimes like Cambodia.

The guy at the reception of my hotel wasn’t really able to tell me what parts of the city would be interesting to see, so I just looked on the map and started to think on my own, letting the useless travel guide at home as well.

Phnom Penh at night

Phnom Penh at night

There is a stream bifurcation in Phnom Penh, where the mighty Mekong and the Tonle-Sap-River come together. And like always in such places you’ll get something like an island in the middle. One night I walked from the center of the city where my hotel was to the only bridge on the side of the Tonle-Sap-River which was pretty far away and almost took me one hour.

The island itself was strange. I wasn’t sure what people planned to accomplish here. In the beginning we had some nissen huts where a man made a fire for no reason, in the middle there were some discos and at the edge there were only things in construction.

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After a while strolling around I climbed up a fence and was unsure if I should be here. The panorama to the inner city was amazing from here and as I landed onto the cold sand took this opportunity to do what for I’m here: Taking pictures.

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A crazy investor set up a hotel there. I have no idea about its purpose. The city’s away about two hours walking distance! But nevermind…

 

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It was a beautiful night. Unfortunately it was also my last night here…

And suddenly… Noodles

When I used to live in Poland I started to make my own noodles. Not because the Polish noodles were bad… no, they were pretty much the same like everywhere in Europe (globalisation rulez!) but for the sake of interest if there would be a difference.

Indeed. Even though I used a very simple recipe the tast was awesome and I kept on doing that.

As I reached SE-Asia I stopped more or less to cook on my own. For one Dollar you get a regular lunch and whatever you pay more won’t change that much. I guess for me as a single person it would be more expensive to cook.

In Phnom Penh I walked by a small noodle-restaurant with a pretty motivated cook. In front of us he started to make his own noodles.

I was impressed. He must have had done that for a hundred times to get trained like that. He swung the noodles through the air and just extended them or rolled them.

An American tourist tried his luck doing the same thing… and failed. I ordered what the real Maestro created for us and the taste was great. The price of 5$ per portion was not too cheap but it was worth it.

The next day I captured the whole process from starting just with doe…

Then the chef rocked and rolled it, squeezed it on his table and brought it to a new form of „life“.

I guess the trick behind all that… bringing in as much customers as possible is to use as much „air“ as he can. Throw them draw them and be an „eye-catcher“. But he impressed me.

It’s possible to recognize the process of the doe. How it starts as „just doe“ and becomes more smooth and cooperative. He just had to torture it a bit…

And in the moment it almost rolls itself its time for the big finalé!

It is done enough to form more and more strings… by forming them longer and more, they get thinner and thinner. You have to think twice about what happened… Suddenly… noodles!

I was impressed how fast he cooked them. When I made my own pasta it took much longer than the instant ones. But he? Here they were done within seconds!

The same thing with the chicken. Also he cooked the salad some seconds… Maybe due to a lack of healthy water to wash they just disinfect everything with the water for the next noodles.

In the end they put some more soup to it and – é voila! The meal is done…

The Soul Of Phnom Pehn

I remember very well when I heard about Phnom Penh for the first time.

It was a couple of days before I left to Siem Reap. My former director told me how much nicer Siem Reap would be. Siem Reap is so green and the people are friendly there. Also its not so busy as Phnom Penh.

Of course I took that for cash. I haven’t been in any of those places yet. How could I figure out anything? I had a lot of time to read and write until I reached Siem Reap. And it surprised me a a bit. Siem Reap was probably the second worst place I’ve ever been (the worst place was Poi Pet).

You can’t walk a hundred meters without being asked if you want a Tuk-Tuk (Motortaxi), a useless souvenir, a prostitute or giving someone some money. There are hardly more than three real streets in the city. Most ways are just sandy routes to get to more remote markets or houses.

They have a river and on some places beneath the river there are trees. This is the only „green“ you find in Siem Reap…

I thought by myself… how much worse mus Phnom Penh be!!

But I gained some hope as I red Phnom Penh used to be the best place to live in Asia before the Cambodian Civil War (which was in the 70s) and now the municipality tries to get the feelings from then back. So it was worth a try to go there.

As always in Cambodia the bus station you arrive at was located anywhere in the nowhere. I guess this is mostly to keep people employed. According to Khmer-Logic all foreigners are rich, so if they are far away enough from the city they will pay some Tuk-Tuks to get back to the city. I hate to play that game but it was too far to walk, so I shared a Tuk-Tuk with some friends and we went from one part of the city to the other one.

Before our driver started his motorcycle he warned us: Be careful with your belongings! There might be some theft during the ride!
Good start so far!

Nothing happened. But I was impressed by the buildings of Phnom Penh. It occurred to me this was a very nice place. MUCH cleaner than Siem Reap. We crossed on our way different sights like the Independence Monument and it was great the city surprised me in such a good way.

We stayed at a hotel close to the King’s Palace and the Silver Pagoda.

Those places were full of people. Not tourists – the beloved King Norodom Sihanouk died just a couple of days ago. He was the one who tried to lead his country through such difficult times as the Vietnam-War/Secret War of the Americans, Khmer Rouge Regime and the following civil war. An impressive person in any perspective. I wish I had known him…

More and more this city reminded me of Israel. Maybe… not Israel in this universe. Maybe like Israel in a Parallel Universe where things went a bit different. Where Israel were built up by the French and was inhabited by Asians.

I liked Phnom Penh.

„Phnom“ means „Hill“ in Khmer. Penh was the name of an elderly lady who found some Buddha-Statues floating in the river. She got them out, built a Pagoda on a hill for them and the people started to worship them. This is how „Penh’s Hill“ was founded. The Padoda is still there and I took a walk into it.
I expected more… especially more tourists. But Phnom Penh isn’t a very tourist place… Behind the Pagoda I found the first park in Cambodia I’ve seen since I’m here. Some people slept on the benches, some other played with their children and one of the grannies here sold some home-made sweets to me.

Even though Phnom Penh is more busy than Siem Reap you don’t really feel it. Especially not in the parks.

People are more friendly here. Or… maybe just less commercial than in Siem Reap. Siem Reap has (except Angkor) nothing really interesting, so that’s probably the reason why foreigners are getting ripped off as good as possible during they’re in the city.
Phnom Penh was very different to that. You can walk on the streets without being bothered by vendors who want to sell you something. You can walk on the streets with just enjoying you’re here and try to understand people and culture.

I liked the city at night. This doesn’t mean I’m partying always… It means I love to walk around during the night and try to discover everything. Cities here in Asia have more than just one face.

A friend of mine asked me how cats part their territory when there’s too little space. The answer is fascinating and simple: Two cats can share an area and separate it by day and nighttime. So basically Asians are cats. On one and the same place you can see different things during the day and during the night…

I prefer these cities during the dark. Sometimes you see things you might not see when everybody could come and have a look… Sometimes its just „little“ things like food: