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.
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.
Maybe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
Could 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.
Strangely – 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.
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.
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.