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Every day is different

Posts from the ‘vietnam’ category

The city is always on the move

City workshop, Ha Noi 2007

Lungo Kim Ma il traffico è sempre intenso. Un flusso constance to automobili, motorini, furgoni, e qualche bicicletta. Questa città è sempre in movimento. Milioni di veicoli che ogni giorno percorrono i boulevard, le strade, i vicoli. Sette giorni su sette. Dove vanno? Cosa trasportano? Come si muoveranno quando la popolazione di Ha Noi sarà doppia di quella di adesso?

Along Kim Ma the traffic is always intense. A constance to cars, mopeds, vans, and a few bikes. This city is always on the move. Millions of vehicles that travel the boulevards, streets and alleys every day. Seven days out of seven. Where are they going? What do they carry? How will they move when the population of Ha Noi will double?

One photo a day


Ceramic artisan, near Ha Noi 2007

Il laboratorio era molto piccolo. Un sottile strato di polvere di ceramica copriva il pavimento. L’aria era immobile. Il rumore elettrico della ruota sulla quale gli artigiani davano forma all’argilla la quale, una volta terminata la fase di cottura, si trasforma in ceramica.

The lab was very small. A thin layer of ceramic powder covered the floor. The air was still. The electrical noise of the wheel on which the artisans gave shape to the clay which, once the cooking phase finishes, turns into ceramic.

One photo a day

The balcony

The balcony, Ha Noi 2008

Vivevamo vicino al vecchio compound diplomatico di Ha Noi. La sera mi piaceva uscire di casa appena prima di cena e andare a correre tra questi edifici a tre o quattro piani costruiti negli anni 60 e 70. Mi piaceva osservare le facciate di questi condomini. La luce della sera dalle finestre. I balconi degli appartamenti. Le famiglie che si apprestavano alla cena.

We lived near the old Ha Noi diplomatic compound. In the evening I liked leaving the house just before dinner and going for a run between these three and four-story buildings built in the 60s and 70s. I liked to look at the facades of these buildings. Evening lights from the windows. The balconies of the apartments. The families that were preparing for dinner.

One photo a day

The old flag

Somewhere in rural Vietnam, 2019

Il paese era silenzioso. Gli uomini e le donne forse erano nei campi per la raccolta del riso. Camminavo senza una meta precisa lungo vicoli e piccole vie traverse nelle quali poteva la massimo passare un motocicletta. La bandiera sembrava che fosse stata lì per anni. Il rosso e giallo erano stati sbiaditi dal passare del tempo.

The village was silent. The men and women were perhaps in the fields for harvesting rice. I walked without a precise destination along narrow streets in which only a motorcycle could pass. The flag looked like it had been there for years. Red and yellow had been washed away over time.

One photo a day


Market in North Vietnam, Sapa 2007

Ricordo che era Dicembre e che era un giorno di pioggia. Una pioggia fine che non si decideva a trasformarsi in nebbia. La città di Sapa era avvolta nelle nuvole invernali. Il cielo era grigio ma nelle strade c’erano i colori del mercato pomeridiano. Un uomo controllava una rete da pesca da usare in uno dei piccoli laghi della zona. Sua figlia gli stava vicino e osservava le persone che camminavano lungo la per strada.

I remember it was December and it was a rainy day. A fine rain that could not be turned into fog. The city of Sapa was wrapped in winter clouds. The sky was gray but in the streets there were the colors of the afternoon market. A man controlled a fishing net to use in one of the small lakes in the area. His daughter stood by him and watched the people walking along the street.

One photo a day

In the province

Vietnam 2008

It was a rainy day. Gray clouds throughout the bus ride to the Southern province. It did not matter how far we left Ha Noi behind, the weather was not getting any better. At the same time, when we go there, there was this peaceful atmosphere typical of the provinces. Less motorbikes and cars in the streets. Just few bicycles and few people walking in the streets.

One photo a day

Street view barber shop

I am in Doi Can, the street that goes from Lieu Giai to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. If is later afternoon. People are rushing out from their offices to go home. The street gets busy. I am sitting on a typical narrow plastic chair. Knees above the waist line. Motorbikes parked one the sidewalk, pushing people to walk on the street. Shops accompany this busy and lively street up to the mausoleum. Lights are being switched.

I have to wait my turn here at the barber shop I used to come when I was living not far form here, in Lang Thuy Dien.  I want to test the number of motorbikes. This is not yet full swing rush hour and the traffic is relatively fluid. In an hour or so, it will get completely stuck with the street unable to cope with the amount of motorbikes.

I start my stop watch. In one minute 56 motorbikes pass in front of me in the direction of the mausoleum. If I take this as an average number and double it for the two directions it makes 112 motorbikes that have passed in front of me in just one minutes, almost two every second.

It is my turn. I explain with gestures that I want my beard trimmed with the N.1 in shaving in the hair trimmer. I relax. The barber shop looks directly on the road. No glass door.  It is 3 m* 3m and has just one red barber chair. No sink. The water is take from a microscopic bathroom under the stair that leads up to the mezzanine where the barber (whose name I do not know0 lives with his young wife). He wears a surgeon mask and works very fast but with precision. I look around and see various photos glued at the top of the large mirror. Their colours fading into the past. In one of them a young boy is sitting on this very chair having his hairs trimmed. A barber stands next to him and look at the camera, while holding scissors over the head of the boys as if he would have been take by surprise.  This barber could have been that boy and this could have been his father barber shop. The shop and skills transferred to a new generation as time would be immutable while indeed it produces a lot of changes, like the motorbike stream that cna be observed form this street view barber shop.

Back in Ha Noi

Let’s see if I manage to keep a diary of my stay in Ha Noi this time. It is the very first time I am here and will not do work for the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. It seems to me a sign of the passing of time, as well as the new route that the taxi took frorm Noi Bai airport to the hotel where I stay, the Horison.  It took a narrow road along the West Lake which looked like a shortcut but was very congested with motorbike traffic.

My luggage is still in Honk Kong and it was funny to fill three different forms at the Lost&Found desk and the be approached by a staff who took a thick pile of green 100.000 Dong notes from his the inner pocket of his jacket and told me in a almost conspirator whisper: ‘Vietnam Airlines give you 600.000Dong and very sorry for making you trouble.’

I asked him if the money was his or from the company and he assured me that was the company money.

I have now been in this hotel maybe 10 times. So I get always a nice welcome form the staff who recognizes me (and vice versa). I am at the 8th floor, have a nice view of the night over Ha Noi, listen music of Adrien Aubrun.

At dinner read of the measures take by the government for securing the safety of the boats in Halong Bay, read that inflation is at a worring 12.5%, devaluation has made life more expensive, a new and very criticised tourism slogan and log have been selected: Vietnam the Different Orient. Different how? From what? Orient or Asia?

Home, no home

“Welcome,Sir”. “Good evening,Sir”. I take a deep breath. End of today’s trip. I am home. But is it home? No, but these greetings are reassuring and familiar by now. They remind me of the country where I live now when I enter the lobby of the Marriot airport hotel in Manila. I recognise some of the staff as I have been here a few times now. Always arriving in the evening and leaving very early in the morning to catch the flight to Dumaguete. Yes, maybe this is a kind of home with its a/c controlled temperature, background music, people sitting at the bar sipping a beer, the studied politeness results of trainings of the staff of these high end hotels. Yet, there is something typical Filipino in the way the staff seem to take their job. Artificial or not, who cares, it is just good to be here and on the way home. Still, a faint inner voice voice tells me that I am just fooling myself. I do not belong to places like this. I am not the one for marble floors hotel’ lobby and lounge bars. A quick check and I cannot decide whether that voice is from the old me who once was backpacking and sleeping in hostels and who is trying to tell me that too much time has passed since the last REAL trip. Or the other hand it may be a much deeper voice, a me which has  been shaped by events, words, character traits that along generations have reached me through genes and various types of influence. A deep rooted imprint of feeling less than others. I ask myself if the lady queuing at the reception desk next to me and who seems completely at easy with the atmosphere of this lobby has these thoughts as well. Her name maybe Mari An, born in Puerto Princesa, got good grades in school while her parents wanted her to start working in the family tailor shop. One brother and an older sister had done so. But she did not give up, git a scholarship, went to collage, had some boy friends but did not make herself distract by a love story. Finished among the top 5 of her management course and is now working and travelling for Unilever. I guess she feels she deserves this hotel and her status in society. “Checking in, Sir?”, the voice of the pretty young lady at the reception counter brings me back to the business: passport, credit card, signature, wi-fi code, key cards, thank you smiles.

I climb up to the fourth floor with the large elevator. A bellboy of the hotel is with me. In his twenties, pushing the cart with my two pieces of luggage. “From where did you come today, Sir?” “Saigon, from Saigon” “That is in Vietnam, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is.” We exit the elevator and walk long corridors, dim lights, soft carpet that absorbs the footsteps, an endless number of wooden doors. Some have the ‘Do not disturb’ sign hanging from the knob. As it is still quite early I imagine adventures and passion erupting behind those doors. “How is Saigon?” As I hear his question, my mind goes to the perpendicular streets junctions nearby the hotel where I stayed, the incessant flow of motorbikes, the gate of the Reunification palace, the catholic cathedral, the opera house, the Japanese K Cafe where I ate dinner. “Saigon is busy”, I say, aware that my answer is a poor translation of the images that are in my mind. So I try in another way. “How many people live in Manila?”, I ask. “Maybe 10 million”, he answers. “Saigon has 7 million and probably 5 million motorbikes. Try to imagine Manila full of motorbikes instead of cars. That is how Saigon is.” He pause as if would be imagining a different Manila, maybe seeing himself riding a motorbike instead of jumping on a Jeepney on the way to his small flat in Quezon City. We reach the room. He opens the door and takes the bags inside. I walk in, see the bed with its pillows and the Asian silk fabric with its soft colour rest on the white bed sheets. The room looks exactly like the book I am reading, Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport. A Heathrow Diary. The same bed. The Same glass desk. The same halogen lamps. The same contemporary modern design. Alain de Botton (whom, I admit, has inspired the style lf this blog) stayed in his week as resident writer at Heathrow stayed the Sofitel next to T5. Similar hotel, similar airport atmosphere. For a moment my mind travel to London where I will be next week. Do not know the name of the bellboy, but I wonder whether his mind is in the street to of Saigon, trying to imagine how they are.

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