Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Hanoi street portraits 5.1

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The first few pictures from the fifth, and probably final, wave of my occasional Hanoi street portraits series. These were all taken in September this year.

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Narrow neighbourhoods (III)

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In my last few weeks before leaving Hanoi in September, I had lots of grand plans about various photography projects I would start or revive as a way of saying farewell to a city that had been my home for so long. Most of these never really got started. Turns out that there are quite a lot of other things you have to think about when you have less than a month to pack up your life and move to a new country. So, as always, there are a lot of pictures left untaken. I particularly regret not making it back to the Red River brick factories that were a fleeting obsession of mine this time last year. But I did spend some time wandering up and down the thin stretch of lanes and alleyways in between the dyke road and the river that I think of as the narrow neighbourhoods, and which I featured on this site in April last year. This is one of my favourite photo walks in Hanoi, a busy but not overcrowded stretch that offers countless little slices of everyday Hanoi life.

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Butchers of Ha Giang City

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Ha Giang City was the start and end point of my motorbike trip through the province of the same name in April/May this year. The city wouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s list as a destination in itself, but on both of my visits, I’ve enjoyed a final motorbike-free day wandering around the city, ruminating on the trip just completed. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think that the urban side of this largely rural, mountainous province is sometimes overlooked, so I thought I’d share a few pictures from the city, specifically the market. I┬ácan never resist a good market, as you may have noticed.

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Urban Ha Giang

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Most of the pictures we see from Vietnam’s Ha Giang province focus on rural life: landscapes, markets, villages, people from ethnic minorities in traditional costume. Nothing wrong with that, of course; I’ve taken plenty of those pictures myself, and posted them here.

But what about the urban life of the province? Dong Van, Meo Vac, Yen Minh and Ha Giang City may not be the most vibrant locations – nobody goes there for the nightlife – but there’s plenty of interest in the everyday life of these unassuming, low key towns. Travelling through the province in the autumn of last year and the spring of this, I became fascinated by urban Ha Giang: the banh cuon joints, the cafes and tea stands, the meat and vegetable markets, the games of checkers and volleyball, the windows and doorways, all the little things that make up the lives of these highland towns.

I think these towns are more than just places to spend the night before speeding off on the next leg of the loop. They are surrounded by mountains and karsts but, overlooked by breathtaking scenery, daily life goes on as normal. I suppose even the most beautiful surroundings can become mundane if you see them every day.

Of course, you can’t completely ignore the rural element in this part of the country, even in the towns. There’s no dividing line; the rural and the urban blend into each other. Walking down the streets of Dong Van or Yen Minh, you can catch glimpses of the surrounding countryside through gaps between the buildings where houses are being knocked down or built up. Dong Van is a town surrounded by mountains and sheltering a basin of rice fields. People from Vietnam’s numerous ethnic minorities are in the majority here.

These pictures were all taken in Dong Van, Meo Vac, Yen Minh and Ha Giang in April and May of this year.

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Odds & ends | Pasar Beringharjo (IV)

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This is the final set of pictures from my trip to Indonesia earlier this year. The trip actually ended about four months ago, but it’s taken me a long time to sort through, process and publish the pictures. In my defence, I’ve had other things to think about, like packing up my life and moving to a new country. The month-long trip began in the megacity of Jakarta, on the island of Java, after which I went on to the much more laid-back cities of Jogja and Solo, taking in the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan along the way, before heading on to Bromo and Ijen in the volcanic east. Finally, I spent a relaxing week in and around Ubud, on the island of Bali. Despite all this travelling, there’s so much of Indonesia that I didn’t see; I would have liked to have visited the Gili Islands and Borneo, but even with a month to spend, there just wan’t enough time. But I don’t really have any regrets about not getting everywhere. I tend to travel quite slowly. My thinking is always that I’d rather spend more time in fewer places than travel through lots of places in a rush. Even with my relatively limited itinerary of just Java and Bali, I experienced a huge variety of sights, landscapes, cultures, food, architecture and sensations.

Although I visited Jogja near the beginning of the trip, I saved these pictures until last, as it was one of my favourite places. While the volcanoes of Bromo and Ijen were quite challenging locations for me as a photographer, Jogja offered me plenty of chances to do what I like best, photograph people in their everyday lives, on the streets and in the markets. It’s good to step outside of your comfort zone sometimes, and I’m certainly glad to have visited those volcanic areas in east Java, but there’s also something to be said for sticking to what you’re good at (and hopefully getting better at it). So here are a dozen more pictures from Pasar Beringharjo, Jogja’s central market.

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You are cordially invited to join me on Instagram.

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Nuts & things | Pasar Beringharjo (III)

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My trip to Indonesia included visits to live volcanoes and ancient temples, but I think I took more pictures in this market in Jogja than anywhere else. In this series, you will find fruit, nuts, chillies and curious-looking sweets (at least I think they’re sweets in the last few pictures; someone please correct me if I’m wrong).

[On another note, I’ve now been living in Yangon for just over three weeks. It’s been a busy time, what with starting work, finding a place to live and generally getting my bearings. I’ll no doubt write a lot more about Yangon at a later date, but for now, I’ll just say that life here here is shaping up nicely, and the whole settling in process has gone remarkably smoothly. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures too, in between teaching and apartment-hunting, but I’m not going to post any here just yet, as I still have a bit of a backlog to clear from earlier in the year; these Indonesia pictures were taken back in May and June. I’m not even allowing myself to look at the pictures I’ve taken in Yangon yet; they’re hidden away in a dark corner of my hard drive, away from my Lightroom library. But if you’re interested in a visual comparison of Yangon and Hanoi, the homepage of this site is currently showing a slideshow of pictures from the two cities. These are the photographs that were included in the Hanoi/Yangon exhibition I had this time last year (Hanoi is in black and white, Yangon in colour).]

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Fabric | Pasar Beringharjo (II)

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Pasar Beringharjo – in Jogja, Java – is one of those big, sprawling south-east Asian urban markets that seem to sell almost everything. This post focuses on the ladies – and occasional rogue gentleman – selling fabric, dresses, shirts, bags and headscarves.

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Onions & garlic | Pasar Beringharjo

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There’s something about markets in south-east Asia. I just love taking photographs in them. Pasar Beringharjo, the central market in Jogja, on the island of Java, is now one of my favourites. There’s a lot more available there than just onions and garlic, but the clothes and fruit and veg and nuts and bolts and bits and bobs will just have to wait for later posts.

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Streets of Jogja

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Yogyakarta, Jogja to its friends, was a breath of fresh air – literally – after Jakarta. While Indonesia’s capital, as previously noted, is a massive, incomprehensible metropolis, Jogja is a friendly, laid-back city, more notable for its atmosphere than its sights, but easy to walk around and with an unhurried, familial vibe that I really liked. My visit coincided with the Ramadan fasting month, so the streets were perhaps less busy during the day than they would be normally, but there was still plenty going on and lots of pictures to take.

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