Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘vietnam’

Hanoi street portraits 5.3

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I’ve been working on the Hanoi street portraits project on and off since the beginning of 2015. The idea is a simple one: black and white headshot portraits of people I encountered on the streets near my (then) home in Hanoi. You can read more about how I approach these street portraits in this post from last year.

It was a project I returned to at regular intervals over the last couple of years, I think partly because I liked the restriction of having some self-imposed rules. With clearly-defined limits on composition and framing, I could concentrate on trying to capture character and mood.

I found the time to work on one probably final wave of the series in my last couple of weeks in Hanoi in September. This particular project may have come to an end, but don’t be surprised to find Yangon street portraits making an appearance on this site in the not too distant future.

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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 can 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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On leaving Hanoi

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I’ve lived in Hanoi for a long time. I’ve had two spells in the city, the first from the summer of 2008 until the end of 2010, and the second from the autumn of 2013 until now. And now my time here is coming to an end. In a couple of days’ time, I will be leaving Hanoi and moving to Yangon. I’m incredibly excited about the move. I took two trips to Myanmar in 2015, and the idea of one day living there lodged itself in my head fairly early in my visit. Having slowly marinated the idea in my brain for a couple of years, things suddenly started moving very quickly over the last month, as I found myself a new teaching job in Yangon and finally started making concrete plans. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I have a very positive feeling about this new start.

But I will miss Hanoi. It’s been my home for many years, and has shaped me in ways I probably won’t fully appreciate until more time has passed. I’ll miss my lunchtime bún chả or phở gà. I’ll miss my afternoon coffee by the lake. I’ll miss the friends, old and new, that I’ve made along the way. I’ll miss scooting about town on my Honda Wave. I’ll even miss the casual lunacy of the Hanoi traffic. But I won’t miss mouldy March.

I can’t even begin to fully describe Hanoi in words. It’s a truly unique place, and everyone who’s spent any time here has their own take on it. It’s not always an easy place to live, but for all its frustrations and imperfections, there’s something about this city that gets under a person’s skin.

Choosing the pictures to include in this post has been a difficult task. On another day, I would have made a different selection, but these are the pictures I’ve taken in Hanoi over the last few years that most seem to mean something to me today.

Things might be a bit scattered on this site over the next few weeks. I still have some more pictures from my trip to Indonesia to post, some more from Ha Giang that have been on the backburner for a while, and a few bits and pieces that I’ve shot in Hanoi over the last couple of weeks. And of course, I hope to be out and about shooting in Yangon as much as I can, and sharing some of my early impressions. There’s a lot I could write about what I’m looking forward to about life in Yangon, but for the rest of this post, I’m just going to wallow in photographic nostalgia.

Hẹn gặp lại, Hà Nội. See you again.

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Meo Vac market (part 3)

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This final set of pictures from Meo Vac market focuses on another aspect of this hectic, sprawling weekly gathering in the mountains of northern Vietnam: clothes and shoes. Just inside the covered area of the market, seamstresses and seamsters (if that’s a word) hunched over old pedal-operated sewing machines, making clothes to order from material bought at stalls nearby. Elsewhere, shoppers haggled over traditional skirts, knock-off jeans and plastic shoes.

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