More transportation

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After a while, we get used to loads of different sizes to be transported by motorbike. Here are some more photos from transportation moments that caught our eye.

Rubbish and recycling materials (cans, plastic, cardboard, metals) are transported by bikes, cyclos and motorbikes.
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The load looks like it could fall any minute.
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So much easier with a motorized vehicle.
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Trash collection on the move. The woman sitting on top of the load sorts the plastics and cans into different bags inside and outside the little truck.

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This box was too big to fit in the back of our car, so it was transported by motorbike. Naturally, the driver got a ticket for a too wide transportation on the 2 km trip.
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Yes, I have all the tools and materials with me.
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This time plenty of tiny packages.
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Household appliances are transported by motorbike, like this fridge.
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He is a bit smarter, as he is just holding the fridge and not tied it around him.
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But I can deliver both the fridge and the TV with one ride.
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Even big home appliance stores use motorbike delivery. Atte looks a bit worried when our washing machine arrives on a motorbike and with just one guy, but he had the security guy help him carry the machine into the elevator.
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And colourful tire delivery.
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Everything that can’t be transported by car, is transported by motorbike. And only imagination (and the amount of ropes) limits the load on the motorbike. The real challenge is how they stay upright with their loads, as it is not very common to see a fallen load. Practice, I guess.

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Working styles and places

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Sometimes you wonder what the Vietnamese are thinking when they work in high places, usually a construction site, without any safety equipment. Or they may be wearing the helmet but nothing else.

These workers don’t seem to mind sitting and standing on the roof they are building.working2

The billboard frame was installed very fast, and these guys looked like little spiders in big web when they were working high up.
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This is a radio tower in downtown. These guys are wearing safety gear, so it is more about knowing what you are doing up there amongst the satellites, antennas and other stuff.
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This villa has come up very fast, and today we saw the workers starting to put the tiles on the roof. The three guys on the roof wear no safety gear, but don’t seem to have an issue with that.
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I asked to have my bicycle to be washed at a car and motorbike wash. The attendant repeated three times “bicycle” to make sure I wanted to have it washed. To them washing office chairs had nothing unusual, where as my bike clearly seemed to be a rarity or a novelty.
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First time in Vietnam, I see someone using masking tape. Had to take a photo of that. Most of the time, they just paint and then try to swipe the extra paint off.
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This is the second time this low partition is taken down (so far not built for the third time). I think ear or eye protection does not exist in this country.
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Love the other man standing on the barrel and watching the other one breaking the old wall surrounding the house. And ladies carry the bricks.
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Surprisingly the ticket girl is not sleeping between stops: she is cross-stitching when there are no passengers getting on. And no problems sitting cross-legged on those bus seats.
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Something that still takes getting used to: the sign for road work or hazard or closed lane is placed where the work or hazard starts. Why anticipate, when in this traffic nobody seems to look further than the next motorbike. These guys arrived at the dividing concrete blocks on one bike. They got off the bike and put up two cones (and the motorbike) as a sign for road work.
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Then they started painting the concrete block in the middle of the traffic.
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I was having my nails done, and it was quiet in the beauty salon. Two other staff watch videos and chat with friends at the hair washing area. They didn’t mind me seeing it .
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Asians are good at squatting, and it is a normal working posture. This guy was squatting for a long time sanding the table.
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Ergonomics is not heard of, at least amongst these people. Work safety is emphasized at bigger construction sites, but I am not sure if the workers understand the idea of work safety or if they wear the helmet and safety shoes only because they are told to or because they have received the gear for free.

Transportation – part 3

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After a while you get used to different kinds of loads going around on different kinds of vehicles. But there are still moments, when you can only admire the imagination and ability of people doing the loading and the driving.

Most of the food is transported on motorbikes, so why not eggs. One of the few occasions when other people gave room instead of the usual space of half an inch.
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Sometimes the loads are not that spectacular, but it’s more about the driver piling up so many things between his legs and arms that amazes you.
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How many boxes can you see in the photo?
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This old man doesn’t probably see too much from behind his foam pile.
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Mattresses are being delivered.
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Flower stands are used for birthdays, weddings, funerals, opening ceremonies, so it is a common sight to see a driver steering with one hand while holding the flower stand with the other hand.
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Who says you need a car to carry golf clubs?
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One guy steers and the other holds the cases and can see the traffic.
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Gas bottles are delivered by motorbike as well.
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I assume the bike is broken since he is not riding it. TP315

True love?
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It is common to see a family of four (two adults and two children) or three adults on a motorbike, but five persons is quite unusual.
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I guess when you almost learn to drive a motorbike before learning to walk, you are comfortable with all those different types of loads. When I go shopping, I have my backpack and two or three little bags of fruit on my handlebars. Not more 🙂

Any place is a good place to sleep

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Vietnamese are like other Asians: notorious for catching every opportunity to have a nap. Some of the usual sights are the motorbike taxis, guards or other people spending most of their day on the bike, having a nap.

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Napping safely in the shade.

And your helmet makes a nice pillow.
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Hammocks are a usual sight, and they can be hung everywhere.
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How handy is this hammock right next to your workplace (and work machinery)?
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Quite an unusual pose 🙂
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Buses are used by students. Some of them study in city but stay on a campus that is about an hour away, so they sleep the long trip to and from the Universities.

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In Vietnam, lunch hours last one hour. Usually workers eat quite fast, to enjoy the essential part of the lunch hour: the nap after the meal. There is even a word for sleeping after your lunch (“lunch rest”).

This is a legitimate sleep, so it is done also in the offices and on construction sites, amongst other places.

These guys work for a furniture and antique store, so there is a nice choice of planks and woods.
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Vietnamese are not that picky about where they nap, so right in the middle of the construction site is ok.
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Construction workers enjoy their lunch outside the construction site. Many sit on a piece of cardboard for lunch and then have a quick nap on that same piece of cardboard. Or like these guys, just use the scaffoldings.

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And when you nap in the park, you nap on the walkway, not on the soft grass.

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And they don’t mind the traffic or the busy downtown.

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The kids learn to sleep on the motorbike without problem. At least this boy has a safety belt.

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And he is one who should be awake..

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And even if in these pictures, it is mostly men, also women have the lunch nap, I just didn’t get any photo of them.
It is interesting to note that Vietnamese don’t need a mattress, pillow or blanket. They just lie down and start to sleep. That is a talent as well. Sweet dreams.

More old buildings gone

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There have been several newspaper and internet articles about old buildings being torn down in Saigon to make room for higher and better-yelding towers. There is no systematic preservation or conservation body in the city, so money talks and plenty of beautiful and culturally valuable buildings have been taken down and replaced by glass and steel, and many many floors.
On Friday, I read an article that had been published on Thursday about buildings on Le Loi street being soon torn down. I told Atte I want to go and take a couple of photos before the buildings are knocked down. We got there on Saturday afternoon, and already one of the buildings was in pieces.

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Saigon is way too often looking like this: old buildings in rubble and new ones rising higher and higher.

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Most tearing down happens manually, like here the men on top of what is left of the building.

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I luckily took this photo shortly after we arrived in 2014, so I have a nice souvenir of the cute buildings.

I guess in every country and most cities, at times some beautiful buildings have been torn down to make room for something more modern or more profitable. These buildings were not the most beautiful, but still an essential part of Saigon. It is sad to see them being destroyed at such a fast pace.

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Saigon Tax Trade Center (former Grands Magasins Charnier, a shopping mall) was open for two days after we landed in Saigon. The photo is taken before the demolition which has started in 2016. Some historically precious parts will (or should) be spared and reinstalled when the new 40-storey hotel opens in 2020.

 

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This building, or actually the whole block on Dong Khoi, belongs to the Army, and is said to be heading under wrecking ball.

There are plenty of buildings that have been torn down. Also the historic Ba Son shipyard was torn down to make room for 11 highrises. Many of the old buildings don’t have value, so they, or rather the land, has been sold to property developers.
But here are two examples that are still up and to my knowledge not on the list of buildings to be knocked down.

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Some old buildings have modern neighbouts.

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The Cafe Apartment, a building that houses several cafés and tea houses on Nguyen Hue.

In Da Hood 2

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This is another collection of small (or bigger) things I have noted while in District 1, closer to downtown and some on the way there.

There was a new Korean restaurant opening in the Parkson in District 2. The restaurant advertises itself as the “biggest buffet in the world”, so apparently you need plenty of flowers to celebrate the opening. Most of the texts were in Korean.
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There are many old trees in Saigon, and while some of them are moved away during construction, some of them are felled. These photos were taken when the branches had already been cut and the trunk was being lifted on the bed of the truck.
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And you always need at least as many observers as doers.
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Close by, there was an ATM being repaired. Many companies have uniforms, but this guy is squatting in ordinary clothes. He had taken many parts off the machine and placed them on the floor and on the steps. There is no air-con in most ATMs, so it is convenient to keep the door open. It just looks like he will put the parts into his backpack any minute.
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This a normal street restaurant serving pho, noodle soup. It is not a plastic chair place, as it has normal tables and human size (plastic) chairs. The meat is cut in the little trolley, broth and noodles added and the condiments taken to your table. Served with an iced green tea. This restaurant is run by a couple, it is quite busy, and by 1 pm they are usually out of food.
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The names of companies are sometimes funny, especially if it’s something that has very clearly been translated from English but not quite succeeding in it. This time the translation was correct (nam sao means five starts), but is was all the holes in the wall and the T barely hanging there.
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Some of the cobblers work on the street, at an unused bus stop or under a large umbrella. This guy on a street downtown was focusing on polishing the shoes and observing what was happening at the corner of the street. The price of the job is written on the sole of the shoe and you just describe your shoes when you pick them up.
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A couple of blocks away, the sidewalk is so packed with motorbikes, there isn’t even a chance to use the sidewalk. This is annoying for those Westerners who walk rather than ride motorbikes, as the street has quite a lot of traffic and you have to walk in the middle of the street.
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This umbrella was not used by a mobile phone sales person, but by a drinks vendor. Not quite the latest model.
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And when we are talking about the latest models of iPhone, Samsung or Nokia, this kind of stands can be seen on the road (this is Mai Chi Tho, the other road from District 2 into downtown). The ad promises “790 minutes network calls free, 79 minutes other calls free, and 790 MB high-speed 3G free”. Buy SIM and get Nokia mobile phone. The price of 199,000 vnd (about 8 euros or 9 usd) also includes the SIM card, charger and phone. Not quite the latest models..
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At the local market, there was a celebration in one of the houses. In the house I saw people around the table eating but couldn’t figure out what kind of celebration was going on. The decorations are in the middle of the market street with the vendors next door selling their veggies, and all market goers strolling or motorbiking past the house.
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Another type of fair was in the yard of a big household appliance store. They had offers on rice cookers, fans, electric kettles, most items by container, but they were also advertising they had a full container of Heineken at a reduced price.
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And this was my favourite sign in the appliance store. I haven’t seen U.S. Military Standard advertised with a dinosaur bite before.
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And when sidewalks are sometimes overtaken by motorbikes, it is very common to see the street sweepers store their carts nicely overnight or until their next shift. And the orange carts fit nicely with the flowery posters on the fence.
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Here is a view of Saigon from a bit different angle, makes the city look quite green. And for once a view during daytime. Saigon is a lovely city.
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Markets for all needs

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Besides the local fruit & vegetable market, there are several covered markets in Saigon. Probably the most famous is Chợ Bến Thành, the Ben Thanh market (Ch means market in Vietnamese). It has a very touristy section with clothes, handicrafts, souvenirs and bags. Not to mention coffee, dried fruit plus perfumes and shoes.

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Dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

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A large selection of souvenirs and vendors knowing a bit of many languages.

 

Ben Thanh building dates from 1912, and it is one of the focal points of the city with the roundabout and a bus station in front of it. Ben Thanh also has a fresh produce section, and that is frequented by locals alike. On the outside of the market beautiful flowers and fruits can be found.

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Ben Thanh building.

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Fresh flowers are available all year round.

A more manly is the Chợ Dân Sinh, also known as Yersin market. Dan Sinh is the place to go when you need tools, either for small repairs at home or  major construction in the industrial size. It is also a second hand market: Some construction companies sell their tools after they finish building, and then buy new or used ones when the next construction starts.

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Brands from all over the world.

 

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Big size tools.

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It never seems very crowded at Dan Sinh, and the vendors never seem to be in a rush.

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The vendors have a decent English vocabulary and with sign language and drawings, one can usually find the correct items.

Surrounding the Dan Sinh market is a vast collection of sellers of industrial fabrics and safety equipment.

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As usually in Saigon, the shops have spread out on the street.

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Many of the persons at the sewing machine are men, especially when working on big cloths and canvases, or even a tent.

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Nobody is bothered by the rooster next to the big rolls of wrapping materials.

Fabric market is called Tân Định, and it was also built in the 1920’s. There are other fabric markets in Saigon, but this is one of the most popular.

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Again a beautiful, though a bit worn building.

 

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If Dan Sinh is usually quiet, this market is always busy.

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When you find the fabric you like, you choose the colour. The vendors are good at saying how much of the fabric is needed for each piece of clothing.

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Vendor showing different fabrics. If the fabric you want is not on display, one of the girls or boys will go and get it from another stall. Or then the vendor climbs under or over the stacks of fabric and returns with another stack of fabric.

Chợ Bình Tây, or the new market as it replaced the old market, is located in Chinatown. It is also one of the most visited by tourists. This market is mainly for wholesale, so some vendors don’t even sell to visitors, other may sell but will keep a higher price.

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A map of the hundreds of stalls that are organised by items. Note the text in Chinese, as this market is located in Chinatown.

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These fabrics are only for wholesale.

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Usually the stalls are so full of merchandise, that it is not easy to see the original constructions of the stalls with old signs.

I think more interesting is the beautiful building, and the altar and four lions and four dragons in the inner yard, to honor Quach Dam who had Binh Tay market built.
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The dragons are left in the inner yard, where there was once a statue of the founder Quach Dam.

There are still plenty of markets I haven’t visited in Saigon. Once you learn where to get your essentials, there is no need to venture to the other markets. These markets are always full of people, not just the shoppers, but vendors, who sleep under or behind the piles of fabric, or on chairs in front of their stalls. Then there is a big traffic when items are carried on shoulders into the stalls. And a market always needs food vendors, who diligently squeeze past vendors and shoppers.

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Taking a nap between the boxes.

 

Chợ Lớn – Saigon’s Chinatown, part 2

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Saigon’s Chinatown is not completely Chinese like in some other countries. Yes, you see the signs in Chinese, but there is also plenty of Vietnamese around. Many buildings were built in the French style but by the Chinese for the Chinese.

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Lovely upper levels and traditional medicine sold on the ground floor with the modern motorbike parking.

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In the 18th century, the development of a canal network had started. It provided a system for transporting rice and other produce both to the market and to the port. The canal network was expanded until the end of 19th century when the French who occupied Vietnam at the time, became concerned with hygiene: the canals were used as dump, and besides the smell, diseases like malaria were spreading. Filling up of the canals was started in 1863 and the second last canal was filled in 1926.

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A map of the early 20th century and map of today – the canal has been filled and the street is tody called Hai Thuong Lan Ong, according to a great traditional medicine physician.

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One of the beautiful houses that were originally built along the canal but are located today along a busy road.

There were plenty of wealthy Chinese businessmen in Chợ Lớn. And several of them were generous and helped funding schools and hospitals in Chợ Lớn, which at one point had more schools and hospitals than Saigon.

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The initials TH can still be seen on the facade of the house where Thong Hiep had their headquarters.

The Thong Hiep headquarters were also located along the canal, today a street. The company was owned by Quach Dam, one of the  wealthy philantropists in Saigon and the funder and founder of the current Binh Tay market.

There is only one canal, Hang Bang Canal, that has not been filled, and is currently being renovated. The streets around the canal are not very fancy or special either, but hopefully when the canal has been redone, the whole area will have an upgraded look.

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Surroundings of the elder buildings close to Hang Bang canal are being renovated.

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Some of the temporary housing is barely 3 meters wide, when even the normal narrow houses are 5 meters.

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Big contrasts close to Hang Bang canal.

Nghia Nhuan is a small Communal Hall located close to Hang Bang Canal. It is on a street full of local life and nothing touristy, except us foreigners walking the streets.

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Daily life where old and new mingle easily.

Some of the Assembly Halls are decorated in more personal style. Phuoc An Assembly Hall has deer heads mounted on the wall, plaques of visiting dignitaries and the red horse statue. Quite an odd combination.

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What is the purpose of the mounted gilted deer heads?

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One of the three plaques commemorating visits to the Assembly Hall and to Cochinchine.

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The place is dedicated to Quan Cong, a Chinese general. So naturally there is a life-size statue of Quan Cong’s Red Hare Horse by the entrance.

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Beautiful carvings with Chinese characters.

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Despite having plenty of unusual elements, the Phuoc An Assembly Hall is a beautiful place to visit.

In front of the Post Office of Chợ Lớn is a roundabout. This also was part of the canal network. On one corner of the roundabout is a small house that is now an exhibition centre. Ho Chi Minh stayed in that house for several months in 1910 before embarking on a ship to France. The sign is only in Vietnamese and Uncle Ho goes by his earlier name Nguyen Tat Thanh.
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We walked around Chợ Lớn  and discovered many new roads and places to see. Chợ Lớn is a very interesting part of city, and definitely worth repeating visits to fully appreciate all its details and intricacies.
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Chợ Lớn – Saigon’s Chinatown, part 1

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This blog also has a little bit of history which is split between the pictures. Most of this information is from Tim Doling’s book “Exploring Ho Chi Minh City” and Wikipedia. These photos show streets and locations in Chợ Lớn that are quite different from the touristy sights.

The first mentions of Saigon date from 1623, when it was a small fishing village, part of the Khmer empire and called Prey Nokor. The Nguyễn lords who controlled the southern half of the Viet kingdom (around Central Vietnam) were allowed through marriage of a Nguyễn princess to the Khmer king, to establish a Vietnamese colony in Prey Nokor and to levy customs duties. The local Viet called the village Bến Nghé, which today is still the name of a ward in the downtown area.

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The outside of some of the old buildings are not that well kept.

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You would think a nice cafe would fit downstairs of an old colonial style house, but hardware was more dominant.

Chinese supporters of the deposed Ming dynasty started to arrive in Southern Vietnam in the 1640s. Some of them settled in Hoi An (Central Vietnam), and some west of Bến Nghé. They were known to be skilled traders and their settlement became known as Minh Hương (Minh Homeland commune).

 

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The Communal House of the Minh Huong community. This was the first Communal House where village gods were worshipped and local affairs administrated (not the original house, but the original location).

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Renovation was in progress at the Communal House, so many items were covered and others removed. It was still a beautiful place.

After the Tây Sơn peasant rebellion in the end of the 18th century, the Tây Sơn destroyed the Minh Hương community. The survivors rebuilt the town with high embankments for protection, and then renamed the new town Tai-Ngon in Cantonese (pronouned Dī’àn in Mandarin for embankment).

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Old shophouse. Without the motorbikes one could imagine being in the early 20th century.

In the 18th century Tai-Ngon  was an important trading centre for rice and other agricultural products from the Mekong Delta. Bến Nghé was a boat making town instead. Those two settlements began to develop.

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There are plenty of medicine shops in Cho Lon, and amongst the shops there are places where you can consult a Chinese medicine doctor as well.

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Modern meets tradition.

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No clue what’s in the bags but the medicine street has a peculiar smell.

In the late 19th century the French who ruled Cochinchine (the French Indochina), made Bến Nghé their capital and renamed it Saigon. Chợ Lớn (Big market) remained the name of the earlier Tai-Ngon.

 

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Apartment above the shop.

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Phu Dinh is the street that was used in the filming on The Lover based on Marguerite Duras’ book.

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One of the few original shophouse fronts that are left on Phu Dinh street.

With several waves of Chinese immigrants from different parts of China arriving to Chợ Lớn, there were eventually seven Assembly Halls built to serve settles from different cities.

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The Nhi Phu temple represents settlers from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in southern Fujian province.

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The temple is believed to be built around 1765.

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One of the three shrines.

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Not the original bell but an interesting holder on top.

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The four heavenly kings who guard the gates to Heaven.

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Decoration on the wall of the rear hall.

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Chinese Assembly Hall schools were common and they were located next to the Assembly Hall. This on was built in 1907 and is now a state school.

By the 1930s, Chợ Lớn had expanded to the city limit of Saigon. In 1931, Chợ Lớn and the neighbouring Saïgon were merged to form a single city called ‘Saigon–Cholon’. The city continued to be referred to as ‘Saigon’. ‘Cholon’ was dropped from the city’s official name in 1956, after Vietnam gained independence from France in 1955.

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Francisco Xavier church dates from 1902.

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Although the church is of Gothic style, it has many elements of Oriental design, like the use of Chinese characters both at the gate and inside the church.

The tour continues in part 2.

 

 

Local wet market

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In the middle of An Phu district where we live, is the market I go to to get fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a very local market, most of the times I am the only Westerner, even only non-Vietnamese. It is the length of one street with some vendors on the side street, but mostly everyone is packed here, both vendors and buyers.

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Normally crowded around 7 or 8 am.

I have found the best watermelons, and I know which of the ladies to go to for papaya, mango and other favourites. The fruits in season are easy to spot: many vendors have them. The prices may vary daily, so I usually check the price but noticed locals don’t really haggle, and have given up on that.

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Some fruits are found all year around, while others are seasonal, but may have 2 or 3 seasons per year.

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This man peels the pineapple for the same price, usually 15,000 dong each, though this morning the price had gone up to 16,000 dong (0,6 euros to 0,64 euros).

My favourite saleswoman, my mango lady, is very talcative. She probably tries to explain why some of the mangoes or mangosteens or dragonfruit are more expensive than the others, but my Vietnamese is too limited to understand her, so I just nod. And buy whichever looks better.

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Around 9.30 and my mango lady has almost sold out her daily produce.

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Much more choice at 7 am, so I usually try to get there early.

The market opens early, and if I get there around 7 am, it is already full of action. Besides fruits, there are also vegetables, tofu, meats, fish, poultry (alive and dead), bread, ready dishes, underwear and motobike socks and gloves available. And the sellers are not organised by type of offering, so next to the chicken, there may be vegetables or tofu with clothes next to those.

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When there are no officials around, the vendors spread their baskets and boxes on the street.

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Do you want meat or fabric? I am still not sure how many of the vendors live in the houses behind the sales front. Not all but probably many.

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You get plenty of visibility when you display the underwear on the electricity pole.

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Children’s clothes are also sold next to houshold goods and fermented dishes and pickles.
Poultry is sold live or dead. If you are not careful, you will witness how the neck of the chicken is twisted the final time. Naturally, chicken are plucked on the spot. Meat is sold in Asian style: all parts of the animals are used and they are also on display on the counter.

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With their legs tied, the chicken are usually quite calm. Or maybe they realised what happened to one of them who is being plucked.

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Typical display: poultry sliced open, so that even the eggs can be seen.

Meat sometimes looks good, but I still have not bought any from here. My Vietnamese would not be sufficient to understand when the meat has been slaughtered and how the cold chain has been kept. And anyway the sellers could be saying anything they want.

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All meat parts are sold and also used in Vietnamese kitchen.

I missed the moment of a salesman chopping the heads of frogs with scissors. Frogs are commonly found at markets, as is seafood of different sorts. Vietnamese love their little snails and shellfish. Some of the fish actually looks quite nice, but it it has been grown in a place like our local ditch, it probably tastes just like mud and is full of toxins.

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There is often ice or cold running water to keep the fish and seafood fresh.

 

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Nothing unusual in stepping into the fish tank.

Most people come to the market by motorbike and some by bicycle. And no question to leave the bikes at the beginning of the street: everybody rides up and down the street. Actually, if you park your bike and venture two tables away, you get yelled at because you are blocking the other vendor’s parking spot. So you move amongst the fruits, veggies, clothes, shrimp vats and other bikes and motorbikes.

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Don’t ask me anything about the cleanliness of the produce. Some are kept on the sidewalk or the pavement, but some look clean and nice. But there are hardly any flies, not even at a later hour, like 11 am.

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Bamboo shoots, banana blossomes I know, but there are plenty of greens I have no clue what they are or how to use them. But they still look nice.

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More exotic or strange vegetables: ocra, carambola, banana blossom and flowers.

I also enjoy going to the market as it is a splendid display of colours. And the fruits and vegetables are always laid out nicely in piles, pyramids or bundles. I strongly recommend a visit for everyone living in Saigon.
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