City Living

One of the aspects of the city that’s been most captivating is the prevalence of huge banyan trees on sidewalks in which shrines have been placed. Twisting knots of bark and trunk enclose cubes of holiness. Broken relics, amulets, and joss sticks vie with crawling ants for space in the sand and litter. Wish I had ready digicam access to give you a pic. The spaces are highly spiritual. X told me young unmarried girls try to avoid such places, especially at night, since the ghosts that haunt these grounds like such victims. Once captured, the women are prone to illness. My xe om driver (motorbike cabbie) took me around to a few sites to shoot. He said they’re places where lots of accidents have occurred, where families pay homage to the victims.

I’m becoming visually fascinated by uncanny marriages, fusions, juxtapositions of man-made and ‘natural’ elements. Such as these trees. Or a tropical bird tethered at its foot to a tree limb by metal chain. Keeping my eyes peeled for more for the video essay!

Noticing the bizarre (not just exotic) here is not so easy, since it seems like they’ve worked hard to cultivate a sense of a pristine historic tourist city, a cultural city, a beautiful city. Flaming flower trees on both sides of boulevards provide a cool awning that frames the streets. At night, colorful lights flash on the frames of the famous Truong Tien bridge, spanning the Huong River. It’s designed. Coupled with the meandering pace of life (slow…measured…), people idling on coffee shop stools, one easily falls into routine and surface-level experiencing. Still, there’s something to be said for getting the rhythm of this place, especially in traffic. I realized that you have to feel the pulse of drivers here to be able to maneuver in a safe way around the throngs of motorbikes and bicycles and cyclos and cars at intersections. (It’s not as bad as Ha Noi or Sai Gon, but all the same technique…) That means guessing their intentions, their likeliness to swerve this way or that.

For now, I enjoy my spot on the back of motorbikes. I’ve started meditating on them…

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