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Saigon through the lens of two of its expat wanderers

Wednesday, September 06, 2017, 11:23 GMT+7

It’s well known in the expat community of Saigon that there are several members who have a passion for wandering around and taking pictures of things they love about the city.

Philip Genochio from the UK and Swede Tanya Olander are two of them.

‘Authentic, real Saigon’

On a late July afternoon Philip Genochio sat down with a café sữa đá (Saigon’s iconic iced coffee with milk) at a small cafe in a tiny alley in Saigon, the former name of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Londoner excitedly shared with Tuoi Tre News his passion for discovering and capturing images that reflect the “real and authentic Saigon”, the one that Westerners are so fascinated about.

“To most Westerners, it's very different from what we’re used to. The variety of life in Saigon doesn't exist in the West as we don't live our lives so openly on the street,” he began of his first impressions of the city.

Moving to Saigon in 2011 to be an English teacher, over the past several years, Philip has put a lot of effort into his life’s passion: @saigonpix.

The Instagram account is where Genochio diligently shares photos of life in Saigon to those who love the city like him.

A photo of @saigonpix taken by Philip Genochio
A photo of @saigonpix taken by Philip Genochio

Saigonpix started around four years ago as Genochio’s platform for posting interesting things he captures by chance, all shot and edited in-phone. 

Over the last two years, he has tried to post photos more regularly, at a minimum frequency of at least 2 per day.

Looking at the Saigonpix account, it’s not hard to see the love that Genochio has dedicated to the alleys and markets of Saigon.

“There are so many things in the small space of a hẻm [alley],” Genochio explained. “It’s the sense of unknown, the feeling I get when enter a hẻm for the first time, wondering if I should turn left or right.”

“Once I went down a hẻm behind a market, and saw local people had making brooms with coconut leaves. It was just one of my very interesting experiences here”, he added.

Although he has lived in Saigon for nearly 6 years, Genochio said this city has never failed to surprise him with new things.

“I’ve lived in District 4 most of the time but there are still new things for me to discover there,” he laughed.

A photo of @saigonpix taken by Philip Genochio
A photo of @saigonpix taken by Philip Genochio

During this time, Google Maps has become his friend.

Every time he has an appointment, Genochio researches the locations using the online mapping site, and tries to plot a walking trip in the surrounding area.

The founder of Saigonpix also marks spots in his map with different colors to distinguish where he has already visited and where he intends to explore.

Spending most of his spare time on wandering around Saigon, Genochio has provided people with images from downtown areas to non-touristy places like District 6 or Mien Tay Bus Station in Binh Tan District.

With more than 1,300 posts and 2,400 followers, Philip Genochio’s Saigonpix doesn’t dream of being viral, but rather a place where he can share his feelings about Saigon with others.

Philip Genochio in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News
Philip Genochio in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Some of the most positive reactions he has received were from Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) who said seeing his pictures has made them homesick. Other foreigners have told him they wanted to visit Vietnam thanks to his photos.

'Somewhere in Saigon'

To many expats in Saigon, Tanya Olander’s @somewheresaigon Instagram account and Somewhere in Saigon Facebook page won’t be familiar.

With more than 25,400 followers across the two platforms, Tanya Olander is one of the most-mentioned photographers when expats talk about street life photography in Saigon.

It’s quite hard to find a common thread in Olander’s pictures, as they sometimes depict people, sometimes capture places, food, pets or one of many other topics.

A photo taken by Tanya Olander for @somewheresaigon
A photo taken by Tanya Olander for @somewheresaigon

One of the feelings that Olander’s photos bring to its viewers, is the sense of being connected to the photo’s subjects as captured through the lens of a photographer who loves Saigon in her heart.

The woman from Stockholm meticulously writes notes for every picture she posts, and describes herself ‘a photographer telling stories of Saigon.”

“This cheerful quartet stopped mid cheer, interrupting their ‘mot, hai, ba, dzo!’ to invite my friend and I to join them in celebrating the birthday of one of the men. We decline, but stop long enough to hear the birthday boy belt out a few verses. It's not a party if there's no karaoke, after all!,” Olander writes under one of her photo’s, proving her understanding of the lifestyle of the people of Saigon.

A photo taken by Tanya Olander for @somewheresaigon
A photo taken by Tanya Olander for @somewheresaigon

Responding to an email from Tuoi Tre News, Tanya still remembers her first impressions of the intensity of the city.

“I instantly fell in love with that intensity, and the feeling that life was being lived and expressed in every moment,” she expressed. “To me Saigon was like a vibrant colorful pot, boiling on an intensely hot burner.”

Olander revealed that she is planning to make a book about Saigon, after many people – including local Vietnamese, Viet Kieu and foreigners - have told her that they have been touched by the stories of Somewhere in Saigon.

A photo taken by Tanya Olander for @somewheresaigon
A photo taken by Tanya Olander for @somewheresaigon

Currently, as Olander and her family have moved to Shanghai for her husband’s job, she maintains in her heart the memories of Saigon.

“I have so many memories, so many instances of the Saigonese being so open and welcoming to me. I’ve been invited to more coffees and street side beers than I can count. I’ve been welcomed into homes to share a meal. My heart fills with love and happiness when I think of myself squeezing through a bustling market in District 10 at 6:30am in the morning and being met with smiles and offers to drink coffee with the local ladies. The chatter, the questions, the comments. I’ve loved every minute of it,” she recalled.

Olander said it was not an easy decision for her and family to leave Saigon, as they “love Vietnam and have had so many amazing experiences during our 5 years in Saigon.”

Tanya Olander laughing with two local vendors in a photo taken by photographer Maria Graven while the two were shooting in District 3 – Photo provided by Tanya Olander
Tanya Olander laughing with two local vendors in a photo taken by photographer Maria Graven while the two were shooting in District 3 – Photo provided by Tanya Olander

“As I scroll through my Instagram library, each and every picture holds a special memory and I feel so lucky to have such a treasure chest from my time there. Vietnam, and Saigon in particular, will always hold a very special place in my heart,” she expressed.

“Writing this makes me miss Saigon even more,” Olander said while chatting with Tuoi Tre News from Shanghai.

Hanoi vendors from above

A photography book featuring stunning pictures by Loes Heerink capturing street vendors in Hanoi is expected to be completed by this October, the photographer from the Netherlands shared with Tuoi Tre News via email.

In October last year, Loes Heerink caused a stir over the Internet thanks to her photo series entitled “Vendors from Above” which did not only amaze people in Vietnam but also drew the attention of international media such as Business Insider and Lonely Planet.

“Vendors from Above” had a very simple concept in which Heerink stood above and took pictures of vendors riding their bikes featuring fruits and flowers – a “specialty” of Hanoi.

However, it required the photographer to spend many hours standing on bridges waiting for the vendors to pass through.

A photo from
A photo from "Vendors from above" by Leos Heerink



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