Vietnam 01 – First Impressions

Well my atoms have made it safely home from Vietnam, having spent 20+ hours being shaken, dehydrated, exposed to constantly changing air pressure & to a giant circadian rhythm disruptor (i.e. flying across multiple time zones) but the previous ten days in Vietnam were truly amazing!!! This week I’ll do a series of posts in an attempt to convey (& relive) some of my experiences, as well as to assimilate some of the 38GB of material (photos, video, timelapse, field recordings) I captured in the process…

First impressions? I flew into Ho Chi Minh City and the first two things to impact me were, the temperature (I left Wellington/NZ where the hottest part of the day is 15 degrees to arrive in Vietnam 10pm and 31 degrees) and the traffic. Now the latter might seem somewhat banal but the way traffic moves in Vietnam was a constant source of entertainment and I suspect provides a little insight into the Vietnamese psyche. Have a look at this video I shot to get some idea of what I’m talking about (and if you are too impatient, skip to the end – it looks quite beautiful when night falls)

 

 

So the actual duration of that video is 30 minutes (it has been sped up ten times) and a few things worth noting: the traffic is relentless – it never stops! There are also far more scooters and motorbikes than cars… But also notice that although there are road rules, traffic flows unlike anything I have experienced in the western world. What would otherwise be a head on collision is avoided without any discernible acknowledgement from either party, other than tooting. Ah yes tooting. Everyone, and I mean everyone, toots constantly. But it is not tooting in anger, it is purely a means of saying: ‘look out, here I come’ i.e. making your presence known. People did this in Samoa when overtaking i.e. a little toot so the driver you were passing knew you were about to come by. But in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi everyone toots at everyone, especially pedestrians. You read hints in guidebooks for Vietnam about how to cross a road there, but its worth noting in that video above how the pedestrians move. There is no waiting until the traffic stops or the lights change, because neither happen. You just have to wait for a brief pause and then start slowly walking, at a regular predictable pace, and the traffic that would otherwise hit you, will flow around you. What is especially funny to notice in that video is the occasional pedestrian who walks directly across the widest part of that intersection eg @0.11 from the right or the couple @0.19 – no doubt locals – but imagine doing that in any western city!?!

And a bit of technical info about the video: I shot it using the miniature mode on my little Canon s95, which sped it up x10 and applied the pseudo tilt-shift blurr… I was sitting in a rooftop bar on the 5th floor of a building in Hanoi right beside Hoan Kiem Lake and was primarily recording sound, but real time sound didn’t make any sense when played against the sped up video, so I made the music in the video using samples from a CD of traditional Vietnamese music I bought & some TimeFreezer drones. Here is what the actual intersection sounded like (recorded with Sound Devices 722 and a pair of DPA 4060 mics)

 

VIETNAM Hanoi intersection by timprebble

 

FWIW here is one of my MicroMicStands for the DPA4060s – I’d patent them but its just a paper clip with a DPA mic clamp super glued to it! But many times it helped actually fix a location/direction for these tiny mics…

MicroMicStand.jpg

Going back to the scooter phenomena, people of all ages ride them and fairly regularly you would see an entire family on a single scooter i.e. Mum & Dad with a couple of kids wedged inbetween. As petrol prices continue to escalate, I suspect scooters will become the most likely means of transport in many countries… But also worth noting about Vietnam is the average age – it is a young country. “The median age of the U.S. population is 36.7, in Japan it is 44.2, and even fast-rising China is quickly aging at 34.1. The median in Vietnam, by contrast, is just 27.4 years young. More than 61% of the population is less than 35.”

traffic

traffic

traffic

traffic

traffic

traffic

On my last day in Ho Chi Minh City it rained, and really poured down… I sheltered under a verandah, taking photos for a while – of course the scooter riders were prepared:

traffic

traffic

Well, most of them…

traffic

3 Responses to Vietnam 01 – First Impressions

  1. Enos Desjardins says:

    Wow! That timelapse is mental! What a chaotic site! Never seen anything like it…They must have a 6th sense developed to go through that daily and keep alive! Nicely done video by the way. Looking forward to hearing/seeing more of your travels there.

  2. Erik says:

    Yeah the vid is insane! It’s just like an hourglass, with the sand flowing both ways simultaneously…and indeed that shouldn’t work as well as it does! The music you mixed to it is rather awesome too.
    And man what a damn lot of scooters.

  3. stubby says:

    I used to have to grasp my wife’s arm firmly, and at times told her to just close her eyes. Yes, traffic would flow magically around you. You just had to have faith. I remember their disdain for motorcycle helmets. They referred to them as “rice cookers”, because that’s what they looked like on your head.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.