Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vietnam - January 2014 - #3

A Hoi An alley in the dark.
Alleys do attract me quite. Maybe because on our regular Latin American cities -always under an iron square grid- there are no back alleys, only repeating standard size streets.
A side note: spanish colonial urbanists measured all in 'varas' (sticks). A 'vara' is 86,6 cm long: 3 feet. A yard, for anglo culture. Now, it seems that 'conquistadores' wanted it easy on math, as for those enlightened minds anything where you needed more than the fingers to count was rocket science. So every time they could get away with it, things measured 10. Thus: 10 varas (8,66 mt. or 10 yards to you non-metric-heretics)
That's why in every argentine city streets are 8,66 m wide -so you have no space to park or have a decent traffic flow- and most land plots are 10 yards in the front: architectural hell leading to narrow buildings full of twists and quirks, and the reason we have these slivered, hungered facades.
But, maybe I derailed just a tad... The point is, I love alleys, specially when they are dark, dirty, and in the back of restaurants, as this here in the waterfront at Hoi An. It reminds me of the 'spaghetti and meatballs' scene in 'Lady and the Tramp'. (13x21 Watercolor Moleskine).
Hoi An, a 'theme park' experience.
This must have been a beautiful city. It's recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. its Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. It was the largest harbour in Southeast Asia 2000 years ago and was known as Lâm Ấp Phố (Champa City), or city of the Cham, that controlled the strategic spice trade and with this won incredible wealth.
Homes in the ancient town still have wooden fronts, and you can imagine the characters of Marguerite Duras's L'Amant (The Lover) sweating in silent passion behind those closed wooden shutters, under a lazy ceiling fan.
One wonders what would Mme. Duras (or the Cham for that case, should they be looking from their Chinese heaven) think of the manner these wonderful houses and streets metamorphosed into souvenir stalls that'd belong right there in Main Street Fantasyland, Orlando.
This small drawing tries to show the houses as they were (top) and what happened at ground level just in a couple decades, thanks to mass tourism (bottom). 
Street Vendors
Vietnamese street vendors can be roughly divided into three types: those who constantly move around either by bike or on foot, those have a stable stand on a street and, lastly, those who own a shop and expand their products on the pavement. They serve as an informal yet extremely important agent in the local economy.
Those in the first type are all over. One can pick up a meal or snack from them as soon as one gets hungry.
You buy Banh Mi (Bread) or Pho (Soup) from these sellers, among a myriad of goods: water, vegetables, fruit... Usually they carry a crippling load -twice their own weight- in these wicker contraptions, a vietnamese tradition as old as the sea.
I admire how hard they work.  Many people do backbreaking work from 6 AM to midnight daily just to make a few 'Dong'. ($) 
And I specially admire women in Vietnam.  They seem to silently and with immutable elegance handle some of the most difficult jobs, work the longest hours, and are still expected to single-handedly take care of the kids and prepare the family meals. Kudos to the Vietnamese women.
A Saigon Angle
Lately, I'm quite into broken angles. And when it comes to that, any city block in any Asian city will give you more twists, rotations and skewed perspectives than you can bargain for.
This angle here is nothing special, and I have many sketches as this one. An unsung for alley in Saigon, yes. Some hanging wash and uncombed cables
But for my western/latin education, built solidly upon monumental neo-renaissance, main-axis, Vitruvius-kosher architecture, the East is like having your first hamburger after a lifetime of Vitel Tonné and arugula...
The manner people relate to their flag tells volumes about their sense of nation. In some countries...well yes, there is a flag. A well loved symbol appearing here and there, mostly in public buildings, flying a lonely color blur. Argentina is like that: here and there you see a flag hanging from a window on our national holiday. Of course, when the national football (soccer) team plays elsewhere, things are quite different...
Yet in others, flags are everywhere, pinpointing the city as an everyday staple. France, India and the USA being very notable examples.
But nowhere I've seen as many national flags as in Vietnam. That red and yellow patch is everywhere. Maybe it was because I visited on the Chinese New Year?
You walk an alley and find flag after small flag, hanging from the humblest window. The irony of it sharing colors with the -also ever present and many times quite near- Mc Donalds banners seems lost to many.
I tried my hand twice at these flags, but I'm not happy with either. When all the rest is colorless, controlling the reds in these was quite a challenge. (Moleskine 13x21)


  1. tôi cũng luôn yêu những con hẻm nhỏ . nó luôn gợi cho tôi một cảm xúc thật sâu lắng . nếu có cơ hội bạn hãy tới Hà Nội,ở đó có rất nhiều con hẻm nhỏ . :) những bức vẽ của bạn thật đẹp

  2. tôi cũng luôn yêu những con hẻm nhỏ . nó luôn gợi cho tôi một cảm xúc thật sâu lắng . nếu có cơ hội bạn hãy tới Hà Nội,ở đó có rất nhiều con hẻm nhỏ . :) những bức vẽ của bạn thật đẹp

  3. Awesome article. I enjoyed reading your articles. this can be really a good scan for me....Sketch