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[Photos] MEGA City: The Soul of Saigon

Saigoneer is a proud media sponsor of the third edition of TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City, released last month. The compact and concise photo book explores urban development, landscapes and people in Vietnam’s largest metropolis, documenting the rapid changes currently transforming the city. With the support of the Goethe Institute as well as funding from Audi Vietnam, TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City is divided into six chapters, each covering a major theme related to Saigon’s urban development.

This week, Saigoneer provides readers with a final glimpse into the book’s last chapter. For the full publication, you can find TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City at bookstores across the country.

Soul of the City

In the previous chapters, we tried to show to what extent Ho Chi Minh City has changed over the past 10 years. In many ways, the changes are breathtaking: skyscrapers have grown like mushrooms from an uncoordinated sea of narrow townhouses, new highways have cut through developed districts and chic department store complexes call to mind images of Singapore. Outside the city, one wonders who will someday live in the miles of completely empty, large residential areas. Given these changes, which are obviously needed, sometimes questions arise about what remains that is typical about this mega city.

But if one passes through the public spaces of the city, such as the parks and promenades, the alley areas or even the sidewalks of major streets, then this question does not really matter anymore. The fascinating thing about Ho Chi Minh City is the coexistence of so many contrasts. Phở stands do business in front of fast food restaurants, sedans race between motorbikes, and fancy advertising billboards decorate the facades of old buildings.

Ho Chi Minh City is ultimately just that: the old and the new, the rich and the poor, the improvised and the envisioned. The soul of the city is what is visible in its public spaces. But above all, Ho Chi Minh City is its people: optimistic, cheerful and almost always pragmatic.

Those who can afford it play tennis in upscale suburban sports facilities, while those who cannot play soccer wherever it is possible. Bridal couples not only choose the colonial cathedral as a background for their photo shoots but also the Phu My Bridge or the empty streets of the suburbs. For couples who are not allowed to be alone in their own homes, public spaces become private retreats.

In the evenings, more and more people are attracted to Thu Thiem, where a new central business district is expected to develop. There, people sit on plastic stools, looking at the colorful, glittering skyline of District 1, proud of their city and what it has become. Changes here are seen as opportunity and a sign that things are moving forward, just like the traffic: always chaotic but always on track.

Henning Hilbert is the co-publisher of the first two editions of TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City and contributed both photography and writing to the book’s third edition. He is the director of the Goethe Institute in HCMC and has lived in Asia since 1997.

[Photos courtesy of TP. Ho Chi Minh: MEGA City]

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