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Saigon Xưa: Young Artist Makes Incredible Drawings to Show Love of Old Saigon

Although born in Ninh Thuan province, Le Hung Trong has grown intimately attached to his second home, Saigon. Working as an architect for past three years, he has put together a collection of drawings depicting his dreams and love for Saigon in his new book called Sài Gòn Xưa. Images within its pages show old Saigon and its subtle charm: the houses, the vehicles and daily life – simultaneously bustling and serene.

Trọng first visited Saigon at the age of eight and was amazed by the city’s abundance of activities and tree-lined streets dotted with storefronts. In 2001, he was accepted to university to study architecture in the city.

“The love for Saigon, its cultural and historical values, epitomized and engraved on every old building, is the reason I chose architecture as my major and to make this book,” expresses Trong.

Saigon’s beauty and history unfolds on the pages with gorgeous, intricate illustrations of houses, organized by their completion dates as well as vintage motorbikes and scenes from everyday life.

“Aside from street food, Saigon appeals to me for its French architectural remnants. Also, the cool motorbikes, many of which date back to the late 60s,” Trong says.

“My favorite building of all would be The Notre-Dame Cathedral where everyone can hang out and have coffee. For me, it was the building I looked at while having a café bệt with friends every time we finished a school project.”

“The illustration of the cathedral was also the first and most complicated to create. The first outlines were sketched from my memory of it when I was working in Hanoi,” Trong shares.

Le Hung Trong brings a different light to his vision of Saigon. While the city usually comes across chaotic, Trong’s use of soft, curvy, detail-oriented technique conjures images of a dreamy, nostalgic Saigon of yesteryear.

“I feel unsettled to see all these unfitting makeovers of Saigon going on everyday. This book, I hope, presents to the young people and those who love Saigon its true beauty. With love, sincerely positive changes might come about. Things like balancing development with historical preservation, which many modern cities in the world are doing,” shares Trong.

Not only gorgeous, every piece showing the familiar objects of Saigon also comes with a history and local explanation. “This is the purpose of this book – to give the readers an instant, general idea of how beautiful and rich the culture of Saigon is,” Trong says in the introduction of Sài Gòn Xưa.

With that said, Trong says the production of the book was a real challenge in terms of balancing research, drawing, his day job, and not knowing a thing about publishing. Yet, despite those obstacles, Le Hung Trong has managed to produce pages full of graceful, fairy-tale-like pieces. “All of the artworks come not only from my love for Saigon, but also the respect for the young people’s progressive perception of fine art,” says Trong.

This book is only the initial presentation of his endless love for, as Trong describes “such a strange land Saigon is – for it absorbs and endures each and everyone who comes to it: it’s a home for everybody”. 

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