Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Vietnam

Photo of Muslims praying at the Central Mosque in Saigon, Vietnam

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is on his way from Thailand to Cambodia to photograph a story about Angkor Wat Temple Complex. In order to enter Cambodia though, he must first stop in Vietnam to get his visa processed. The U.S. still has not re-established diplomatic relations with Cambodia after Pol Pot’s Killing Fields so he’s forced to take a circuitous route.

Map of VietnamIt’s early morning in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and as Jeffrey sits on the rooftop restaurant of his hotel, sipping orange juice and reading his Herald Tribune, he begins mentally planning his day.

Below, the streets teem with motor scooter drivers and vendors as they begin their daily frenetic ritual of eeking out a living. In the midst of the city’s cacophony, Jeffrey also hears another sound warbling in the distance. He knows he’s heard it before in other regions of the world, but never in Vietnam.

An Islamic call to prayer wafts through a loudspeaker, a muezzin’s sing-songy voice summoning Muslims to prayer.

Curiosity instantly changes the course of Jeffrey’s day. Instead of heading to the Dan Sinh Market like he had planned, or photographing the Apocalypse Now Bar or the city’s wide boulevards and French colonial architecture, Jeffrey begins his search for the mosque.

Photo of traffic in Saigon, VietnamFirst he must maneuver through the certifiably insane, always-rush-hour-traffic, then he must get on the back of a motorcycle taxi before he is eventually dropped off in front of the Saigon Central Mosque in the Dong Khoi area.

A sea of motor scooters dots the sidewalk in front of the light blue and white building. Its cool, immaculate structure exudes calm, floating like an island of serenity in the midst of the churning streets outside where sensory overload is the norm.

Jeffrey removes his shoes, and like other men, washes his feet before stepping onto the cool stone floors. The city’s heat, humidity and noise instantly fade away.

Though he isn’t sure what kind of reception he will receive, Jeffrey is warmly welcomed into the mosque and is even encouraged to photograph during Friday prayer.

The men pray on one side and the women on another. Jeffrey’s eye is immediately drawn to the clean lines and undulating pattern of the women praying before him. In no time he raises his camera and begins photographing. After shooting a handful of frames, he  lowers it back down and puts it away, hoping to avoid disturbing this sacred time of worship. Instead he watches and listens, enjoying his unexpected discovery in Vietnam.

What Jeffrey likes most about this photograph is that most people think it was created in Africa or the Middle East rather than Vietnam.  He likes the surprise element, and also the anonymity of the image, which allows viewers to imagine what the faces look like behind the traditional robes.

“It’s also a good reminder that curiosity is often my most powerful tool. If I hadn’t been curious, I never would have discovered this part of Vietnam,” Jeffrey says.

This photograph was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikon 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia film. It was awarded a PATA Gold Award.

Now I’m curious! What is the most interesting or unusual place you have discovered while traveling, simply by following your curiosity?

14 thoughts on “Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Vietnam

  1. When I read your posts, Becky, I feel as if I am a guest at your dinner table. One of those grand, but welcoming affairs, with the windows open and a warm breeze shuffling the curtains. Silverware clinks against china, bubbles flow up inside of glasses, and at the head sit you and Jeffrey, sharing these amazing stories with those of us invited to your table.

    So much of what you write about, and the way you write, is filled with hard authority on the history of our world. I am in awe of all you know, and all you and your family have seen.

    When I read this line, “Below, the streets teem with motor scooter drivers and vendors as they begin their daily frenetic ritual of eeking out a living” I felt like I could hear the city you described. Beautifully written.

  2. Your blog is an unusually interesting and educational one. Thanks for taking me to places I know I never will visit.

    My surprise is how pleasant the people in Paris were to us on our last trip. Everyone speaks of Parisians’ sarcasm and superciliousness, but I saw none of that. My weapon is a friendly smile and a demeanor that sends the message, “I don’t know everything about everything and would enjoy listening to you.”


    • Ronnie, thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to leave me a comment. Aaah yes, Paris–such a great place. Parisians treated me warmly too when I was there. I’m not sure where their abrupt reputation comes from because everybody I’ve ever known who has gone to Paris has had a wonderful experience.

  3. I’d have to say an old abandoned cemetery in Quintana Roo Mexico. Atop this old crumbling headstone was a old pair off spike high heeled shoes and an old necklace.

  4. Great picture Becky. As always thanks for taking us to a new country. Now i will also start following my curiosity. I have visited some of the interesting and unusual places in my country, but they are already discovered by others & are well known places.

  5. I love the way the white robes pick up the hues of the sky blue wall in this photograph.. We’re so neutral with color here in the U.S. and so it’s refreshing to see such vibrant color especially in a place of worship. You always have such a wonderful way of describing the frenetic activity in the various cities that Jeffrey has visited–it really draws me into your story, How interesting life can be when you go off the beaten path! As always, I’m left craving more of your stories. Hope the book is going well!

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