Wednesday 22 March 2023

Photographing People in Vietnam

 Here is a piece I found in my journal from a trip to Halong Bay and the Red River in Vietnam in 2018.  It gives me a good excuse for publishing some lovely photographs.  I hope you enjoy the post and the pictures. Please let me know.


There is an etiquette to taking photographs of people in Vietnam — always ask, always show the result.

People turned me down about half the time. Children, surprisingly, were not the most willing subjects. The boys were keen enough; the girls were shy. But how hard it was to get natural shots. They have somehow learned always to pose with their fingers making a V in the way that every selfie-taker uses nowadays.

The best and keenest subjects were old women. They hunt in packs and descend on tourists. They are keen to talk and do not mind a bit that we do not understand Vietnamese. It is a tonal language and hard to pick up. Nor do they mind that they do understand a word of English.

With help from our guide, I learnt that after saying “Hello”, the very first question is always,  “How old are you?” I learnt to recognise the sound pattern of this question. In Vietnam, it is an important and polite question. The second person pronoun varies in Vietnamese depending on whether you are speaking to someone older, much older or younger than yourself. The follow-up comments to my answer caused our guide to laugh with embarrassment when translating.

“I am 74.”

“No wonder your hair is so grey.” or,

“You look it.”

Occasionally the answer was flattering, “You look much younger.” Those conical straw hats cover lively and inquisitive minds.

A visit to a Roman Catholic Cathedral on a Sunday morning was fun. On partition, nearly 1 million people, mostly Roman Catholics, fled south away from the Communist regime. Religion was not encouraged. There are still huge cathedrals and the one we saw had a big congregation. Religion seems to be thriving. This cathedral had many children in it all wearing Boy Scout style uniforms. The cathedral had open arches at the side. During the service, children kept leaking out to seek adventures such as being photographed.

Two elderly men with whom I shared a cigar volunteered to be photographed and stood stiffly and proudly for their portraits

The best of the laughing faces was the girl in the ceramic-making village, who accidentally spilled water over our feet.  Her fit of giggles that went on for a good five minutes provided me with some wonderful photographs.

The children were fun, the workers serious and the old women full of character. The young women were just enjoying being young and beautiful.

I was travelling with the excellent Jules Verne Tours




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