An Phu is in District 2, Saigon. A mainly residential area with blocks housing foreigners working their socks off in District 1 the upscale downtown hub. It’s also home to locals where wealthy villas rub shoulders with cramped alleyways of somewhat more working class homes. It’s trendy to say you want to live like a local when traveling and to be fair you can’t really immerse yourself in a few days but I did my best to melt into this district and call it home for 9 of them.
I love to get up early and photograph an area before it wakes up properly but An Phu seemed to be up and running well by six each morning……I couldn’t catch it out it but it definitely caught me!
I watched a group of middle aged ladies cycle to a corner and start a serious bout of Tai Chi, a radio blared their instructions out and they smiled at me photographing their community exercise…… We have a lot to learn from these ladies….it’s clearly the way to get started of a morning.
Swarms of mopeds drop kids at the school gates by quarter to seven, others arrived two or three to a bike looking smart in the blue and white uniform despite the increasing heat. A mix of petrol, lemongrass and noodles is the smell that takes me back to that spot!
Street vendors set up stalls selling hot and cold breakfasts, red plastic stools line the pavements as the locals sit to eat and natter. Retired gents share tea and watch the hub bub and moped drivers barely slow their engines as they collect their regular noodles at a street corner.
The market sells second hand clothing, DVDs, meat, fish, rice and vegetables all laid out on the floor for shoppers to select. Despite this foreigner with camera clearly not in the market to buy they nod their heads and smile and say yes when I ask if I can capture their images.
After 7am the An Phu time slows down, the streets are quiet. A few people drift slowly around, the incongruous sound of music from a beat box punctures the air as a cyclist with a carrier full of DVDs and CDs is advertising his wares. These stop me and buy one vendors seemed to be cycling all day long. You can get your hair cut, nails done and body massaged for next to nothing if you don’t mind the locals stopping to stare.
Extended families are snoozing together on front porches as the day moves on, the odd hello is shouted as they are keen to practise their English.
It’s not long before a chilled Vietmanese coffee calls out to me and I savour the sweet condensed milk of childhood over an espresso shot of strong local brew. Good morning from Vietnam – I have started my day!