100 Faces of Vietnam

Astrid Schulz

2013 - 2016

This portfolio is showing a selection of portraits across Viet Nam, representing a society, which is on the brink of change. It shows the people from a developing country caught between tradition and modernity. Photographed in 5 different cities from the North to the South, these portraits allow a view into people’s homes and work places plus an insight into their lives and concerns – some of them seem familiar, others unexpected.

Viet Nam is still a communist country, but it has opened its doors to the West and it is developing fast. Its cities are almost unrecognizable from how they looked 10 years ago. With this in mind I was wondering: what is going on behind doors? I wanted to take a closer look behind the facade and explore how people use their personal spaces at home or at work. The result is providing an intimate insight into the diversity of Ho Chi Minh City (South), Ha Noi (North), Da Nang, Hue & Hoi An (Central Viet Nam).

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  • Ta Tong Gian has been a soldier when he was young. When he returned from the war, he started drinking and failed to find a job. After a stroke he is now half paralyzed which prevents him from leaving his bedroom. Sometimes he is taken out by his son in law but those highlights are rare.

  • Chau Pham is a fine art painter and designer; he has a small studio inside his apartment, which he occupies for 15 years. Occasionally he is selling his paintings trough a gallery. However, it is difficult to make a living from art alone, therefore he supplements his income by teaching art at a local school.

  • Pham Thuy Lien is 24 years of age; she is from Hoi An but lives in Da Nang. She is working for the government as a researcher and shares a flat with 2 female friends in the city centre, close to her workplace. She has many responsibilities and often takes work home and finishes her tasks at night. Lien dreams to have a different career with more time for social life. However, for 9 years she will be tied to working for the government after receiving a scholarship for studying abroad.

  • 70 year old Do Thi Hoan aka Mary lives by herself a small house at Phu Nhuan District, Saigon. She moved her with her mother in 1973. Hoan’s her father was a dressmaker, once he made a dress for one of the wives of Emperor Bảo Đại. Hoan got all her dresses made by her father, too. Back then she worked as a French teacher.

  • Trang Ngoc Ty, 52, is running a grocery store in a small alleyway in Saigon's District 3. He moved here in 1977 and the household counts 10 family members, all living above the shop. The house still has its original size, whereas most neighboring buildings been rebuilt into much larger properties.

  • Nguyen Minh Ngoc is 22 years old. She is still a student, but she is also organizing summer camps for the education of young people. Participation is for free and over one thousand students aged 6 – 22 take part every year. She has plans to turn this enterprise into a Non Government Organization and hopes to extent the camps to other locations in Vietnam.
    In her free time Ngoc loves to watch movies. Her favorite TV series is ‘Game of Thrones’; she watched all 50 episodes on her laptop.

  • Dang Thi Dao is from a family of lantern makers. She is 48 years old and lives with her husband, 3 sons, and one daughter on An Hoi Island. Their family business has operated since 1987 and Dao’s husband exports to Norway and France. He gets orders from all over Vietnam and also delivers to 7 shops in Hoi An.
    Lantern making in Hoi An took off after UNESCO appointed the town a World Heritage site. Lanterns are now one of Hoi An’s trademarks and very popular with tourists.

  • Le Van Dong is 39 years old. He has been a fisherman all his life like his brothers and ancestors. He owns his own boat. Dong has to get up at 3am and will be at sea by 4.30. The best time for a good catch is around 5am, just before sunrise. His wife will sell the fish at the local market.
    Dong’s 18 year old son Le Van An has worked with him for 2 years; he might take over his father’s boat, however he is still young and does not know if he will want to be a fisherman in the future. He is also playing with the idea of going to university, like his older sister.

  • Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai are identical twin brothers. They are conceptual artists and run a successful artist residency in Hue. Since 2008 the residency has attracted over 100 national and international artists, and many visual art activities have been exhibited at their spacious gallery.
    The twins have been acclaimed an international success. When they were younger, Than and Hai painted using lacquer techniques, but for the past ten years they have been working with performance and video art. In recent years they have been invited to show their work in Singapore, Paris, Germany, the US and Canada.

  • Dung Thi Cuc is 55 years old; she retired from work at an administration job for a 4 star hotel. Her newly built 3 storey family house used to be occupied by her and her children, but they started their own families and moved out. Cuc found retired life without the children rather unsatisfying, so she converted the big house into a homestay guesthouse. Her new business turned into a full time job, but she loves being busy, and talking to her guests is making her happy.

  • Pham Hang Quan (left) and Tean Quoi Viet (right) are having a break in the backyard of a tattoo parlour. Quan has been working as a tattoo artist for 3.5 years and Viet, a wedding photographer, is one of his clients. Both young men are juggling from traditional values to freedom of self-expression.
    Their tattoos are frowned upon by the older generation, but they don’t care.

  • Nguyen Ha Chien is 22 years old. Originally from Hanoi, he is working as a shop assistance in the guitar shop of his brother in law. He started this job at the age of 17. All the instruments are second hand; Chien’s duties include the repair and tuning of the guitars. However, he never learned to play (Saigon, District 10).

  • Khai is 22 years old; he is working in a noodle soup restaurant since he was 17. Originally he is from the Mekong Delta. The restaurant is located in Saigon's District 1 and famous for one of the best ‘Pho Bo’ soups in Saigon.

  • Le Dinh Hung is running a workshop for motorbike repair services. He started his training when he was 13 and now he is 25. He knows everything about his subject and can build custom motorbikes on request. Hung's free time is limited. After he finishes work, he spends the evening on Facebook.

  • Trinh Thi Kim Oanh (52) is working in the Citadel for 25 years. She is making roof tiles for the reconstruction of the Royal Palace. She was trained by a specialist from Hanoi and was one of the first people working here. Now she is training young people in the skills which will be needed for the restoration which will continue into the future.
    Oanh loves her job, she is very proud in her role in rebuilding the historical site of her hometown Hue.

  • Van Hoi Francis (65 years old) came to Munich, Germany during the Vietnam war, were he became a master chef. After his retirement he returned to Vietnam and founded a school for backing, cooking & hospitality. In Germany Francis would feel useless as a pensioner, but here in Vietnam he can take young people out of poverty.

  • Nguyen Van Hue is working in the Citadel for 20 years. He is 50 years of age. He is part of a security team of four; they stay for 24 hours on site until the next team arrives. His duties are opening the buildings at 7am, watching them for possible theft or vandalism, and closing them again at 6pm. He claims that “nothing ever happened” in all his years of service! Nonetheless, in 2015 the government installed an additional alarm system with hidden CCTV cameras in all the historical monuments of Hue.

  • Tran Thi Hoa is a pharmacy technician at the Hospital for Traditional Medicine. She is 32 years old and working in the boiling room, where special ingredients are prepared and cooked. Hoa’s work is tiring, it is very hot in the room and she often works overtime, but she has to finish the process and cannot go home until this is done. Her training is from the much bigger hospital in Hanoi and she is still operating in old fashioned ways. Ha would wish for more modern equipment, but the necessary finances are not in place.

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