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In Search of Serendipity

HANOI, VIETNAM - March 2016
HANOI, VIETNAM – March 2016. The five-coloured flag is symbolic to Vietnam and demarcates a place of worship. This was shot at the famous Hoàn Kiêm Lake in central Hanoi which houses the Temple of the Jade Mountain, a popular spot for tourists.

In Search of Serendipity, photo essay by Nathaniel Soon

As young, 19 year-old aspiring photojournalist, my greatest pleasure is to be able to explore new places without restrictions. To me, there’s nothing more cathartic than wandering around the streets or into narrow alleys with a camera in hand.

And so, I planned a rather spontaneous trip to Vietnam earlier this year. Most of my journey was by foot, though I got the eye-opening experience of travelling on an overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to the rural province of Lào Cai.

There was hardly an itinerary and my aim was simply to explore a new, unfamiliar place. Despite being there for a mere four days, I got to see both the modern and rural sides of the country. I don’t normally say this about places I visit (as I don’t believe in going to the same place twice), but I certainly wouldn’t mind returning — the cool weather, extremely hospitable locals, beautiful sights and sounds and many serendipitous moments made this journey one to remember.
(by Nathaniel Soon)

HANOI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
The nón lá or conical leaf hats have become a common sight amongst Vietnamese women along the streets. Along with its cultural symbolism, the hats effectively shield them from the hot summer sun.
HANOI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
The Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi, famous for the legend of the Golden Turtle God, is a daily hubbub of activity for locals. I got up early on my last day in Vietnam to capture a glimpse of life there.
HANOI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
“Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can’t even describe, aren’t even aware of…” – Ellen Goodman
HANOI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
A street hawker peeling chestnuts at the side of a busy road. The shoulder pole she uses has become symbolic of Vietnamese tradesmen. It remains the main carriers of 80% of the rural population and evokes the daily lives of farmers – their joy and sorrow and silent suffering, courage and sacrifice.
LAO CAI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
This shot may not come across as much but upon closer inspection it aptly illustrates two main issues surrounding tribal societies. The first of which is the impact of technology on these communities – go back 20 years and seeing a motorcycle in an area like Sapa would be strange but fast forward to today, I have to admit that seeing a Black Hmong woman (foregrounded) wielding a hoe and a mobile phone at the same time while en route to the fields shouldn’t be considered that unbelievable anymore. Technology is pervasive and this image is testament to that. Gender roles was an interesting topic too – in this area, the Hmong women are often the hard labourers of most households, while the men often engage in vice, leaving the women to have to take care of them. I was told that every Monday, Hmong men would gather and drink till they get drunk and are unable to return home, leaving the wives no choice but to carry them back – truly eye-opening.
LAO CAI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
A young Dao boy in his village school waving as I asked if I could photograph him. In Vietnam, village schools often face the problem of corruption where teachers, in hopes of keeping their jobs, simply allow the children to skip grades even when they do not meet the standards. This in turn results in graduates who are unable to find jobs and compete with those in the urban areas.
LAO CAI, VIETNAM - March 2016.
Siblings of the Black Hmong tribe wait outside the village’s community hall. This is where leaders gather to celebrate good harvests and discuss important issues.
The markets in Lao Cai are extremely colourful places because of the fresh variety of produce on sale and the beautiful traditional dresses donned by the Flower Hmong people.
Water buffalos have been designated one of three official symbols of Vietnam. They are also a valuable asset for farmers both on the fields and to sell for income. I took this to illustrate the close relationship between men and nature.
An aerial view over Sapa Valley in Lao Cai province. While the main economic activity here is agriculture, which is dependent on the river for irrigation, the villagers have taken advantage of the increasing tourist crowd to earn extra income through handicraft trade and offering homestay experiences.
I photographed this young Black Hmong boy wandering by himself some distance away from his house. His stone-cold demeanor parallels the chilly weather of winter which would have ended by now.

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