The land of never a dull moment

(No.1, Vol.9,Feb-Mar 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Photos from the Book “Vietnam My Homeland” - An album of Vietnam Heritage Photo Awards 2017 best works

Every year, this magazine's Photo Award Competition attracts a huge number of entries. Also every year, a small booklet of the winning entries is published for a limited readership-the entrants,the organisers, sponsors and the press. For the 2017 edition, however, a full-blown large photo album for the wider public is now available.The book is published with the support of the International Co-operation Department of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.That year there were 3479 entries. Only 66 photographers and 100 works taken by them are featured in this book. You really are looking at the creme de la creme in this stunning collection which celebrates the enormous diversity of Vietnamese culture.
I shall now describe my own favourites for the five topics covered by the competition.

This has to be one of the biggest draws for visitors to the country. Sadly a lot of the wildlife has been shot out or even eaten out. Nevertheless someone managed to get a good shot of red shanked douc langur monkeys and it must have taken great patience to capture the spectacle of cranes doing a mating dance in mid-air and a citrine breasted finch like mother bird seated on a branch feeding her three gaping offspring. Otherwise it is the landscapes which anyone who has visited Vietnam loves-lotus field, streams teeming with fish, mountain passes, caves and caverns, rivers meandering through swamps, smoky thundering waterfalls, fisher folk out with their nets and even that rare event-snow in Sapa. A picture of a group of elephants splashing through water got the first prize.

Intangible Cultural Heritage
On to festivals and traditional performances. We are treated to a colorful dragon boat race,bull racing in the Mekong Delta,the crowds at a whale worshiping ceremony,a traditional Tuong theatrical scene, blindfolded duck catching in a corralled watery arena, a family enjoying a Tet meal in their back yard and a minority village at a tree planting festival with their thatched long houses as background.

Tangible Heritage
The cultural relics of the ancient cities of Hue and Hoi An as well as Hanoi's venerable and rusting Long Bien Bridge are given due attention as well as the traditional wooden architecture of the mountain ethnicities. Surprisingly though, no photograph of the country's myriad temples and churches gained the approval of the judges that year.

'All human life is here' and 'If you are tired of Vietnam, you are tired of life’ are apt adages here. People are pictured mainly at work. They practise age old trades using traditional methods. There are people building a brick kiln, steaming squid and casting a bronze bell, and H'Mong women weaving ornate cloth. Of course, agriculture and fishing also feature prominently with the casting and preparing of nets, silk drying and coffee bean harvesting, collecting rice seedlings for transplanting and women taking care of flower fields. They all go to show how hard working the Vietnamese people are and the hard lives many of them have.

Those coming from industralised countries where everything comes packaged in supermarkets are fascinated by the vibrancy and bustle of Vietnamese markets. Here they are in all their variety. There is a double spread of a cattle market, cooks and diners at an open air food stall market, night markets, one of which is named as the' Ghost Market', markets selling the wares of minority folks and a specialist bamboo and rattan handicraft market. Napoleon who called England a nation of shopkeepers might have dubbed Vietnam a nation of market stall keepers.

If you ever wanted to explain the best of Vietnam to one who has never set foot here, this photo album would do it better than words. It is a fascinating summary of all you may have experienced and all the more you have yet to see in this land. n

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Book review by Ritch Pickens