Young architect tries to capture old Saigon before it’s gone

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The Saigon Tax Center bearing its old French colonial signboard. The image will be included in the forthcoming book, "Old Saigon" by architect Le Hung Trong. Photo supplied The Saigon Tax Center bearing its old French colonial signboard. The image will be included in the forthcoming book, "Old Saigon" by architect Le Hung Trong. Photo supplied

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A young Ho Chi Minh City architect will release a book that seeks to capture the beauty of the town's disappearing past
The book “Sai Gon Xua” (Old Saigon) will be published in January and attempt to preserve the relics of what's often called Saigon's “golden age” in beautifully-rendered pen and ink drawings, according to the author Le Hung Trong.
Trong was born and raised in the south central province of Ninh Thuan and blossomed in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Saigon is where I found myself, where I nurtured my dream of becoming an architect and accomplishing something good," he said.
“My commitment to architecture has inspired my unconditional love for Saigon’s historical treasures,” the 30-year-old said in an interview with Tuoi Tre newspaper.
His book is set for release at a time when the city is seemingly demolishing every relic of its past in its path toward development.
The century-old trees that once lined Nguyen Hue and Ton Duc Thang streets have been fallen to make way for the country’s first metro line and the city's 134-year-old Saigon Tax Center is slated to suffer the same fate.
A stand of willows that once thrived in the circle at Nguyen Hue and Le Loi is also among the casualties of the coming train line.
Trong said that while these places may change, their images will remain forever in his mind.
He is releasing the book so those places will survive for others as well.
“It takes a lot of time to build, but it’s easy to destroy,” Trong told Tuoi Tre.

Le Hung Trong with his book "Old Saigon" that is to be released in January 2015. Photo: Nguyen Khanh/Tuoi Tre
“I always believe in the connection between the past, present and future, so there’s no reason our generation shouldn't preserve a few good memories of Saigon's greatest assets.”
Trong says he wants to produce a study of Saigon as a young person.
He also hopes to contribute something valuable to the existing body of work that made his book possible.
“When I was writing and painting this book, I relied on a lot of valuable information generated by some major researchers.
“Now my little book can do some good too,” he said. 
Trong went to HCMC after finishing high school to study architecture at Van Lang University.
In 2006, he graduated at the top of his class.
Two years ago, he started painting Saigon’s most iconic destinations, including the Nha Rong Wharf, the Saigon Central Post Office, the Opera House, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and Binh Tay wholesale market – the commercial center of Chinatown.

Binh Tay market as depicted in Le Hung Trong's "Old Saigon."

Trong arranged the watercolor pen images in the order in which he produced them and each image incorporates elements of building exterior and interiors.
The Tax Center piece features a Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster) bearing the French insignia GMC (Les Grands Magasins Charner) while the Binh Tay market looks like a Chinese palace surrounded by market stalls selling ingredients like lap xuong (Chinese sausage).

A supplied photo shows Saigon's old vehicles being illustrated by Le Hung Trong in his upcoming book "Old Saigon"
The GMC board was destroyed by repeated efforts to restore it, but Trong incorporated the sign in his image “to show respect to history.”
In addition to paintings of 12 historic buildings, the book also contains sketches of iconic vehicles used in Saigon, including the Honda Super Cub and the Lambretta.
Journalist Pham Cong Luan, who has written several popular tomes on Ho Chi Minh City, said Trong’s book makes him “optimistic” about the future of the city.
“The very young people, the builders of Saigon's future, exhibit great pride and love for the city's past beauty, even though they have no direct memories of that,” Luan said.
They will protect the streets and trees they love, and call for the community to do the same, he said.
Sài Gòn.Saigon, a Facebook page Trong created to promote his book and to post old photos of the city, has received nearly 24,600 Likes on Facebook.
The project inspired singers Au Bao Ngan (The Voice Vietnam 2013) and Minh Thuy (Vietnam Idol 2014) to announce a plan to record a CD of Saigon songs.
An exhibition of old Saigon paintings will be held at the book's release.
Proceeds from the sale of the book, which is being published by Phuong Nam, will go to charity, Trong said.

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