People of Saigon

Journal No. 02

The ever evolving city of Saigon is an ideal place for hard-working visionaries. There is inevitably something that inspires each of us, as we navigate these chaotic, calm, old and new streets.

For our second issue of the L’Usine journal, we have invited a small, yet diverse group of individuals—from artists and curators to public figures—to answer one simple question; “What inspires you about Saigon?” What we hear from these six influential Saigon citizens, helps inspire us to open our senses even more to this metropolis we call home.

Saigon-based photographer, Tuan Fr, whom is renowned for his minimal, yet charged portraiture, was commissioned to shoot each subject.


Entry No. 01

Quynh Pham

“Saigon is a city that assaults your senses in the best way imaginable. The smell of aromatic Phở gets confused with motorbike fumes. A sticky rice vendor navigates the street with a sporty BMW on one side and a nervous tourist on the other. Incessant chatter is heard from sidewalk cafes while pop music blares from nearby shops. Sporadic honking from all sorts of vehicles sound like a band that sees no need to rehearse. Construction is seen and heard in all directions.

Saigon is a city that seems to magically breathe and sneeze simultaneously. There’s a wonderful tension here that is fueled by individuals with passion, ambition and resolve. It can be dizzying at times, but if you keep your feet on the ground and your head down, you’ll discover some incredible patterns on the pavement tiles.”

An indefatigable force in the Vietnamese art scene, Quynh Pham is the founder and director of Galerie Quynh, a contemporary art gallery in Saigon that promotes some of Vietnam’s most risk-taking artists. A cultural fixture in the city for 14 years, the gallery is known for its educational initiatives. In 2014 Quynh founded the not-for-profit Sao La, a young, diverse group of passionate creatives working loosely as a collective.

Quynh studied Art History/Criticism at the University of California, San Diego. She has worked in the arts for over 25 years with experience in galleries and museums including the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

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Entry No. 02

Le Quoc Huy

“Once my teacher told me: “If you choose a different route to travel everyday, it may take more time for you to reach your destination, but it can bring a lot of new experiences.” So every morning, I commute through many small streets and alleys with an iced coffee in my hand, observing and listening to the breath of Saigon, a city that never fails to bring me energy and inspiration.”

Huy graduated from Saigon Technology University with a major in Graphic Design. He has been working at Rice Creative with a focus on design and research. Huy is curious and fascinated by traditional design and local customs. He has participated in group exhibitions organized by Sao La Collective & D.I.A. Project. These take place in a booth at Ton That Dam Market, and cover themes relating to traditional markets. The group’s work on this topic was also featured at an exhibition it opened
in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2017.

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Entry No. 03

Kim Ly

“When I first came to Vietnam it was to learn about and understand the culture and my family’s history. Throughout these four years that I’ve spent in Vietnam, I’ve found that what inspires me the most are the Vietnamese youth and all the energy they bring. I see how this country is rapidly developing. One huge factor is of course the growing economy, but the other one is intangible; the optimism and lack of fear shown by its people. Needless to say there is a strong correlation between the two, however that optimism is contagious and something I’m very grateful for.”

Born and raised in Stockholm, Kim Ly graduated with a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Stockholm in 2009. In 2011, he moved to Toronto to become an actor. He was featured in many movies before staring in his breakthrough, “Huong Ga”. Since then, Kim Ly has become a national icon, and has appeared on covers of prestigious magazines such as Esquire, Elle Man, Muscle & Fitness and, most recently, Harper’s Bazaar.
In 2016, Kim produced and starred alongside Thai Hoa in the action/comedy film “Saigon Bodyguards”. He is scheduled to star in “Super Hung”, an action film to be directed by Swedish/Moroccan director Youness Benali in 2018.

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Entry No. 04

Tuan Fr

“I’m living in an old house on Nguyen Hue, and used to have a studio just behind the Opera House. These buildings are charming and spacious, yet their look and style are humble in a very crowded and ultra-modern Saigon. Unfortunately these traditional houses are gradually disappearing.”

Tuan graduated with a first class honours in photography in 2008 at EFET in Paris. From 2010 to 2015, he worked as creative director at Le Media in HCMC. In 2015, Tuan founded Studio, where he also holds an advanced photography class.

Tuan has been working with a variety of fashion magazines including Elle (Vietnam, Hongkong, Germany, France, Portugal), Harper’s Bazaar, Dep, The Thao Van Hoa & Dan Ong on photographic projects and has also collaborated with the likes of Toyota, Lexus, Audi, Takashimaya, Parkson and Unilever to work on their commercials.

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Entry No. 05

Thai My Phuong

“More than 8 million people in 2,000 km², Saigon has stories in every corner. Wherever I go— be it a small alley or high building—the people I meet share stories of how diverse this city is. Food in particular—be it local or international, traditional ice tea or imported milk tea, banh mi or pasta—shows me how inviting this city really is!

Each resident of Saigon represents a pixel within the city’s portrait, along with their unpredictable stories. Perhaps, a lifetime itself is too short for a visual storyteller like myself to discover and record everything in all of its detail.”

Thái Mỹ Phương was born and raised in the coastal city of Da Nang, in Central Vietnam. She then moved to Saigon to study Fine Arts in Interior Design, where she received a BA. She then completed a Masters degree in Sequential Design/Illustration in the UK, giving her the chance to travel to many parts of the world. Phương has over 10 years experience working as an Interior Designer, Author, Illustrator and Lecturer. She enjoys expressing her life experiences and discoveries, whilst supporting the young generation on transferring its messages visually to the world.

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Entry No. 06


“Even though I was born and raised in Saigon, I’m inspired and learn new things about this city everyday. I love dishes such as Cơm sườn, Bún bò Huế, Cơm Gà Hội An, the culture and the people. The young generation here are talented and passionate about what they do, and who they want to become. It makes me believe in the future of Vietnam.”

Hàng Lâm Trang Anh, known by her stage name ‘Suboi’, is a rapper, singer and song writer. She is considered Vietnam’s Queen of Hip Hop. She became popular after rapping in one of Ho Ngoc Ha’s biggest hits “My Apology” in 2009. At the age of 20, she debuted her album WALK, which was well received by music critics and helped her gain her loyal fan base. Suboi’s favourite rap themes are family, society and feminism.

In 2016, Suboi drew immediate international media attention after rapping for former US President Barack Obama, and discussing the importance of art to a nation. Suboi, along with three other savvy Vietnamese entrepreneurs, also was named in the Forbes ‘Under-30 Asia’ list of 2017.

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