At counters in stores across Hanoi he began to see the bored shopgirls.  In the new shopping centre in the heart of Hanoi, where they sold jewellery and fried chicken, he saw them lying across their counters, asleep. On the street, he saw them sitting on the footpaths outside shopfronts. They had no concept of trying to look busy. They wore their boredom for everyone, without shame. S. loved the honesty of this. It observed the form of the work, but not the pretence that it was useful labour.

They were beautiful.

“In ca tru, thinking and prosody are mixed together, literature and fine arts are combined harmoniously. And it is also a place where gentlemen can meet beautiful singers.”

 

I.

He met Hoa working in a shop up from his hotel. She had recently finished university, and was looking for a better job. A friend, she said, could get her work in an airline. She came from Halong City and lived with her sister in a cramped room in the southern part of the city.

 

The Working Day – Airline check-in

60 hours per week - shift work.

No weekends.

Shift work takes many forms. Shifts can be 8 hours or 4 hours or anywhere in between. They can also be at any time of the day or night.

A shift might be from 6pm - midnight, but your next shift will start at 5am.

Also you aren’t paid for anytime that you do as ‘training’. Even though you must show up to the office on a daily basis for this, training is considered to be your own concern.

 

II.

Huynh was a native Hanoian who lived in a house across from the hotel. Her mother had converted the ground floor into a shop selling scarves and hats and jewellery to tourists. Huynh studied economics. She told him children who do well in school get a little Ho Chi Minh card that says ‘Ho Chi Minh loves you.’ She says that feeling is not so strong in the South.

 

III.

Quynh sold photocopied propaganda posters from a tourist shop near St. Joseph’s Cathedral. She worked a few days at the store while she finished her degree. She wanted to come to Australia to study.  She invited him to dinner at her family home in Dong Da.

 

IV.

Cuc worked in a lacquer ware store on Ly Quoc Su. A farmer’s daughter, she came from a Bac Can – a province north of Hanoi. Cuc worked full time in the store and lived with her brother somewhere in the west of the city. In the country, she said, she woke at 7.30 in the morning and worked until 11. Then had lunch and rested until 3 in the afternoon, and worked again until 5 or 6 pm. Life, she says, is happier in the country, simpler. The air is cleaner.

 

The Working Day – Souvenir Store

8.30am to 7.30 pm 7 days per week.

Some days off as needed.

 

V.

Anh worked in a shop selling t-shirts and thin paper fans. She said that while people are getting richer in Hanoi and Saigon, there was still widespread poverty in the countryside. She said street vendors have been banned from the streets of Hanoi. She said there is little welfare in Vietnamese society. Hospitals and doctors all cost. That is why, she said, Vietnamese are their own doctors.

 

Potential photography subjects:

Shop girls

Tourists

Motor scooter valets

The floors of buildings above street level

Window shutters

The forgotten buildings of the communist resistance, such as:

The house at No. 5D, Ham Long Street (Hanoi), where the first communist cell in Vietnam was set up in March 1929. (Closed until further notice)

The house at No 48 Hang Ngang Street, Hanoi where President Ho Chi Minh wrote the Independence Declaration on 2 September, 1945 (Closed for renovation until further notice)

 

Other ideas:

Make a science fiction film out of photographs like Chris Marker’s Le Jetee. Except the heroes would be a bumbling French detective and his worldly Vietnamese side kick.

Record the working conditions of types of workers met.

Visit Pac Bo, where Ho Chi Minh crossed into Vietnam in 1940.

 

He wrote these (and other things) in his notebooks.