History in your palm with Saigon landmark miniatures
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Nguyen Trieu Kha makes miniatures of the Ben Thanh Market, Notre Dame Cathedral, sidewalk vendors and other iconic features of Saigon in the 1990s.
It has taken Kha, a resident of Binh Thanh District, three years to craft nearly 50 models of the "old" Saigon. "I was born in Saigon but lived abroad for several years, when I was always nostalgic for my homeland. When I returned, I figured out how to make models as a way to save treasured memories for not only myself but everyone. I choose the 90s because that was the time I lived in and have the most memories of," said the 28-year-old artist.
In a shop at 292/30 Binh Loi Street, Ward 13, Binh Thanh District, Kha and his friends make old Saigon models every day, both according to customers' orders and to the group's own preferences. To create a complete model, it takes an average of a month for the team to brainstorm ideas, photograph, find materials, shape and assemble the small parts together. The materials are mainly wood, rattan, bamboo, paper, and plastic. Kha said finding the right material for every detail was one of the trickiest stages.
On this shelf is a display of a series of Saigon models of the 90s including a traditional medicine store, canal house, record renting store, pho noodle stall, and street vendors. These products are for display and not for sale. If clients order a model, Kha will remake a duplicate one. "In order to create the most realistic models, besides looking for pictures, my team has to ask people who lived at that time for details. Even missing a small detail will make the product incomplete," Kha said.
The first model of a rustic rice shop with a thatched roof and bamboo walls is from 2018. Most models, from the sketch to the final product, are often not completely identical because the artists’ ideas keep changing.
The Ben Thanh Market model is one that Kha and friends spent the most effort on. This took more than a month to complete. The details of the market in the 90s have been vividly recreated, including street vendors, sugarcane juice vendors, other beverage counters, and cyclos. The architectural patterns on the 100-year-old market such as reliefs, the clock and tiled roof are also elaborately crafted. "A client offered VND35 million ($1,520) for this model but I refused. Instead, I built another Ben Thanh market model for him," Kha said.
A bustling street corner about 30 years ago was inspired by an old market on Ham Nghi Street in District 1.
This model of the Ba Thien Hau Pagoda on Nguyen Trai Street in District 5 is sold for VND19 million ($826). The client who bought this model was a couple who wanted to recall the memory of their first meeting more than 30 years ago. "I had to travel many times, took pictures of all the angles and asked people here for the true older scene, and depicted the sophisticated architecture of the pagoda. The hardest part was making the portraits on the roof," Kha said.
A corner of Notre Dame Cathedral in the evening was made specially for a client who wanted to recall memories of when his group of friends often hung out there.
In the 1990s, temporary houses made of scrap and wood could be found around canals and channels in Saigon. These working-class houses, built in long lines, were quite shabby. They were called ‘the canal slum’. Next to that is a typical traditional medicine store on the Chinese street.
This is a close-up look at a tape rental shop. The tapes and posters from old movies such as 'Journey to the West' and 'Dat Ky Tru Vuong' bring back memories of movies of the 80s - 90s.
A sugarcane juice stall in the old days was made of wood and the juice was squeezed out by rotating the wheel on the side with hands. Today, machines do the job.
One popular attraction is the model of Saigon street vendors. Kha and his team work the most on such models. The prize depends on the size and details, but it costs at least VND500,000 ($22). "These models are mainly bought as souvenirs when people travel to Saigon. Some order them to recall their memories. My team and I are planning to make models of the old Mekong River Delta and old Hanoi," Kha said.