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Cyclistes devant l'Hôtel Continental de Saïgon

Air France

Sagonnaises sur les trottoirs de Saïgon

Cyclo-Pousse Saigon 1951

Hôtel Continental Taxi Renault

Garage Jean Comte 34 Boulevard Norodom Saïgon

Les fameux taxis Renault 4CV

Camions Cosara de Saïgon

Cigares Mélia

Croix-Rouge Française rue Thevenel

Hôtel Majestic Saïgon

Une Renault Dauphine dans une rue de Saïgon

La Poste de Saïgon

Camionnette Renault avec une saïgonnaise

Marins Français sur le Porte-Avion Lafayette en mai 1953

Centre ville de Saïgon

Le Docteur Irwin S. Leinbach devant le Parlement Novembre 1963

Cathedrale Notre Dame Saigon

Cigares Mélia

Le Boulevard Charner

Rue Catinat

Hotel Caravelle Saïgon

Le Palais de la Capitale du Sud-Vietnam

Hotel Catinat Saïgon

Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon

Bière Larue : la bière qui tue

Eden Sports Saïgon

Une Renault Dauphine dans une rue de Saïgon

Rue Catinat

Devant le Parlement Novembre 1963

Citroen DS19 devant le temple Vinh Nghiem

Hôtel Majestic

Renault Fregate & Citroen Traction Saïgon

Cathedrale Notre Dame Saigon

La terrase d'un café de Saïgon

Cigarettes Melia

Hôtel Continental de Saïgon vu de la rue Catinat

Biere Larue de Saïgon

Indochinoises en vélos

En 1950 le Boulevard Charner Saïgon

Palais de Justice de Saïgon

Peugeot 404 devant le Théâtre

Dynard Panhard Saïgon

Vue sur Saïgon depuis l'hôtel Caravelle

En Solex 2200 à Saïgon

les Messageries Maritimes ont fait le tour du monde

Boulevard Charner Saïgon

Théâtre municipal de Saïgon

Jeux dans les rues de Saïgon

Souvenir de Saïgon

La Rue Pasteur ex Pellerin Saïgon en 1965 Velosolex Mobylettes

Confection Tailleur Coya Saïgon

Taxi Renault 4CV Station-Service Schell

Peugeot 203

Peugeot 203 sur le Boulevard Bonnard à Saïgon

Etablissements Olympic Saigon

Saigonnaises sur les trottoirs de Saïgon

Carrefour Renault-Dauphine Volkswagen Coccinnelle Saïgon

Carrefour du Centre Ville de Saïgon

Renault 4CV & Dauphine Boulevard Charner Saïgon

Saïgon-Paris à scooter Peugeot en 1957

Jeunes gens en 1967 avec des Mobylettes à Saïgon

Carrefour du Centre Ville de Saïgon

Marché noir Cigarettes Novembre 1967

Cathédrale Notre-Dame Saïgon

Peugeot 404 devant le Théâtre

Jeunes gens en 1967 avec des Mobylettes à Saïgon

Marin vietnamien sur un Vélosolex à Saïgon

Peugeot 403 Baché

La Croix du Sud rue Catinat Saïgon

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Drapeau francais

by Raymond Cauchetier



The article presented below was published in the monthly magazine Géographia, Number 84, in December 1958; the photos and text are by Raymond Cauchetier.
Raymond Cauchetier is one of the foremost set photographers of the "New Wave".
He is notably responsible for the famous photo of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg on the Champs Elysées (a photo taken “off-set”) as well as the one of the trio of “Jules and Jim” by François Truffaut (1961), running on a bridge.
Raymond Cauchetier is also the author of three magnificent books about Indochina: "Saigon", "Phnom Penh", and "Angkor".

Vue aérienne de Saïgon

Arrival in Saigon

For the traveler from Europe, the impression that Saigon leaves depends on the chosen means of transportation.
To the airline passenger the city first appears as a mere pinpoint, lost in the grey immensity of the grey peninsula of the great plain of Cochin China.
Is this microcosm really the capital of Vietnam, the city whose destiny over the years troubled the World?
The feeling is deceiving, and almost frightening. However when the airplane loses altitude, Saigon spreads out bit by bit and regains human dimensions. The layout of the city appears first as a whole, symmetrical, with its wide avenues, its green spaces, and its surrounding waterways.
Then the city itself rises up, teeming streets, the shanty towns driving their pilings out into the middle of the rivers, the markets, and the tumultuous bustle of a city where three million people live.
The steamship passenger, on the other hand, first undergoes the interminable trip up the Saigon river, the slow slalom of the liner along the thousand bends snaking their way through deserted rice paddies.
The city only appears by the tip of the bell-towers of its cathedral, rising progressively from behind a screen of vegetation. Then, suddenly, the ship emerges in the heart of the city, in the middle of the bustle of one of the biggest ports in the Far East, in a landscape of giant cranes, war ships, grand hotels, in the middle of a racket of whistles, sirens, shouts and laughter.
Asia, with care for its effect, has suddenly appeared.

The Chinese Arroyo

La rue des marchands Saïgon Le canal des poteries Saïgon L'arroyo chinois de Saïgon

The Chinese Arroyo (creek) is not only a busy river, endlessly traveled by fleets of junks and sampans, but also an important artery serving as a hub for the immense network of waterways upon which the near totality of commercial transport in south Indochina takes place.
It is also an incredible floating city of several thousand people who have found an economical solution, albeit not a comfortable one, to the endemic housing shortage in all Asian cities, which is tragically without remedy due to a lack of resources of these laborious masses.
Thousands of sampans are tied up there, permanently, tangled up with each other, clogging the rice paddy to the point that there is barely enough room for a navigable channel. The river banks themselves disappear under a mound of huts on stilts reachable only by rickety bamboo foot bridges.
Despite its name, the Chinese Arroyo is mostly inhabited by Vietnamese. The Chinese have far too sharp a business sense to depend on such precarious housing.

The Pagodas

La Putification L'Offrande La prière en forme d'ogive

The pagodas of Saigon, and especially Cholon, which after all is just a section of Saigon, leave an unforgettable impression on those who are lucky enough to visit them. Be they Buddhist, Taoist, or dedicated to the worship of spirits, the fervor shown by the worshipers takes place in the same mystical atmosphere and the contributions of western civilizations, visible everywhere else, have not penetrated here.
On the days of traditional big festivals, the festival of wandering souls, the ceremony of Tet, etc., the pagodas are filled with a dense crowd bearing all sorts of offerings..
In the blue smoke of joss sticks, in the noise of gongs and rattles, the soul of an entire people communes in a common faith, deep, candid, and fearful.

The Cataclysms

Les pompiers de Saïgon Incendie à Saïgon Incendie dans les paillotes

In a few seconds, the destiny of several tens of thousands of people can be changed, and the efforts of their entire life wiped out. It only takes a tipped-over lamp, a carelessly discarded cigarette. Moments later flames arise, a column of smoke goes up and the fire takes off...
One more cataclysm to hit Saigon. Embers, carried by the wind, spread the disaster far and wide. The lightweight huts burn like kindling amidst the crackling of popping bamboo. The firefighters cannot control it. Like ants in a fire pit, they fight the flaming city in vain.
Nevertheless, the fire will go out for lack of fuel. Of the huts where thousands of families lived, nothing, absolutely nothing remains but ashes… A month later a new neighborhood will be rebuilt, just as lightweight, just as fragile.
And the victims of the fire will have to work for years to repay the Chinese who lent them the necessary piasters.

Arbre sur une Jeep Arbres jonchant une rue de Saïgon L'arroyo chinois de Saïgon

There is also the wrath of Nature, typhoons, thankfully rarer. When the monsoon cyclone hits a region, its merciless breath flattens forests and blows away roofs. A torrential rain falls from a black sky, and flooding is added to the destruction.
But the courage of the Vietnamese is unshaken. They will rebuild....


Le Dragon et la Vietnamienne Beauté féminine Sage vietnamien Fillette sur l'arroyo chinois de Saïgon

I don’t know who helped spread the idea that Asians, under any circumstances, remained inscrutable and did not allow their faces to express any deep feelings.
Nothing is farther from the truth, especially for the Vietnamese People, who have the vivacity, the gift of gab, and the demonstrativeness of our people of the south of France. Their gaiety, delicacy, and sense of hospitality make them infinitely likeable.

Family life

Le repas pris en commun Repas pour les petits vietnamiens Beauté féminine

The family is the real core of Vietnamese society, as indicated by the thousand-year practice of ancestor-worship.
If parents are regarded with a respect that grows with age, children get the attention, tenderness, and general indulgence everywhere and at all times.

Street scenes

Enfant avec des ventouses en bambou Jeux dans la rue Une partie de

Left, a child upon whom bamboo suction cups have just been applied...
Middle, an initiation to gambling.
Right, "Cyclos".

City-dwellers are always in a hurry. The Saigonese are no exception. But since walking is hardly an attractive proposition in a town where the average temperature is 25 degrees C (80 F), they prefer to employ the services of the drivers of cyclo-pousse (human-powered cycle rickshaw) or moto-pousse (same, with engine), both mechanized versions of the early rickshaws. The unending flow of these machines runs through the streets in a din of bells. When “Cyclos” are tired they stop at one of the innumerable stalls of the mobile restaurants and while the Chinese soup is warming, they play a game of “cocho”, where some of them will lose their earnings of the morning.
Additionally, the street offers to those who wish the opportunity to buy nearly anything.
Dentists, jewelers, doctors, fortune-tellers, grocers, beverage-sellers, and pharmacists walk around with their entire inventory hanging from the ends of their yokes.
They display their goods at places where the flow of passers-by appears to be favorable to their business.
When customers become scarce, they move on a bit. Even movie-lovers can satisfy their passion, in the street, in broad daylight, by looking into a box inside which a “Pathé-Baby” projector is running...

The Chinese city

Dentiste en plein air Vendeuse de cigarettes

If one encounters in Saigon numerous streets whose sole inhabitants are Chinese, the Chinese quarter, Cholon is in fact a veritable city of more than a million inhabitants.
Several years ago Cholon was famous in Southeast Asia for its gambling establishments, its sumptuous night clubs, and the picturesque night life of its streets illuminated by gigantic lighted signs.
All that has disappeared. The Diem government has imposed a politic of austerity which left only a few “polite” night clubs. The Chinese signs had to come down, to be replaced with signs written in Vietnamese, and the Chinese had to give up their nationality in order to continue to do business.
But these changes didn’t affect the real life, the genuine life of Cholon, which remains, today as yesterday, a Chinese city with its pagodas, its congregations, its Cantonese language, its schools, its gleaming theaters, its wonderful restaurants, and that uniqueness that makes China eternal.


Le départ le long du quai des Messageries Maritimes de Saïgon

This is the departure-point, across from the “Pointe des Blagueurs”(Joker’s Point), on the “Messageries Maritimes” pier.
The steamship “Foch” is about to sail. Two thousand passengers carry with them, some with out even knowing it, the nostalgic memory of this human, brave, and smiling city: Saigon.


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