On an early weekend morning in late January, Bui Nguyen Van Nguyen sat down for a cup of coffee at Ba Lu, one of Saigon’s oldest cafés, located smack in the middle of Phung Hung Market in District 5.
After taking a sip of coffee brewed in the traditional net-filter method, Nguyen began snapping photographs of the market, cataloguing the simple beauty of everyday life in Saigon.
Such moments are typical for Nguyen who, for the past three years, has spent his time wandering around Saigon, capturing life through the perspective of his lens.
Nguyen’s love of Saigon is shown to the 106,000 followers of his Instagram account @odaucungchup, which translates to 'taking photos everywhere.'
“It makes me happy that every day I get to wake up and realize I am in the heart of Saigon,” Nguyen told Tuoi Tre News.
|Saigon at sunset. Photo: @odaucungchup|
Nguyen’s goal is to showcase simple, familiar images of Saigon, from its narrow alleyways to its street corners covered in tangled electric wires, and everything in between.
Building his Instagram handle a place for Saigon lovers, he wrote upon his bio, “Do you guys love Saigon like me?”
Besides randomly taking photos of city life in a wide range of topics, Nguyen has also run several long-term series, including Saigon Old Texts, Saigon Houses, Saigon Alleys, Saigon Cinemas, Saigon People, Patterns of Saigon, and more.
|A photo from Bui Nguyen Van Nguyen’s Saigon Old Texts photo series|
“I’m always attracted to shops with nice old-school signs when I need to buy or repair things because I truly believe that the people in those places put love and kindness into their work,” Nguyen captioned a series depicting store signage.
The 29-year-old photographer also uploads the story behind each photo, describing his feelings about it or what he has learned of the area where the picture was taken.
“Each time I stop at my regular banh mi [Vietnamese baguette] stall on the way to work, I’m welcomed by Ms. Bay, the owner," Nguyen told his Instagram followers.
"She always asks me if I want to stick to my favorite choices of fillings.
“It shows me she truly cares.”
According to Nguyen, he has never had a specific plan to post a picture or a story on a certain day.
“When I’m in the mood for telling a certain story, I look for the photos in my collections, do a little retouch before recalling what happened that day,” he described the routine to run his account.
The man has the peculiar habit of ending his sentences with commas, rather than periods.
“I want to give my sentences an open ending so that readers can continue to tell stories in their own way and from their own perspectives,” Nguyen explained.
“I think it makes people more comfortable if they are free to express their thoughts after the commas."
|A photo from Bui Nguyen Van Nguyen’s Saigon Alleys photo series|
The boy from Dak Lak
Given his devotion to the southern metropolis, most of Nguyen’s fans are surprised when they find out he is not a Saigon native, but rather a transplant from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
Nguyen first came to Saigon 10 years ago in order to pursue higher education and has since made the city his home.
“My journey of maturing is in Saigon, with all the best moments in my life having been witnessed by the city,” he explained.
“When I was living with my family in my hometown, I was just a high school boy who didn’t know a thing about life.
"It wasn’t until I began living independently in Saigon that I started to learn what life is all about and how to live kindly."
|Bui Nguyen Van Nguyen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News|
His love for the bustling city has grown ever since.
“Saigon brought many beautiful people and experiences to my life,” he said.
“When I’m away from the city, I always suffer from missing the city and its things, like a loaf of banh mi.”
Saigon has also been a city of firsts for Nguyen.
“The city brought me many first times, like the first time I had my motorbike stolen or the first time I quit a job,” he shared.
“Sometimes, when I feel really down, I stop working for a while and wander, then stop and listen to all the street sounds.
"It helps me ‘recharge my batteries,’ which gives me energy to keep moving forward.”
To Nguyen, Saigon is a huge 'warehouse' with endless material and inspiration.
“Saigon is like a rain," he remarked.
"It slowly drenches you until you realize how much you love it.”
|A photo Bui Nguyen Van Nguyen took in Saigon under the theme of Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year).|
Currently, Nguyen’s only plan is to continue running the @odaucungchup Instagram account in order to share his perspective on the city with the world.
Nguyen also denied being called a photographer, saying the title is “too great” for him.
“I would like to be called a Saigon storyteller with photos,” he said.
|A photo from above by Bui Nguyen Van Nguyen shows vegetables being sold a wet market in Saigon.|
|A photo shows local people making banh ba trang, a typical dish of Chinese-Vietnamese people in Vietnam for Doan Ngo Festival, which is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. Photo: @odaucungchup|