Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

By Quynh Tran, Nhung Nguyen   August 11, 2017 | 05:15 pm GMT+7
Can trees be a part of urban life? The answer is yes, at least in Saigon.
Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

Ly, owner of a store on Le Hong Phong Street, District 10 mobilizes a tree chunk to display her goods.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

“I have been selling drinks under this apitong tree for 40 years,” said Sau, a 60-year-old woman, “I remember in the 1970s there were so many them planted along this street. Then they were axed down as more houses and shops emerged.”

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

As the city population grows, many trees on Le Hong Phong and Tran Phu streets find themselves growing inside a house.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

Many good old trees are considered to be sacred and seen as the adobe of spirits. They are worshipped with an altar, where people come to pray for good health and prosperity.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

The tree seems to blend into the entrance of this repairment store.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

A tree is decorated by a drink stall, including an electronic fan.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

This trunk is caged for the display of a toy shop nearby.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

On Ly Van Phuc Street in District 3, a whole neighborhood has grown around the above-50-year-old tree line.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

Inside one of the houses, a tree becomes a pot hanger in Nguyen Thi Ba’s kitchen. “The ground used to be a dumping site,” said the 70-year-old woman. “Poor people flocked in and settled down under canvas huts and used the tree trunks as pillars for their ‘houses’,” Ba recalled.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

“Usually the corrugated iron roof makes the house hotter under the sun,” said Tuyet Mai, a resident since 1959, “but the canopy above helps cooling it down.”

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

The slum is about to be demolished due to the risk of collapse. Many trees have grown and broken the walls built around them. Dead branches falling also threaten life of people living under them.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

However, over the time, the trees have become a member to families living here. “It’s been over 50 years, we have a lot of memories here with them,” Ba, an elder in the neighborhood, said. “After our families move out of here, we hope the city won’t chop them down .”

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

This repairment stall on Ton Duc Thang Street is about to be uprooted as the tree-lined street will be cut bare for the project of Thu Thiem 2 Bridge.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

It will soon look like this: Le Loi Street where twenty-seven 50-year-old trees stand on the sidewalk were axed down last year to make space for the city’s metro line.

Falling trees threaten a way of life in Saigon

Disappearing with them are small stalls of street food and colorful souvenir set up under the trees. They are said to have moved to other areas, Nguyen Hue Boulevard or Dong Khoi Street for instance.

In this crowded city, even trees have no space to stand alone.

Since trees were first introduced to the city during the French colonial era, locals have learned to evolve around them in life, business and even religion.

The trees have also blended into the motorbike culture by lending a branch or trunk to streetside stalls.

Over time, their fates intertwine, and with the recent tree cull, the lives thriving under them is also vanishing.

They also pose certain risks to those living beneath them every time it pours in the city. Last year, the transport department reported an increase in deadly tree uprootings and falling branches. The most recent accident happened when a 10-meter branch fell onto the roofs and billboards of two shops in downtown Saigon last month.

Experts blame it on urban development, with houses suffocating the trees and underground projects taking up their soil and water.

In this photo series, VnExpress International documented the way people and the city's trees co-exist, and ultimantely, the special bond between them. 

 
 
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