I missed the period when the bulldozers first entered Thu Thiem. I was living close to downtown at the time, and rarely ventured east of the Saigon River. But when I finally caught on to the destruction of a major part of Saigon, I went to explore.
My memory of those 2012 trips to Thu Thiem is vivid, indelibly mixed with visions of rubble. Bulldozers and rubble. But the question that struck me as residents had their houses torn down was not where the people of Thu Thiem would go — some were resettled in temporary accommodation, others took their compensation and moved elsewhere. Rather it was the pagodas. Would they stay? Or would they be sacrificed in the name of progress?
Progress won. And except for one temple hidden away in the mangroves, and another right opposite the Bitexco Tower, the rest were razed to the ground. Saigon 2.0 was on its way. And to get there, sacrifices — both human and physical — had to be made.
Three Years Later
Yet city-changing projects take time. And in this instance, it meant doing things in stages. Long, drawn-out stages. For two years nothing happened. Thu Thiem became an overgrown wasteland, one that I would drive though almost daily, one that I would come to love. It was wild, unkempt and untouched. It was my secret garden, a place to find solitude in a city that offered none.
Then in mid-2014 the wastelands were once again given a purpose. The developers moved in, tearing away the rubble, the undergrowth and the wetlands. For a second time I came out with my camera to document the area.
This time I went to catch change. Before, after and somewhere in between. It’s an ongoing project, something I feel lucky to witness. Never before have I seen a city so utterly destroyed and then rebuilt. I will probably never see it again. But what I love most is what came in between.