A few weeks back, I shot a really interesting story with Mike Ives (among the top writers in this region in my opinion) about the drop offs in Chinese tourism in central Vietnam. We spent a few days in Danang speaking with tourism officials, hotel managers, and the handful of Chinese businessmen we could find. What was just a few months ago a city with a heavy reliance on tours from all over China, has now seen nearly 100% of those tours cancel, and hotels are reeling and travel agencies are wondering what the future holds. And I’m wasting my time writing anything about it, when really you should just be reading the article (and watching the slideshow): China Tensions Choke Off Tourism to Vietnam.
I’ve been in central Vietnam for what feels like forever, shooting two weddings and working on a travel story on the DMZ. The writer and I took a trip out to Khe Sanh, one of the more well-known battle arenas of the American-Vietnam War. I stumbled upon some farmers planting sweet potatoes in a field near the war museum. I went over and chatted with them and got a few photographs with an old American plane–part of the museum’s exhibit–in the background. The weather was bleak and rainy and the mist was thick and dropping over the surrounding mountains. The entire journey felt haunted. I can’t imagine being a young marine here four decades ago in the middle of a senseless war far from home and anything at all that made any kind of sense.
It took a few days of convincing to get backstage at the Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre. Apparently there are a lot of secrets back there, behind the scenes of the famous tourist draw. But eventually the writer and I were able to convince the director that we weren’t out to leak anything, that we just wanted to fill in the gaps for a travel story on the theatre and its actors. So we got a little access, and I was told that I could fire away on the photography front, as long as I didn’t use a flash.
I had to take some creative approaches, as the area was nearly pitch black save for the light coming in from the front of the stage. The actors were obscured behind a split bamboo curtain and all the lights remained off to retain the illusion. Every now and then as the puppets would rotate, a bit of light would shine through, and at one point candles were lit atop some of the carved figures, shedding a much-needed glow on things. Of course overall it was an amazing way to see the show, watching the actors submerged in waist-deep water controlling the puppets using long, slender bamboo poles beneath the surface. I got pretty wet and almost fell in a few times, but it was worth it. I like the end photographs. And really that’s all that counts.