Life sketches record hustle and bustle of Sài Gòn

August 23, 2021 - 09:20

A group of amateur painters have gathered to depict Sài Gòn's busy and beautiful life amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Their art will be used to raise funds for Food Bank Việt Nam and Hope Foundation

Watch our video on the art project

Thanh Hà

Sài Gòn is sick, seriously sick. The pandemic has messed life up, made things disordered and left people strongly affected. A new art project is aiming to highlight the plight of the city, while encouraging the people to be strong and raising money for good causes.

Project founder, artist and architect Nguyễn Tăng Quang misses the real Sài Gòn, a city of fascinating culture that is dynamic and open-minded, kind, energetic and proud of its people.

"Entering another period of social distancing, Sài Gòn (the former name of HCM City) once again has slowly transformed into its unusual offbeat self, with rare images of empty streets and the lack of hustle and bustle in daily life," he wrote on his Facebook page.

"This feeling, so vast yet nebulous, comes from observing the lessened traffic, the missing crowd on the streets and the absence of common activities among the humble working people busy going about their business up and down the streets of Sài Gòn.”

Sài Gòn's familiar and vivid images are depicted beautifully through sketches of Nguyễn Tăng Quang and friends. Photos courtesy of Nguyễn Tăng Quang


He said the outbreak had taken a heavy toll on businesses on the streets, with many find themselves suddenly without a job. If it keeps going on any longer, nobody will know whether the beautiful sight of Sài Gòn working people roaming the busy streets will be seen ever again.

The artist wanted the next part of this sketching series to express gratitude toward all the doctors, nurses and soldiers who are in a fight to the finish with the coronavirus.


Street shops and mobile food stalls are seen on every corner of the city.

Quang shared his idea of drawing the city on his Facebook page and received great feedback. Many netizens, both friends and strangers, of different backgrounds and ages asked to join the project.

"They are 10-year-old kids, overseas students and retirees. We are not all painters or artists but really wanted to contribute with our free time. It was the first time that we cooperated with each other but things went smoothly because of our mutual special feelings for the city," Quang told Việt Nam News.

After nearly three weeks of hard work, a collection of more than 50 works titled Sài Gòn was born, depicting the daily life of normal working people.

There are portraits of aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, who work hard from dusk till dawn. There are vendors, shoe-shine boys, street barbers and xe ôm drivers. And there are street food sellers and hired workers. All the teeming life of the city seems to be captured in this series of art.

Barbers and hired workers take to the streets to earn their bread.

"I read an article about Mr Hiếu who is poor but repairs bikes for free for people in need. It is said Saigonese are great people who are caring and sharing, and it is because of people like Hiếu. His story moved me and I decided to draw him," Ngô Huỳnh Trọng, who is from Tây Ninh Province and has lived in the southern metropolis for 14 years, told Việt Nam News.

"My characters are all the working poor that make up Sài Gòn's typical features. Social distancing has seen such images disappear. I really hope the pandemic is quickly over and we will be back to normal soon."

Helping with four paintings in the collection, Bùi Văn Tiến wanted to take part in the project because of its human meaning, showing the spirit of the people during difficult times. 

For Quảng Nam Province-born Tiến, images of vendors have long been part of his eight-year life in the city. 

"It holds memories since I was student. For the friends, people, routine life and everything that Sài Gòn has given me, the city has become my second hometown. I really hope my contribution will be an encouragement to push my town to overcome the pandemic," he said.

Phạm Phương Anh, based in Spain, also gave a hand with two drawings.



A woman and her puppy on the way to earn money.

"I am a Hanoian but I love Sài Gòn and several times had business trips in the city which treated me with great hospitality along with a busy but romantic atmosphere. I feel familiar with the city although I did not settle there. I believe that through art we can speak more than with words, spreading positive messages, love and belief in the city's recovery," Phạm Phương Anh told Việt Nam News.

Anh’s depicts a small cat, which is well taken care of by its owner. The two show their love for each other while ignoring many of the difficulties around them. Meanwhile the other painting is a beautiful and poetic image of Sài Gòn which has been etched on her mind for years.

The amateur painters also created images of doctors and nurses who are in the frontline of the battle.

"I drew doctors in front of high rises, expressing idea of people sharing and healing as they pass through hard days. In the other picture I wanted to highlight the 'body inside but love outside' and drew an enlarged image of a doctor waving at smiling people inside their apartments. These are the interesting and sweet moments amid the pandemic," said Quang.


The spirit of the 'body inside but love outside' is part of the collection.

The collection, which has received strong praise, will be used to raise funds for Food Bank Việt Nam, which provides thousands of meals per day to the southern city’s underprivileged, and Hope Foundation, which provides medical equipment for frontline heroes.

"They are beautiful and meaningful. It shows everything is still ok around here. I have never had this feeling, living in the heart of the city but missing it so much. Thank you for easing our nostalgia," netizen Thanh Khoa posted. VNS


Doctors, police and soldiers are working hard to protect the city against the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Streets are the working place of many people who lost their incomes but still care for others.


Sài Gòn is expected to recover soon. It is hoped these images will be seen again.


An old woman in need is given food. Nguyễn Tăng Quang's project will also be used to raise funds to help people during the pandemic.