Every time I hear sounds, I see pictures. Then, I start getting ideas. It just drives me crazy.

David Lynch

Saigon is a noisy city. Anyone who lives here must be very familiar with the sounds that ring out 24/7, and honestly, those sounds are not always pleasant.

Just imagine you are driving on the road during rush hour. The honking, the revving of various types of vehicles, the rumbling of construction sites like earthquakes, the shouting on the drinking tables, the singing of whom “pleasing to the singer but painful to the listener” blaring from the cheap portable speakers at full power, the hawking from all kinds of services, with different accents from different regions of Vietnam.

It’s no wonder that noise-canceling headphones are selling like hot cakes. And it’s also no wonder that Saigonese are not used to living in silence.

But when Saigon was locked down for months – the period when the Covid epidemic hit our lives hardest – all those sounds disappeared, giving way to a terrifying silence, punctuated by the haunting sound of ambulance sirens.

At that time, sitting at home looking out, in that lonely atmosphere, we felt the pain of Saigon. And then we realized that when Saigon was noisy, it was also when Saigon was alive.

When adidas Vietnam organized the “Dong Thanh” contest – a design contest inspired by the sounds of Hanoi and Saigon, we decided to participate (even though we hadn’t competed with anyone for a long time, except for the fierce pitching battles with unknown opponents), because the message of the contest was really different and meaningful.

We only had time to send two out of three of our designs to enter the contest. But for TKL, these are not just entries: this project, besides the stories we want to tell, the pictures we want to draw, there are also sounds we want you to listen to.

TKL is pleased to introduce to everyone our 2nd self-initiated project: TeeKayLeo #2: The Sounds of Saigon.

Our thanks go to Singer Minh Trường (Chuông vàng vọng cổ 2014) & Sound Designer Khoa Phạm who supported us with their talents for this project.

The Sound of Saigon: Tân Cổ Giao Duyên

Saigon is a city that always pushes itself forward, and so do its people. But that doesn’t mean that Saigon doesn’t appreciate the values of history. Saigonese always have a way of bringing traditional values into modern life in a clever and interesting way, or as people say “Tân Cổ Giao Duyên”: new and old go hand in hand and complement each other.

Speaking of “Tân Cổ Giao Duyên”, surely anyone in Saigon has heard and remembered a few sad lines “Oh God, because of misfortune on the battlefield farewell, so Vo Dong So had to say goodbye forever to Bach Thu Ha…”. This song, created by the talented composer Vien Chau, caused a big shock in the hearts of Saigonese connoisseurs, who were only used to listening to traditional opera acts. Because this “Vo Dong So” song has both opera and modern music, and even has poetry recitation… truly a shocking “invention” of the talented composer.

Nowadays, among many kinds of foreign music, young music… one would think that Tân Cổ would be left out by Saigon. But no, from small alleys, from sidewalk drinking tables, from lottery stalls, and especially from Cải Lương stages that still light up every night… one can still easily hear Vo Dong So’s poignant voice, and the hearts of many Saigonese still “shatter” every time they get to the part where he goes down on his knees.

And there are still many young artists who are working hard to keep Tân Cổ, and many other traditional art forms… popular with the public. They are the inspiration for this work: a “main actor” who throws himself through noisy, bustling, crowded streets… like a real track athlete, on a pair of legendary adidas Samba shoes… to get to the stage, to the audience. The person who lent his voice for the recording that you can hear in the clip is such a character: artist Minh Truong – winner of Chuong Vang Vong Co 2014.

The Samba sneaker is a priceless heritage item of adidas, just like Tân Cổ is a priceless cultural heritage of Saigon. This combination seems incompatible, but in fact it is unimaginably compatible.

The Sound of Saigon: The beat of the night

Some people explain that the sound of knocking rattles and pots of Hủ Tiếu Gõ (Street Noodles) sounds like two words “Xuc Tac”, which means Thuc Dac, which means “Edible”. It means that Hủ Tiếu Gõ or Mì Gõ from street vendors on sidewalks and alleys is an edible dish,but not necessarily delicious.

This explanation sounds reasonable… But surely for many Saigonese, the musical sound of knocking from him (always him, not her) who sells Hủ Tiếu Gõ is associated with many emotions and stimulates many senses, not just a street food dish. The smell of hot noodles wafting through the alley, the sound of two wooden sticks hitting each other echoing the very detailed “orders” from customers: a bowl with more chives, a bowl without fat, a bowl of chewy dry noodles etc… But he still remembers everything, and then a few minutes later, you will have a steaming bowl of delicious Hủ Tiếu Gõ to enjoy in the night.

Hủ Tiếu Gõ is a dish that belongs to the street, and the Hủ Tiếu Gõ seller is also like a star of the street: His hands create rhythmic beats like a skilled drummer, or sometimes carries five or six bowls of noodles without spilling like a talented circus performer. His feet glide through the “mazes” of Saigon’s alleys without getting lost, freeing many people from sudden hunger… So his pair of “combat shoes” also have those qualities, with a catchy name: Superstar.

Every end of the month, when money is tight… Hủ Tiếu Gõ always fills the stomach and soul of the customers, tolerant and “delicious”, like the spirit of this land. Hủ Tiếu Gõ is like a kind of “energy source” for those who are busy making a living day and night, and the sound of knocking from the empty alleys is also like the heartbeat of Saigon – a different Saigon, hardworking, diligent, and full of energy.

The Sound of Saigon: The sound of footsteps

We were very impressed with the first line in the song “Saigon Rise Up”: The sound of our footsteps shakes the streets of Saigon. Luckily, Saigon doesn’t need to “rise up” anymore, but there are still many footsteps that are “silently” shaking the city.

They are the footsteps of the “midnight-runners” who run deadlines during the day and half-marathons at night. You can easily meet these freaks running in groups at Sala’s holy land for the runners.

They are the footsteps of the coconut vendors running around the Presidential Palace, greeting customers in English, sometimes doubling as impromptu but enthusiastic tour guides.

They are the footsteps of the little kids who rush to extra classes after school, sometimes holding a half-eaten sandwich in their hands.

They seem to have little in common, but to us, they are typical examples of Saigonese who never stop, never settle, and never give up.

Unlike the previous two drawings, in this one we don’t feature a heritage shoe model from adidas anymore, but a new product line that just came out: SWITCH FWD – A pair of running shoes that caught our attention and interest because of its very futuristic design, and a sole that “looks comfy at first sight”.

No one knows if this shoe model will become legendary like Samba or Superstar, but more than anyone else, adidas surely understands that if you want to play it safe, you might as well just stop thinking about progress altogether.

The future is waiting for us ahead, let’s run towards it with all our courage, Saigon.