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Mikaëla Le Meur - The ancient pagodas around West Lake in Hanoi offer an authentic and romantic setting for photoshoots (2014).

Relations in public

While public space has often been defined as the realm of stranger interactions, it is also where a variety of intimate relations are performed. From friendship to kin ties, or from flirting to romantic bonds, enacting relations in public seldom escapes norms of appropriate behaviour. In Vietnam, this might be most manifest through norms regarding touch. For romantic couples, fondling in public would attract undesired attention, disrupting regulations and expectations around “civilized” codes of conduct. Paradoxically, however, the very openness and layout of urban public space are also what allows for “contingent invisibility”, in the words of Nathalie Newton. A hybrid space - not fully public nor fully private - thus emerges when a lake shore is used to escape prying eyes, or when even a motorbike becomes a mobile place of intimacy

Four girls and a bike

Mikaëla Le Meur

Once a US military base during the “American war”, Quy Nhon (here in 2014) is now a quiet harbour on the central coast of Vietnam. Even if tourism is developing fast, the beach mostly remains the domain of groups of young people, lovers and families coming from all around the city to enjoy fresh air, drink a cheap sugarcane juice (nước mía) with watermelon seeds, practice inline skating or play volleyball when the sun goes down. Quy Nhon University campus is located just across the boulevard along the seafront, but for how long? This popular atmosphere is threatened by the rush to build hotels on any "empty" land and by the rising prices of every point of view over the ocean. The shore is a coveted area.

Motorbike for two

Mikaëla Le Meur

In Vietnam, finding some intimacy is not easy for young couples. Riding a motorbike brings the bodies together and helps find the right romantic place to stop for a while, sit side by side and look in the same direction. In Hanoi, the capital city, the banks of Tây Hô lake (here in 2014) are perfect for lovers.

Intimacy on two wheels

Van Minh Nguyen

A couple aboard their motorbike whizzes through traffic during the celebrations for the Vietnam’s national football team’s win of the 2018 AFF Championship. Whereas public displays of affection are usually inhibited, the motorbike allows romantic couples to fondle without fear of social constraints. Hence, leisure and intimacy among young urbanites are often associated with a practice known as đi vòng vòng (“to go around”), which describes the act of driving aimlessly around the city without a specific destination.