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VIDEOS: See the World Like It Was at the Turn of the Century

Can’t travel back in time, but there’s always a way to see it as it was.

Speaking to my grandmother about early turn of the century Vietnam, she once mentioned that my grandfather lived about a “three days’ walk from our village.”

It’s the six words that always leave me hanging: “three days’ walk from our village.” Because that’s how time was measured in the age before phones, watches, and even cars. Even for rural Asia, horses weren’t likely to make an apt appearance, and the water oxen were most likely being used to plow the paddies.

In some cases, society is blessed with time capsules, and early videos, of what everyday life was like before Starbucks, digital detoxing, and KonMari-ing your life became a thing.

Istanbul, 1930

Shot on December 13, 1930, this video clearly from the USC Newsfilm archives show a sampling of Turkish street life. It should be pointed that the Republic of Turkey, as we now know it, had only been established for seven years following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire when this was filmed.

For further history lessons, we encourage you to open up the encyclopedias, because Turkish history is rich, deep, and fascinating enough to make our head spin.

San Francisco, 1906

Save this for the history books. This quick clip of a horse trotting down San Francisco’s Market street offers a brief glimpse of the city in its early day, and was shot on April 14, 1906.

Four days later, the infamous earthquake of 1906 hit, completely devastating the city and setting off raging fires in many parts. Close to 3,000 people and almost the entire city had to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Holland, 1917

Oh my GOD, Dutch people on ice skates and in clogs. Break open a Dutch 🍫 bar while I watch.

Hong Kong, 1938

This video is practically *modern* compared to the rest of the videos in this line up, if not simply for the sole fact that it has AUDIO. This dialogue and video provides a brief glimpse into the attitudes and perspectives of the time.

By this time, Hong Kong was thoroughly under the colonial domain of the British, serving as the gateway into China (which was about to undergo the Communist revolution and go on a wildly different path), which it still does. Comparatively to other countries in the region, Hong Kong sat at the forefront of modernization in Asia.

(Interested readers should also check out acclaimed photographer Fan Ho’s photos of 1950s’ Hong Kong, which offer a brief and fascinating glimpse into this special and unique transition in time.)

Paris, 1896-1900

The French, so perpetually classy.





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