The book I am working on, Recalling Hanoi, is my vision of Hanoi, a tapestry weaved out of portraits, people’s stories and the urban landscape that hosts them.
I ask people living in the city to tell me about a place in Hanoi that holds memories. It can be about anything — a personal story intertwined with history; a great event; everyday little stories that our lives are made of. These stories, along with the photographs of the storyteller and the location provide depth.
Through this collection I am attempting to create an intimate, multi-layered portrait of this city through its collective memory. The hope is that the audience will connect to other people’s lives and also to their own memories in an attempt to understand this beautiful city.
In 1997 my friend Natasha introduced me to Trang An Gallery and they invited me to show my work. As my first solo exhibition in Hanoi, it was really important to me and as the time got closer I got more excited and nervous. As usual, two or three days before the big day I started to panic, thinking it might have all been a big mistake to agree to do this. However, the exhibition was well received. At the time my son was five years old, and I remember his kindergarten teacher came to the opening. He took her around and showed her everything, he was very proud. On the way home he said he had chosen a piece he wanted to keep for himself; he described it perfectly. The piece follows him everywhere and is still hanging in his apartment today. Sometime later the gallery closed down.
When my son was 16 years old, he would often go out to a nightclub called Dragonfly. It became a place I wasn’t allowed to go because it would be embarrassing for him to be in the same bar as his old man.
I was out one night with Vietnamese friends who decided we should go to Dragonfly. I hoped my son would have gone home by the time I arrived, and he had. Two years later, while my son was partying for his high school graduation, we, the parents, went on a tour of all the bars from which we’d been exiled and I found myself in Dragonfly again. Suddenly, I realised that I was in the old Trang An Gallery, the very place I’d had my first exhibition. It was a cool moment because that place holds a lot of memories for me in Hanoi and also played a part in my son’s teenage years.
Ly Bich Ngoc
The New Road
Location: Xa Dan
I lived here from my birth until my 20th birthday. My father was a soldier during the war, driving trucks of fresh soldiers to the front. At the end of the war, the government offered him either a piece of land or an apartment. My father chose the land. It was 40sqm with a small lake behind it. For many months my dad unloaded trucks of sand, rocks and earth into the lake to increase the size of the land and this is how we came to have a 100sqm of land for our house and garden.
From my memories growing up, this area used to be like the countryside: going fishing at the lake nearby with my brother, growing fruit trees in the garden, keeping chickens and ducks. When I was a kid I would climb on the trees in the garden to pick fruit, we had a huge mango tree and a guava tree. Our neighbour had a large apple tree, so when they were away I would climb over and steal apples, and the neighbour’s kids would do the same with our mangos.
In the past ten years this area has changed dramatically. Ten years ago they built a new street, Pham Ngoc Thach, for which they had to destroy my house, and then three years ago they built Xa Dan Street.