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.
Location: Hoang Dieu
When I was young my closest friends and I would cycle home after school down Hoang Dieu. It’s a very wide street with trees along the sides and down the middle. It’s so quiet, one of only a few places in Hanoi where you can listen to a Walkman, sit down and have a deep conversation with a friend. I only brought one friend at a time because any more would make me feel overwhelmed. These rides home along Hoang Dieu were my only chance to talk to anyone else about classical music. On the way we would listen to songs I liked on my Walkman and I’d ask them what they thought.
These are my first memories of sharing how I felt about classical music with anyone else. I remember we would talk about the trees and the leaves, I’d say, “Do you ever look up to the sky and think it’s beautiful?” We’d touch the trunks of the trees to feel their souls. I’d explain how I felt about classical music — how it’s deep and special to me. I’d link my feelings about the music to Hoang Dieu and the trees and the passing of the seasons.
I have four close friends and we are all named after a season. I am Winter. My friend Spring and I would often visit Hoang Dieu to talk and touch the wood, feeling the souls of the trees, the soul of the city. One time, we listened to Beethoven’s Spring Sonata and I explained how the music is like the wind passing through the leaves. Spring said, “I’ve never really noticed before, but if you look at the sky through the leaves it looks even bluer.” At that time there were almost no cars and few motorbikes on Hoang Dieu. Those that did drive down drove slowly without obvious reason — the street had that impact on people.
Location: Nguyen Du
I grew up in a big house near Thien Quang Lake on Nguyen Du. After Dien Bien Phu and the French War, the Communist Party took it as their headquarters. Before the war my whole family had lived there — my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. My grandfather Vi Van Bic was the governor of the Lang Son Province and had five official wives. There were about 10 kids living in this big house, we had a whole room of toys just for us. Though he was busy, my grandfather monitored our education closely. After school we had tutors and extra classes. He also asked us to keep diaries and write everything that happened throughout our day, that way he could know what was happening in the house and he could use the information to resolve conflict.
I remember one naughty thing we did. At home we always ate western food and we were sick of it. One afternoon seven or eight of us sneaked into the kitchen during naptime and stole some sweet potatoes. We started to grill them on the stove when we heard some noises and knew Grandfather had woken up. I panicked and pulled the sweet potato off the stove quickly and accidentally burnt my sister who started crying. Grandfather found out. To teach us not to steal he made us sit in a circle looking at the sweet potatoes in the middle. We were not allowed to have them until we asked nicely.