Landscape is entangled with history and people’s lives. No matter how young we are or what social position we have, we all have stories to tell.

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.



Tran May

(Photo above)

A Moving Scene

Location: Little Lane (Ngo Hep), 1988


The movie I was working on was shot during Doi Moi, a time when everything was changing in Vietnamese society, and the subject was very rare: a girl decides to marry an old but rich man instead of choosing love.


The scene I remember the most is the one where local people were lining up to take water from the communal tap in a very narrow lane. That communal area was like a small society. People would fight and be aggressive to get to the water first, but whenever the respected teacher would come to get water, the people would let him get it first and they would stop fighting and show a lot of respect. That movie scene makes me think of the behaviour and the relationships between people and how they have changed.



I remember the time before Doi Moi. Hanoi’s streets were empty; there were less people than now and life was very difficult. But relationships were more important; people were closer to each other and love stories were simpler.


I remember the image of the bicycle was a symbol for love: simple and immaterial. I feel like now society is more money orientated and it wasn’t at that time. It was simpler like a bicycle.


I am a bit nostalgic. I reckon Doi Moi brought more material comfort and before it life was really difficult. But though in the past there were power struggles, nobody had money, so it was a level playing field and there was less corruption. Everything has two faces.



Hong May Nguyen


Location: Hanoi Amsterdam School



We are four girlfriends like sisters. We have known each other for almost 20 years now.


I met Ha in primary school. We disliked each other for almost five years. She was a formal and studious girl, I wasn’t. When we went to the Hanoi Amsterdam School we ended up in the same class, we didn’t know anybody and because we came from the same school the teacher sat us next to each other.


I met Anh the year after. She was very shy and the other kids made fun of her. Her birthday was one day before mine. To be nice I decided to bring her flowers that day at school.



I met Linh around the same time as Anh. One day, after school she was alone waiting outside the gates for her father. To keep her company I waited with her. For over an hour-and-a-half we talked non-stop.


That summer, my father passed away. With their support and friendship they helped me get through that very hard time. Now I understand how important and deep a friendship can be. Though we’ve all grown up and left the school, we have managed to stay close.


This is the eighth excerpt from Julie Vola’s work, Recalling Hanoi. The work is presently being serialised in Word. For more information email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Julie Vola

Julie Vola was born and raised in Marseille, South of France. One fine day she decided to quit her job to travel for three months in Vietnam. She arrived in Hanoi… and as happens all too frequently, never left. Now a staff photographer at Word Vietnam, she has also discovered she can write.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Matt Kourevellis Matt Kourevellis Dec 18, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I have many fond memories of my time in Hanoi. I love this city, and all that it holds (culture, people, good, etc). I hope that some day I can call Hanoi my home.

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