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.



Mon Ovatharsan

(Photo above)

No Requests

Location: Half Man Half Noodle, 62 Dao Duy Tu, Hoan Kiem


When I first moved to Hanoi, I felt like a fish out of water. I’d left a big group of friends behind in Philly and started a brand-new life in Hanoi. I didn’t have much of a social life until I found the Half Man Half Noodle bar in the Old Quarter. When I first started going, it was a dark bar with lots of expats and a few Vietnamese people. The manager Luan spoke English and embraced me like an old friend. It was great. ‘The Noodle’ is where I met most of the craziest people in Hanoi who also happen to be my closest friends.



Brent and I first became friends because we were both American, both liked punk music, and both wanted to start a band. The band didn’t happen but we started a DJ duo and called ourselves Hanoi Panic. Luan said we could DJ on Saturday nights at Noodle and he would pay us in beer and food. It was really great, the music was good, and the atmosphere we created was different from anywhere else in the city. People were always requesting songs. Brent and I really did not like requests because most of the time the songs sucked.


One night a Vietnamese guy requested a horrible metal ballad. We decided to play it and the atmosphere dropped immediately, it went from high to low in a second. Luan came up to us and said, “No more requests. You guys do what you do best. No. More. Requests.”


Noodle is gone now — it has been replaced by a restaurant — but I can still see the ghosts of my crazy friends laughing and dancing on the bar.



Le Tuan Ha

Haut les Mains

Location: Truc Bach Lake



During the war I was in the civilian forces that protected the city and I worked in a factory on Thuy Khue. On Oct. 26, 1967 it looked like it was going to be a typical day. I went to work for my 8am shift and had a two-hour lunch break during which I went home as normal. Then I heard the city alarm start telling us an air strike was underway. I headed to the block shelter. I heard an explosion and looked outside to investigate. A plane was coming down over Truc Bach Lake and the pilot’s parachute was in the air.


I ran out of the shelter screaming, “There’s a pilot!” I went to my house to get a knife in case the pilot had weapons. I dived into the lake. When I got to the pilot I grabbed his hair and put his head on a bamboo floating rack. I didn’t speak English so I screamed at him in French, “Haut les mains!’’ I put my knife against his face, he didn’t put up a fight. He was still attached to his parachute, which was very heavy, so people helped me drag him to shore. We pulled him out of the water.


John McCain was very lucky to go down near a police station. No harm would come to him there. If he had fallen into the city he could have been badly beaten.



The police took him away and handed him to the National Defence Force. I went home, finished lunch and returned to work. The day after it happened it was all over the newspapers and journalists wanted to interview me. When John McCain ran for President of the United States the story resurfaced and I was interviewed again. I don’t mind. I like sharing the story.


This is the fifth 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.

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