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.


Recalling Hanoi is my vision of Hanoi, a tapestry woven 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.



Vu Thi Thai Huong

(Photo Above)

Meeting Him

Location: Ba Dinh Meeting Hall, Ba Dinh Square


When I was in third grade I was chosen to attend the National Meeting of Uncle Ho’s Good Children. It was a celebration of the best students from the north of Vietnam. It was the occasion of a lifetime — to meet Ho Chi Minh, such an honour!


The night before, my whole family was so excited nobody slept. My father had met him during the revolution at Viet Bac and had a photo with him — he asked me to get him to autograph it. On the day, I was wearing my best clean clothes, my white shirt and my red scarf. We went to Ba Dinh Square meeting hall, where the Vietnam National Assembly House stands now. While waiting we rehearsed our songs. An officer yelled “He is coming!“ and everybody turned to look for him. He wore his white khaki uniform and waved. The students all stood up and rushed to him. I held my photo high and jumped to get his attention, but he didn’t see me.



Soon the ceremony began. He gave a speech, saying we had to study hard and be good as we were the future of Vietnam. Then an officer gave him candies to give to us, we all got two each. Some children held out both hands and tried to get more, but he laughed and said he wouldn’t fall for that. At the end, he tried to leave, but we all rushed him again. I tried again to reach him with my dad’s photo but I couldn’t. I felt so guilty that when I got home I gave my dad the candies. My parents proudly showed the candies to all the neighbours — everybody was speaking about my special day. I still feel the same chills and excitement when I think about it today.



Sophie Le

My Grandmother’s House

Location: Hoa Lo Prison



In the early 1990s my grandmother was imprisoned for illegally giving a loan with a high interest rate. She spent five years in the infamous Hoa Lo prison, formerly a French prison for political prisoners and then for American prisoners of war.


I was very young and did not understand what it was really about, but my grandfather would bring me to see her every weekend. To me it was like going to my grandmother’s house.



Every year during Tet Holiday it’s almost like a tradition in my family to tell the story of my third birthday. That weekend, my parents decided I would not go visit my grandmother because it was bad luck to do such a sad thing on a birthday. I was so young that I couldn’t understand and I was very upset. So I decided to take my birthday cake and go by myself to see my grandma. I ran away from home at three years old with a cake. Somehow I could remember the way until I arrived at an intersection, where I became very confused and got lost. I asked a policeman if he knew where my grandmother’s house was, but I could not tell him which street and I did not know it was the prison. Because I could remember how to go to my house, he brought me back home. My family were worried sick and some of them had gone looking for me. The next day I made my parents buy the exact same cake so I could bring it to my grandmother over the weekend with my grandfather.


This is the fourth 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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