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.




(Photo above )

A House Made of Glass

Location: Tuc Mac Street


There are 16 families in the house. It used to be a French house, one of the oldest in Hanoi. After the war with the French, it was divided into apartments.


I have lived here my whole life: first with my mother then alone after she passed away. When I used to come back home from France where I was studying, I would always have this strong feeling of being where I belong, a familiar feeling of being home.


When I was a child we played on the staircase imagining it was a big house where each stair was a new floor. In the courtyard we used to play soccer or badminton. In the kitchenette we would make rice.



There is a lot of jealousy between people in the house. When I renovated the apartment I had to hide it from my neighbours so the older people wouldn’t try to stop it. They didn’t want me to renovate; they talked about me behind my back to the workers in my house to make them stop working for me. They said horrible things about me just because they were jealous — I could pay for the renovation and they could not.


I love my apartment; I’m very attached to it, but I will move out because it’s too complicated. Every time I have guests round, the whole neighbourhood knows about it and they watch me. When they realise that I will stare right back and not back down, they stop annoying me and they are all smiles, but I ignore them.




Vietnam Champion

Location: Van Quan Lake



It was Dec. 28, 2008, the day of the ASEAN Football Federation cup final between Vietnam and Thailand. Although we were preparing for our exams, we couldn’t concentrate on our studies. The first match in Thailand had put Vietnam ahead of Thailand by 2-1, making people even more eager for us to win.


By early evening, we were all gathered at the café beside Van Quan Lake. The restaurant was full of people with flags, banners and slogans saying ‘Vietnam — Champions’. The atmosphere was electric, particularly during the first half when Thailand suddenly scored, sending us all into turmoil at the prospect of losing. Although the Vietnamese team was physically weaker, they were playing their best, attacking ceaselessly. The Thai team was no less competitive, pulling stunts for the Vietnamese fans and showing off their skills.



Time flew by with no more goals, then in the final minute of the match, Vietnam was awarded a corner. None of us could sit still. Minh Phuong took the corner, crossing the ball to Le Cong Vinh, and... GOAL!


The cafe exploded. We hugged each other, singing and dancing. Everyone went into the street in celebration — even the taxis and the buses were free. The streets were packed with people, and everything was red, with the Vietnam star everywhere. We were shaking hands, hugging each other and waving flags to celebrate. Pots, pans, buckets… people used whatever they could find to make a noise in celebration. People lined the street. Sometimes they were chanting “Vietnam Victory, Vietnam champion” and sang the song “As Uncle Ho in the fun of victory”.


Even now I still cannot forget that moment and the proud feeling of triumph. As a Vietnamese person, I loved my country even more. I was so proud.


This is the ninth 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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