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.
A Thing of Beauty
Location: The Botanical Gardens
This park is a breath of fresh air in the city, offering greenery and many trees in this urban environment. Before, the border between the park and the city wasn’t so clear. The street along the park was just a rural, dirt road and there were lots of trees and flowers. It felt like the park was spilling out onto the city. The skyline was wide and empty, with West Lake next to it. The design of the park makes me think of Henri Rousseau’s paintings.
When I was young I was interested in the Impressionist painters. Every Sunday I would come to the park to practice, drawing the trees and landscape. That’s how my love for Hanoi began.
My happiest memory in this park happened one Sunday when I was 17 years old. I was drawing when I saw my art teacher. He came over and watched me draw. He stayed there quietly with me until I was finished. Then he told me that my drawing was the best one he had seen. I felt so happy and excited; I have never felt like that again. It must be the most important drawing I have ever done. I learnt a lesson that day: how to draw not just what I see but that what I see is based on my perception of beauty in life. I learned how to perceive life’s beauty and how to translate that beauty I see into art. The memory of this pure feeling of beauty I had that day, the innocence of that beauty still keeps me happy today.
Location: The Apartment Block
I was ten years old and living in an apartment on the fifth floor, with one of my cousins who had just turned eight. An old man would pass our apartment every afternoon, calling out to customers to sell the delicious dessert, tao pho. We would try to imitate him comically. The kind man just laughed at us and carried on his way. It turned into a daily game for us.
My mum had a half of a VND5,000 bill that had been torn apart, which she kept in a drawer while she was looking for the other half. It gave us an idea. When the tao pho man came we shouted down at him to send us up a bowl in a bucket on a rope and then we would send the money down after. He put a full bowl of tao pho into the bucket and straight away we sent him back the torn half with an explanation that it equalled VND2,500, which was the price. The man laughed so loud and told us to talk to my mum when she got home.
Of course we tried to keep it a secret. However one day, on her way home from the market, mum met the tao pho man. Arriving home, she pretended to look for the half-bill and asked if I had seen it. Full of guilt I confessed immediately. She told me she had paid him the real amount and had got the torn half back. She told us that children were not allowed to spend money and we should certainly never cheat people. Our punishment was separation, but we sneaked out after a day and still secretly played together. One thing changed though: we stopped teasing the tao pho man.