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.



Ms Thu

(photo above)

Sons and lovers

Location: Truc Bach Lake


It was a summer’s evening. I was selling tickets and we had so many young customers that night. Suddenly a lady appeared who seemed to be looking for something. After a while she came to ask me if her son was boating on the lake. I had no idea, so she explained that she was unhappy with him meeting his girlfriend in places like this when they were only high school students. His motorbike was in the car park nearby, so she wanted to rent a boat to find him on the lake. I could not let her disturb the other customers by doing that, so she just stood there silently looking out across the lake. After almost two hours of waiting, she called him for what seemed like the hundredth time, then ran off angrily. We were completely perplexed by these events.



The following day, a young couple turned up and the boy explained the previous day’s events. He had recognised his mum from a distance and had rowed the boat in the other direction. He had asked someone on another boat to give him a hand by returning his boat so that he and his girlfriend could escape on the other side of the lake. After having taken his girlfriend back, he had gone home and had finally answered the call from his mother.


“Today is a school day so my mum won’t come to check,” he said, laughing, and off they went again on the boat. Watching them, we didn’t really know what to do — all we can do is to protect people from danger here on the lake and to be honest, sometimes love is crazy and beautifully guilty like that.



Son Lam

Living a Dream

Location: The stadium at the University of Foreign Languages



It might be my bad luck to have been born disabled, but I have never felt sorry for myself. Instead, I had a marvellous dream. I loved football and football players from England — ‘the land of fog’, or so I was told. My own difficulty prevented me from running after the ball with all my body and soul like those great players, so I decided that I could ‘run’ with them from backstage instead — as a football commentator.


My dream meant I was interested in studying foreign languages, starting with English and then later Japanese. In the afternoon, I used to walk with my crutches to the stadium in the University of Foreign Languages, to watch my friends playing and screaming their hearts out on the pitch. I desperately wanted to play with them, too but I could not, so I used my crutch to ‘kick’ the ball instead — just to make myself feel less idle. A few players saw me and came to talk to me. We soon became friends. After that we played football together every afternoon in the campus of our university, passing the ball between foot and crutch.



It’s been six years since I left the university that I loved. Yet my dream has not come true. I am now working at a football newspaper office and more importantly, I am a motivational speaker. In all my seminars, I never forget to mention my friends and the very first place that nurtured my dreams: The University of Foreign Languages.


This is the sixth 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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