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 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 Night in the Candy Store

Location: Luong Dinh Cua


In 2006, four months after my arrival — now it has been seven years — I was drinking too much and several times a week was out until 4am. I was living in Kim Lien (near the French Hospital) and drinking in the Old Quarter at Half Man Half Noodle or Barracuda (the old Dragonfly).



My Vietnamese friend and I were driving around on his Minsk. The city was deserted at 3am so we could drive like maniacs — really fast. By the end of the night he gave me a ride back to Kim Lien and dropped me by the main street, which was just 2 alleys away from my home. My guess is that I didn’t make it because next morning I woke up in the back room of a candy store with a 90-year-old Vietnamese man standing over me giving me a glass of blackcurrant juice — a cure for hangovers. He spoke pretty good English — he had taught himself from a computer program. He introduced me to his married daughter on vacation from Ho Chi Minh City and he videotaped the three of us speaking English. For half an hour I gave him a little English/computer lesson. He didn’t tell me what really happened, but it seems that I fell asleep totally drunk in front of the shop.




The Haunted Embassy

Location: Corner of Van Bao and Van Phuc



I have been selling tra da here for more than 10 years. The abandoned building at the corner used to be the Bulgarian Embassy, but before that it was a cemetery. When they built the embassy they moved the cemetery somewhere else, but some tombs remained because they couldn’t find the families. The Bulgarian government paid 50 years rent upfront, which is why nobody can do anything to this land until the lease ends.


It was said that there were sleeping quarters in the basement of the embassy. Every night at midnight the beds would move, they would stand vertical — no one could see how it happened. At a Christmas party a secretary heard a strange noise, he tried to move and see where it was coming from, but then he was paralysed without any reason. The embassy stayed in this spot for only one year and then it moved down the street.



A few years ago two young people climbed over the fence to look for ghosts. Just after they left the building they were in an accident and both died. I know this because I saw the accident. Three years ago a monk came to try and chase the ghosts away, no one asked her to come, she just knew. She talked with them and diminished their power, but they are still here.


Ghosts are people who did bad things in their life, or people who have regrets, they need to finish something and they can’t move on. They bother the living. They are probably angry because someone disturbed their graves. I have a small altar for offerings on the tree for good spirits and ghosts to protect me and my small business. I am lucky the ghosts at this building leave me alone.


This is the third 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.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Ngô Thị Ánh Ngô Thị Ánh Jul 23, 2014

    Real stories from real people (y) I liked it.

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