A podcast project is documenting the lives of young people born after Doi Moi
“You don’t always have to look outside for interesting stories,” says Fabiola Buchele, over tea at a cafe on West Lake. It was a rare warm afternoon in Hanoi’s otherwise gloomy winter, and we were taking advantage of the sun. I’d met up with Fabiola, Eliza Lomas and Maia Do, three of the women behind the Renovation Generation, a new podcast spotlighting 30 Vietnamese characters under the age of 30.
On the table between us sat a pair of headphones, a portable recorder and a laptop — the team’s mobile studio. “This is a completed episode,” explains Eliza, showing me a screen full of wavelengths in greens and blues. It takes them about two hours to interview their subject, one in their makeshift home studio and one in the field “to give it some colour,” adds Fabiola. These two hours are then condensed into 10 minutes of engaging real-life stories, accented by music, sound effects and careful narration.
“They’re sonic portraits,” Fabiola explains. “We’re trying to show the Vietnam that we live in, and that we know… we’ve taken this chunk out of the reality that exists, and it’s a chunk that doesn’t get a lot of attention and is often kind of swept under the rug.”
New Era, New Stories
That chunk consists of young artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs born after Vietnam’s Doi Moi, or renovation, policy went into effect in 1986, opening the country to economic integration and creating a whole new era for the struggling nation.
“Some of the feedback we’ve had from the show has been so nice. Some of my Vietnamese friends say ‘Oh, finally some narratives which I can relate to!’ All the media I hear about is American kids or English kids, but what about the people who live in the same bedroom as their brothers and mum and dad, and want to be in a rock band, but have to pursue a finance degree?” says Eliza, who produced documentaries and radio shows in London before moving to Vietnam three years ago.
Stories abound, like that of journalist Vu Hong Linh, who talks about her experience moving away to Denmark, only to miss Vietnam so terribly that she decided to move back, or artist Nguyen Hoang Giang’s struggle to make his father understand his work. Duong Bui, frontwoman for the metal band Windrunner, even told a tale about digging up her grandmother’s bones.
“She said it in a way that I wasn’t expecting. She was just like, yeah, it wasn’t scary. I know my grandmother, it’s just her bones!” Eliza laughed.
“She did mention that she got to meet her grandmother again. I think that was the most interesting bit. It’s not just the bones, it’s a second chance to see her again,” added Maia.
“When we started, the questions we asked were a lot more serious, and suddenly we were like, why don’t we have a bit of fun?” says Fabiola. “[The interview] with Quyen the other day, that was my favourite so far. She was being so serious about spirituality, and then she was telling us about dreaming of Benedict Cumberbatch.”
An Alternative Viewpoint
As 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of Doi Moi, the team has set a goal to make 30 episodes this year. With every new instalment, they refine their style. It began as something of an experiment, recording interviews with their friends in Fabiola’s flat, using a duvet hung on the wall to help the quality of their recordings. Eliza now posts regular notes on their website to give listeners behind-the-scenes insight to their process.
What sets this show apart is the alternative view it adds to the Western media’s typical narratives about Vietnam.
“I think the problem is that often because there is relatively little coverage, they end up making incredibly broad statements,” says Fabiola. “It’s very important to us that we’re not bashing the same drum.”
Check out the podcasts at therenovationgeneration.com