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.
A Visit for Lunar New Year
Location: Room 141, House N1, Alley 120, Hoang Quoc Viet
My family used to live in a khu tap the — a block of flats built by the government after the American war. When I was a kid, I went to a private kindergarten class in the khu tap the run by a retired woman named Duyen. My family moved away in 2000 and I didn’t come back there for 10 years, during Tet 2010.
When I came to visit, my teacher still remembered me and treated me like before. I have seen so many changes in the place I’m living at the moment: every day I hear the noise of construction. Yet when I came back to my old home, I felt peaceful. When I stood on the balcony of my teacher’s house, all my memories of the past came back.
She told me what I was like. When I first studied there, I thought her house was my house. I wanted everyone to serve me like I was the boss, but they didn’t do that and I cried. She came to me and talked in a very gentle way.
“This is my house,” she told me. “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you tell me?”
She calmed me down. Then I looked at her and said: “I thought it was my house. Sorry.”
She changed me a lot, and will always be my teacher.
Hoang Thi Phuong
The Grateful Student
Location: Hang Bot (now Ton Duc Thang)
I was cycling on Hang Bot (now renamed Ton Duc Thang) on an afternoon during Tet, when I heard someone calling my name. I pulled over.
“Hi Madam! I wish you a very Happy New Year!”
It was an old student I had taught two or three years ago in an interpretation class at the Foreign Trade University. That class only had about 20 students. I thanked him, and wished him a Happy New Year, too. He carried on talking cheerfully and confessed that he realised how bad a student he used to be. Here is the last thing he said to me.
“You know what? Your classes were really helpful for me. I have been able to take a lot of advantages from them. I’ve never forgotten any of your classes from my university years.”
That’s weird. I remember him clearly. He was the one sleeping all the time.