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Recalling Hanoi: Part 11

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.




In Transit

Location: Noi Bai Airport


I first saw Ashley in March 2009. He was on his way back to Cambodia from a friend’s wedding in China. He took the train and had a quick stop in Hanoi. I saw him sitting by Hoan Kiem Lake, so I went and talked with him for a while.


Then he gave me his email address because he wanted to keep in touch and I wrote mine in his notebook. One day, I received an unexpected email from him. We kept on talking nearly every day for around two months via the internet and he wanted to come and see me.



When we saw each other again at the airport I instantly recognised him because he had become so familiar to me. We ran into each other's arms, we had been looking forward to that moment for such a long time. He was very gentle and I was so happy to be with him. Time passed by, we were in a relationship, which lasted for nearly one year. He was travelling from the UK to Vietnam quite often until November 2009. Every time he landed, I was there at the airport. Sometimes flights were delayed. I had to wait for hours, having coffee and looking out the windows at all the airplanes taking off and landing. A few times we even went to the airport early just to spend time together.


Eventually, he decided to live in Vietnam long term; but it didn’t work out because he didn’t like Hanoi. He got depressed and we broke up in March 2010. When he left Vietnam for Japan in May I went with him to the airport. He wanted to check in as early as possible to avoid spending too much time with me.


We kissed each other goodbye. This last kiss was so fast and lacked emotion from him. He was so indifferent. He told me abruptly that he didn’t love me any more and I should never think he would come back. It was painful. We gave each other the last kiss and hug. They were not like the first time — they were fast and full of regrets.




Crossing the River

Location: Red River



Long Bien Bridge was once very important, being the only link in the city between the two sides of the Red River. It was the only way the train could go to Hai Phong and to the northern provinces, and it also brought ammunition and supplies from China. So when they targeted the bridge with laser-guided bombs to try to destroy it, the train had to stop in Yen Vien or Dong Anh stations on the other side of the Red River.


During repairs, the army would build temporary bridges, 5km up or downstream. All the trucks and cars would form small lines and soldiers would show them how to cross the river. Only having one bridge to cross the Red River — you can’t imagine it now.



The Cham ferry was very close to where Thang Long Bridge is now, just a few hundred yards away. It was the only other way to cross the river. As teenagers who had been evacuated from Hanoi, we had to cross the Red River by ferry to return to see our parents.


The ferry was quite big: 60 to 80 tons. All the trucks could unload onto it. Of course it was dangerous but not because of the ferry itself. The danger came from the B52s — if the ferry was in the middle of the river and the planes dropped bombs on it, we wouldn’t have stood a chance. The Red River also posed a threat, especially during the rainy season when it became fierce. At those times you had to work with the flow, moving up or downstream just to get across, then readjusting your course when you were near the other side.


This is the 11th 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.

More in this category: « Recalling Hanoi: Part 10

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