Feb 18, 2021 / 10:04

Hanoian writer Do Phan: After living in Hanoi a while, you will realize your true “stature”

The Hanoitimes - From the city to the people, from culture to literature and art, painter and writer Do Phan, a Hanoian, shares his interesting view about Hanoi with Van Nghe (Arts & Literature) weekly newspaper.

What is “Hanoi” and “Hanoian” in your own definition?

In addition to be an administrative center, Hanoi is also an important cultural hub of Vietnam. That’s why the long-standing urban culture here is unique and Hanoians have their own characteristics so that it’s difficult to turn them into someone else from another place.

They have a distinct accent and way of slow and clear way of talking coming with a humble attitude. If someone builds a magnificent castle with a golden statue on the roof, the Hanoians know that he isn’t from Hanoi and won’t admire him.

A sketch of writer Do Phan by painter Nguyen Hoang Tuong.

Hanoians are basically intellectuals and business people. Do you think that they alienate but also go along well with each other?

It can be said that there are two main types of people in Hanoi and they always have ambition for what they are lacking in life.

The poor intellectuals want to do business to earn more money while the rich business people desire a high level of education. But in the end only a few can change it. Most still keep being who they are. This has both sides as it may slow down social development but on the other hand people could focus on what they do and achieve success.

Is there a lot of food “made in Hanoi”?

Sure. But not enough. Along with   popular dishes such as Pho, Bun Cha (grilled pork with noodle and fish sauce), Nem (spring rolls), Cha Ca (grilled fish with noodle), among others, it is a story about the cooking process as well as the eating way. Hanoi people not only eat but also enjoy so that they have typical “rules” to enjoy different dishes.

For example, Pho must go with rice vinegar and hot broth. When kumquat fruit juice is used to replace vinegar today, still many people ask for the vinegar to be served. Or air-conditioned Pho eateries in Hanoi almost have no clients one wanted to eat a hot Pho in a cold and closed room.

Hanoi street- a painting by Do Phan.

How are Hanoi sites associated with your memories?

We, the 70 years old, have a lot of memories with Hanoi. When we were little, we were taken by our parents and grandparents to historical and cultural relics such as Dong Da Hillock, Quan Thanh Temple, Kim Lien Pagoda, among others.

We also cycled to almost everywhere in the city, especially popular sites like Hoan Kiem Lake, Turtle Tower, and The Huc Bridge. Hoan Kiem Lake was our playground. We knew all the trees around the lake where we used to hide and chase each other or pick up the fruits. We went fishing together by the lake or dived there to look for the turtles and their eggs. We also loved cycling through Long Bien Bridge, one of the symbols of Hanoi.

When we grew up, Thong Nhat Park, Bach Thao (Botanical) Garden, Thu Le Zoo and along West Lake were our perfect places for dating. In the 1970s, there was also a famous "flirting" street along Hang Bai Street until the end of Hue Street in the city center. Young men and women came here at night to find a partner. Many marriages emanated from these streets.

The rooster - a painting by Do Phan. 

How are paintings and painters about Hanoi, in your opinion?

Vietnamese modern painting is among the pioneering school in Asia, thanks to the establishment of the Indochina College of Fine Arts by French in 1925. However, there were few paintings about Hanoi, excepting for the portrait of Hanoi girls. Almost all artists at that time dealt with this subject and left quite a lot of masterpieces.

Landscape paintings of Hanoi bloomed after 1954 by artists who were Hanoi long time dwellers such as Bui Xuan Phai and Nguyen Tu Nghiem. Among them, the most prominent are the paintings of Hanoi old streets of painter Bui Xuan Phai. His work reflects a long and harsh chronology of Hanoi that is slowly losing its thousand-year-old beauty in modern times.

There are many famous artists from Hanoi today, but unfortunately, they don’t paint much about Hanoi.

The Tiger - a painting by Do Phan.

What do you think about articles about Hanoi, written by Hanoi people and by others from other places?

Everyone can write about Hanoi. Especially poets. There are some poets who never been to Hanoi but their poems about it move all Hanoians. Provincial people and foreigners are allured by the scene and Hanoi locals and so they write easier and faster about the city. However, it takes more time to write novels or theater dramas which usually requires more time and understanding about Hanoi, sometimes the whole life for it.

There has always been a large flow of immigrants in Hanoi. They have their own findings about the city that the local people hardly notice. Therefore, their writings can be very interesting. However, those who were born or have lived for a long time in Hanoi usually have many experiences which help produce deep writings.

But how much time living here is enough is another question. I know people who live most of their life in Hanoi but still do not understand much about it and others who only occasionally visit or live in Hanoi for a short time but write voluminously about the city.

Do you think Hanoi people look forward to “normal and simple” things in life?

Actually, it's not that people aim at it, it's a rule to live on this land. As I said Hanoi is where the quintessence of the country converges. Being successful is something natural. If you are good, there is someone better. Born and grew up in another locality, but after living in Hanoi for a few years, you will realize your true “stature”.

Thank you for your time!