“Only 3 days after arriving here, I have decided that Hanoi is one of the most interesting cities I have ever been to.”
Having just arrived in Hanoi for only 3 days, Lawrence Haywood thought it was one of the most interesting cities he’d ever been to – so that every year’s backpacking trip became an intimate journey. For six years living and working in Hanoi, the British young man has been “hardly” experiencing the capital of Vietnam in a true way (by his own definition). Here is Lawrence’s story about his love for a nostalgic Hanoi, about why he chose to live in an old-fashioned apartment complex – were in the last century – was once a memory, a love. of many Hanoians.
My first choice in Vietnam was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
When it was December 2016, I was sitting in a backpacker hostel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Like many similar accommodation establishments, this motel is also located in a small alley and reminds me of a piece in an unfinished jigsaw: In this place, at 2 pm also makes people feel uncomfortable. It felt like midnight, because the concrete ceiling and the thick tangled cables like tree roots blocked the sun.
At that time, I was surfing the phone in a tired state after 4 years of “moving”, looking for a long-term rental house in the capital of Vietnam.
Just 3 days after arriving here, I have decided that Hanoi is one of the most interesting cities I have ever been to. Hanoi is a place full of potential, and I am extremely excited at the thought of starting my new journey in this city.
My finger hovers over the phone screen, a series of rental houses appear in front of my eyes. At first, I was surprised to see bright, clean apartments: large, light-filled rooms, marble floors, balconies overlooking a huge lake, with walls spotless whites and flashy European-style furniture.
I peered through the closed window of my room. The opposite wall of the alley was only a few feet away from me. But except for the peeling gray plaster and the adverts with the words “concrete drilling and cutting”, everything else was pitch black – it was a party of colors that my eyes could not see. See, a world far from what is displayed on my phone screen.
Then I also surfed far enough to the ad about an old villa from the French colonial period, hidden deep in the alleys of Ngoc Ha Street. It’s an old 5-bedroom house with a lot of moss – which I guess has a damp smell like it looks – a sort of “smell of old Hanoi”.
In the end, I lived for 3 years in this old villa with other foreign friends who also wanted to experience a real Hanoi like me. I know that for most Hanoians, an old French villa is not the real “taste” of the capital. But for a foreigner who just got off the plane with wet feet, that’s exactly what we thought.
And it was one of the best decisions of my life. During the years of living in that old French villa, I have nurtured and nurtured a strong love for “Old Hanoi”.
The feeling of living in an old house in a city with a rich history is really “addictive”, and that sparked in me a love for classical Vietnamese architecture – a love have been with me for 6 years in this beautiful and rich city.
During those years, many weekends I liked to “get lost” to random places in the city with my camera. I do not foresee the way, but just walk in whatever direction my feet lead, while my eyes focus on watching the breath of life on the roadside, lakeside and in the alleys of Hanoi. .
I still remember that during those first “lost” trips, I happened to go to Giang Vo. I was immediately captivated by this place. I walked for hours in the Giang Vo area just to take pictures of the lake, the flower garden, and the courtyard below the dormitory – where everyone ate, drank, and laughed.
I took a lot of pictures to capture the beauty of the outside of the dormitories, but it was the dormitories in Giang Vo that “did up” the most of my film. It was one of the first times I’ve seen an apartment complex at such a close distance, and I told myself in my head that the buildings were unbelievably beautiful.
To this day, I still can’t explain specifically what exactly I love about the dormitories. I think the biggest reason might be the sense of nostalgia they give off – a feeling that can really appeal to anyone, even if they haven’t experienced that past.
I used to look at the old, mossy dormitories, and it felt like I’d lived there all my life, despite the fact that I’d never even stepped foot in a dorm. any.
For me, dormitories are truly community spaces filled with love. Their old appearance is testament to generations of families that have grown and aged together, the sharing of neighbors, the stories, and the scars of time.
I used to take a blurry picture of D1 Giang Vo area – a large group of houses facing Tran Huy Lieu street. I remember looking at that building for a long time, and imagining a life in it.
5 years later, I took another photo of the D1 area. This time I don’t have to imagine anymore, because I live in another dormitory nearby.
Area D6 Tran Huy Lieu has been my home for the past 2 years, and the architecture of this place is really beautiful. It has bright yellow and green painted walls like every other dormitory in Hanoi. Honestly, I can’t think of a better place for me than that.
Living in the dormitory, I feel a nostalgia for a life I have never experienced, and sometimes I also remember the days of living in my first rented house in Hanoi.
The dormitory in the D6 Giang Vo area is similar to the old French villa in Ngoc Ha, sometimes small pieces of wall paint peel off and fall on my lover’s hair, and the floor turns into an ice rink every season. humid.
History permeates the walls of both places where I have lived, and both places silently exude a wonderful peace.
It is a pleasure and privilege to have the opportunity to experience life in Hanoi like my neighbours. It’s true that our drainage system still clogs, and the ceiling is covered with green mold, but I believe it’s a true cultural experience that living in Vietnam, I couldn’t ask for more. position.
I’m probably the only foreigner in this D6 area. Everyone calls me “West”, and the kids on the same floor greet me with “Hello, Teacher!” (Hello teacher!).
Honestly, I don’t live in a “typical” dormitory. Me and my girlfriend rented this apartment through AirBnB, and it has been refreshed, renovated. The apartment is decorated in a boho style, with indoor plants and lots of modern furniture.
Although my living space may not be the same as that of my neighbors, our “common ground” is the common courtyard outside D6.
That yard attracted me from the first day I moved to this dormitory. Of all the places people gather in Vietnam, I think the courtyards of the dormitory are among the liveliest and most intimate.
Our yard is only about 80m long, but currently there are 3 cafes, 2 sidewalk iced tea shops, a lady selling snails, a sister selling bread, 3 restaurants and a net shop are operating here. The reason I use the word “now” is because in my 2 years living here, I’ve probably witnessed 20 other restaurant owners coming and going in this courtyard.
This place is both a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Vietnamese people, as well as the ability to connect the community of the collective areas.
That might be my favorite thing about living in a compound – not what’s inside, but the refreshing atmosphere outside – the atmosphere that pervades every time I walk the dog, or when I go on a coffee date with my lover.
For me, Giang Vo is a special place, because that atmosphere can be felt everywhere. I can’t count the places where we drank coffee, ate lunch, walked, and took pictures to capture that beauty.
And I continue my routine at many other dormitories in Hanoi. Like before, I still spend my weekends wandering the alleys of the city, admiring the beauty of the yellow walls, the pink bougainvillea, the red phoenix and the green of the overgrown trees. ramshackle balcony.
Many residents of the dormitory may find it strange that me and other foreigners like to take pictures of old houses. Maybe they don’t understand that to us, skyscrapers can’t be as interesting as the old, old charm. For foreigners like me, it is the stories and history behind that make the building attractive.
I am so lucky to be able to live, work, and roam around areas that have all these beauties. From lunches at Thanh Cong dormitories, to dinners at Kim Lien dormitories, I always seem to be attracted to Hanoi’s pretty little yellow-walled dormitories.
Maybe part of the reason I love Hanoi’s dormitories so much is because I feel that my hometown, the United Kingdom, has lost its “collectiveness” in residential areas.
In the 70s-80s, we also had a kind of “council flat” (literally: council flat) similar to the dormitory in Vietnam, everyone in the area knew each other and still went out to play. , living because on the road there is quite a bit of traffic. That was my parents’ childhood, and I had a part of it in the early 90s as well.
I still remember when I was about 6–7 years old, if I wanted to go to the park to play with my friends, I would just shout inside the house to tell my mother, “I’ll be back soon”. But now people don’t go out to play anymore, they look to private spaces such as private houses, gardens, or closed public spaces such as swimming pools.
I still feel the “collectiveness” in my house in Giang Vo. It’s still the same atmosphere. The children in my house are still carefree running, chasing each other in the hallway and in the common yard.
Back in England, I used to live in my parents’ house in Birmingham before moving to Vietnam. A rather large house, but very different from where I live in Vietnam, because in the UK everyone has their own space. Even the entrance to the house is a private space. Many houses in the UK have gardens and large car garages, so they have to have a fence of tall trees surrounding the house.
It can be said that the space in the UK is not as open as the dormitory in Vietnam. Living in a dormitory, I had to go through 5 other houses before reaching the stairs, meaning I was in their space. But people in the dormitory also often like to leave the door open and sit in the house chatting with neighbors through the window.
The last time I returned to England was 2 years ago, and I was amazed at the rapid change in my homeland.
What used to be cafes, pubs and independent shops is now a branch of chain stores owned by the wealthy. I have a feeling these places have become so industrialized and there’s nothing left to surprise, it feels like the heart of the community has been taken away.
At that time, I was only going to return to England for a few days, but in the end the trip lasted for 9 months because I had to wait for the Covid-19 epidemic to subside. At that time, my neighborhood also had to “social distance” – that is, my neighbors had to stand from the balcony, or from the front garden each person to talk to each other.
At that time, I was very curious about how the people of the dormitory in Hanoi can communicate with each other in that cramped common space and still keep their distance.
Then I had the answer for myself. When I returned to Vietnam, so did Covid, and after weeks of isolation, our dormitory held a community test, where neighbors in the area met again and laughed together… like Never been separated by Covid.
A few days later, some people brought a lot of vegetables out into the yard and urged everyone in the neighborhood to come get whatever they needed – Everything is free! It was this spirit of solidarity that inspired me to take a trip to the nearby supermarket to collect all I could for neighbors in need, and then deliver the goods to their doorstep.
It has been a year since that day, and Giang Vo area has also received a new breath of life.
My girlfriend and I regularly meet the other two homes, and let our 6 dogs play together. In the meantime, we simply sat down by the side of the road, talking about the dogs, the neighbors, life and time in D6 Tran Huy Lieu.
During the chat, I received many times the question: “Why do you live in the dormitory?”. At that time, I just smiled and replied: “Because Tay Ho is too far away”. But the truth is I have a million other answers to this question.
It’s been 6 years since I first came to Hanoi, but I still have no intention of looking for luxury, comfort and modernity; I want to stay in my old apartment in Hanoi – and I don’t think that will change in the future.
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