Brave arts in Hanoi
the arts scene night and day — albeit a more anodyne version than I saw at Factory — in tandem with delicious food.
Over a lunch of succulent bun cha ( griddled pork belly slices, vegetables, herbs and vermicelli noodles dipped into a vinegary broth), Hoai Linh explains how he has been able to nurture his passion through events such as Translate. For this, he was invited by Tiger Beer to create a temporary wall of graffiti, along with fellow artists, at a one-day festival in the old town. Otherwise, his work remains a hobby.
His eyes light up when the conversation turns to music, another of his passions. He tells me how he wanted to be in a punk band, but couldn’t find anyone willing to join him for fear of the potential controversy. It hardly seems surprising in a country where Facebook was banned last year.
From punk to rock. That night my destination is Hanoi Rock City, a recently opened venue on the northern shores of Tay Ho, the enormous lake lying northwest of the old town.
The urban buzz dwindles as my taxi speeds alongside the eastern shoulder of the lake, past karaoke bars, tailors and pho stalls. Soon we are navigating residential streets, trying to find its location. We double back twice, being pointed in various directions by bystanders, until we finally pull up outside its discreet entrance.
The freshly painted white wall displays its name cinema-style, with a huge ramp leading down to the sub-street-level bar, its roof open to the sky. Vietnamese and foreign acts have been invited to perform inside its sleek white and red walls, decorated with street art, a huge mural of Hokusai’s The Wave, and potted plants.
All is quiet on my Sunday visit, the bar staff subdued after a lively party the previous night. It makes for an oddly peaceful spot in which to sink a cold Ha Noi beer under the stars, listening to the muted rock music in the background.
It is the kind of bar that wouldn’t look out of place in the hipster-frenzy of, say, east London, rather than a city where people are fearful of being in a punk band. And in a way, it sums up the resilience of young Hanoians and their seemingly irrepressible desire for freedom of expression.
Here, the city’s youth will need determination and fearlessness not just for navigating the traffic but to ensure the future of the fascinating cultural identity that they have started to form.