Brave arts in Hanoi

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Des­ti­na­tion Asia Mak­ing The Right Moves In Seoul - IN­DE­PEN­DENT TRAVELLER

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.

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