Sunday, September 28, 2014

Artistic Expression in Hanoi

It's been a while since I've done a blog post. We were in Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, and Hanoi for about ten days. Then after that my classes started for my American Culture class that I'm teaching. Needless to say I've been really busy. So, a little bit of info about my time up north. We started our journey by flying to Hanoi. We spent just half a day in Hanoi before taking an overnight train to Sa Pa. The train was really cool, because it was an old style steam engine. It pretty much looked like the Hogwarts express from the inside. The only bad part was that a few mosquitoes had gotten onto our train and bit us in the middle of the night. We arrived in Sa Pa early in the morning for a few days of trekking with Hmong women as our guides. The Hmong are a group of indigenous people who live in the highlands of Vietnam. They grow a lot of rice and are known for their intricate handmade clothing. The hiking itself was fairly easy, especially after the three day backpacking trip I had taken with my partner at the beginning of summer. The Hmong women were very helpful for the less experienced hikers and the scenery was gorgeous. I got to see my first water buffalo! We spent the night at a farmhouse in one of the villages. Our hosts were happy to share some of their homemade rice wine with us. Man oh man does that stuff burn. The second day we trekked to a new village and met some local Hmong children. I think most of the villages make money off of tourists, so all the children were very persistent in having us buy stuff. Later that evening we hiked out of Sa Pa and took the train back to Hanoi.

From Hanoi we went straight to Ha Long Bay where we stayed on a boat for one night. We went spelunking (kind of), kayaking, and swimming before the sun went down. My bed on the boat was so comfortable that I ended up reading and falling asleep early, while everyone else watching this very drunk Scottish man sing Karaoke. The morning before leaving Ha Long Bay we went to a pearl farm. Apparently Phu Quoc and Ha Long Bay are the only two places in Vietnam that grow pearls, and I've been to those two places! Although I've had plenty of opportunities to buy pearls, I haven't had the interest to. Once we returned from Ha Long Bay we had five days in Hanoi to run around. Our time in the capital was very unscheduled. Every place I travel to I am most interested at visiting places of worship. When I went to Italy and France with my family I loved seeing all of the churches. So when we got to the capital I knew I wanted to see as many pagodas and temples as possible. Other than temple hopping we walked around the old quarter, went to bars, bought a bunch of souvenirs, and visited museums .

 One of my favorite things we did was meeting Hanoian photographer Jamie Maxtone-Graham. Jamie used to shoot in LA, but moved to Hanoi to start a life with his Vietnamese wife and daughter, Jamie's work is very different than your typical Vietnamese photography. What I mean by that is that it is very interpretive and is something that can be analysed and looked at in different ways. Typical Vietnamese photography is very safe and the photographer is clear with his/her intentions of what the photo is. For anyone interested in Jamie's work here is a link to his website, After meeting Jamie we were invited to go to an art gallery exhibit that Jamie's friend had arranged. The exhibit was a live, movie, and photograph show of one of Hanoi's first drag shows in 1999. There were photos taken of the night hanging downstairs, a movie of the night playing upstairs, and a topless man who was covered in sparkles and a headdress. I think he was meant to be a walking piece of art. I actually felt very at home at the art show. There were a lot of westerners and the people who were there all looked like they could be from Berkeley. Later on in the week we read an article in class that talked about how some performance artists in Vietnam are viewed as anti-art by the government and artistic elites. There was an example of a father laying on top of his son while his son read a poem aloud. This was supposed to represent a father's repression of his son. Performance art like this is viewed as anti-art by many traditional Vietnamese artists, because performance art doesn't necessarily need to be defined. Interpretive art frustrates traditional thinkers. The gallery exhibit that I saw in Hanoi is a perfect example of a new type of artistic expression that is popping up in Vietnam. The exhibit used many forms to present the drag show. The meaning behind the show was not clear and the viewer had to create his or her own interpretation. I think this style of art will become more popular in Vietnam as the government allows for more forms of art and expression to be showed. 


1 comment:

  1. You are a very descriptive and clear writer, Kaitlan! Based on your experiences in SaPa and Hanoi, what sort of outside influences did you see? Did you find any of the Westernization or industrialization of SaPa disconcerting? I think something that struck me most in SaPa was seeing the power towers as we descended into the valley. It was this strange mix of ancient agrarian land being burdened (although, some see it as great advancement with all that wifi in the homestays) with metal and electricity. It was just a very fascinating sight to see. Thanks for the great read!