Life in Vietnam

Thursday, 25/04/2024 08:32

Culture of convenience


Circle K: Hà Nội’s most popular convenience store is a popular backdrop in Wong Kar Wai’s cinematography. — Photo Jet Tone Films

Alex Reeves - @afreeves23

‘Hanging out’ - something that exists in pretty much every culture around the world. Younger people, especially, will always find somewhere to meet and enjoy one another's company without the watchful gaze of the parental eye. Sadly, despite this being a demographic I can no longer identify myself within, it's no less fascinating to see the Vietnamese equivalent of my younger years.

We’re overly acquainted with the American icons of youth culture – diners, arcades, and drive-in movies. The UK has its pubs and greasy spoon cafes, though, with the cost of living, today's youth have more often been relegated to the outside of supermarkets or on school playing fields and public parks. But what about here?

Stop by your local Circle K and you’ll notice convenience store culture in full swing. It’s here that acts as the social hub for many today. Cheaper than a cafe and with instant noodles and an array of other snacks on hand. It's the perfect spot to catch up. Groups of young adults fill the image with dots of tired workers scattered across the picture, seeking respite and cheap coffee between shifts across the country – a demographic I can more easily relate to. 

Hidden away in little dining rooms that you might not even know are there unless you’ve wandered up the inconspicuous staircase in the back corner of the shop floor, are rooms full of conversation and energy. In an increasingly online world where so many young people have the option of retreating to a considerably and sometimes entirely digital existence, it's reassuring to know that the allure of real-life socialising endures.

To me, Circle K's with their bright signage reflecting the colour of city streets in post downpour puddles, are evocative of the 90’s Wong Kar Wai films that romanticised this strange chain of US convenience stores. Here, as in those films, you can observe the contrast of working solitude and youthful companionship on display together as two different chapters of life in the city, playing out at once. 

The affordability of these spots is crucial; they offer a slice of urban life accessible to a broad subsection of society, making them ideal for the hobby of the everyman; people watching. For anyone living here, these stores are a window into the social fabric of Hà Nội. It might not be recommended in Lonely Planet but I implore anyone looking for a different perspective of the city to pull up a stool, grab a cup of instant noodles, a cold beer or tea, and enjoy the buzz.

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