Life in Vietnam

Sunday, 26/08/2018 09:00

Overseas Vietnamese artist nurtures love for Hà Nội through sketches

Famous site: One Pillar Pagoda in Ha Noi.
Viet Nam News

By Tran Hoang Nam

For painter Etcetera Nguyen, Ha Noi is like a lively painting that brings endless inspiration to artists.

Nguyen, born Nguyen Quang Truong, left Viet Nam in 1988. Now he has returned from the US and plans to spend the rest of his life in his homeland.

He loves wandering and painting all around Ha Noi. Recently, the Kim Dong Publishing House selected his sketches of Long Bien Bridge, O Quan Chuong Gate, Dong Xuan Market and the Old Quarter as illustrations for the book Ha Noi Rong Ruoi Quan Quanh (Wandering in Ha Noi) by the late author Bang Son.

After three years living in Thailand, Nguyen settled in the US since 1991. He worked as a journalist at Viet Weekly magazine in California, where many Vietnamese people live. In 2006, when Viet Nam hosted APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum), he and two other reporters came to Viet Nam to report on the event and also record the current situation of the country.

It was his first time back in the homeland after 18 years away. He had the opportunity to go back to his old house and school and visit his friends. It was an emotional experience.

Buy and sell: Dong Xuan Market.

“It’s also the first time I came to Ha Noi, witnessed the capital with real people and landscapes, not pictures that I saw in books,” he said.

“I was totally charmed by an ancient and tranquil city with street corners, roofs with moss, people walking by. Everything enchanted me.”

Nguyen is not only a journalist. He studied fine arts professionally. He sketched everything he saw in Ha Noi. He respected these paintings and contemplated them everyday to ease his melancholy nostalgia.

Then, 30 of these paintings were selected for publication in the book by writer Bang Son.

“The book is a precious gift for me because I want to approach the city closer; I want to be a part of it,” he said.

Nguyen began finding information about late painter Bui Xuan Phai because he really enjoyed his paintings of Ha Noi. He also met painter Bui Thanh Phuong, Phai’s son, to talk about art.

“Phai’s sketches are an integral part of the Ha Noi culture,” Nguyen said.

Seeking inspiration: Painter Etcetera Nguyen wandering in Ha Noi to paint. Photo courtesy of the artist

“In just a few strokes, he can depict the shape and soul of Ha Noi streets. Unlike him, I live to bring many details of the streets to portray the busy, crowded lifestyle of the city.”

Nguyen said he sees Ha Noi through the eyes of a Hanoian, who lives far from the motherland and wants to remember his hometown. As a reporter, he uses real materials more than his reminiscences to draw the city.

“I want to portray Ha Noi in a full and detailed manner. I was inspired by Phai’s paintings, but I try to draw through the eyes of an outsider who is passionate about the city’s history and culture.”

Nguyen and his friends in the US once came back to Ha Noi in 2013 to create. They are members of the Vietnamese Artists Club in the US, which gathers Vietnamese people who have different occupations but share the same passion for art.

One of the memorable trips for him is the one to Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago in 2012. As a journalist, he has written many stories about national sovereignty, and he felt deeply moved when visiting the islands.

“Although I just stopped at the islands for a short time, I still had enough time to sketch the people and landscape of the archipelago.”

“With a collection of about 100 paintings of soldiers and the landscapes in the Spratlys, I organised an exhibition in California attracting many people to come.”

Old town: O Quan Chuong Gate.

Once, Jairo Giraldo Villegas from Colombia, a Spanish teacher in Ha Noi, visited Nguyen’s apartment on Dao Tan Street. He bought two paintings. After four months of living and teaching Spanish in Ha Noi, Villegas was acquainted with the street scenes. He bought the paintings before returning home as he wanted to preserve beautiful memories of Viet Nam.

“Sometimes, people asked to buy my paintings right after I finished them,” Nguyen said.

“For example, a French couple waited until I finished a sketch of Long Bien Bridge because it’s a place where they often come. They want to keep the memory of it.”

Nguyen said every time he returns to Viet Nam, he always feels very excited.

“It is interesting that in this country, each region has its own culture. I’m sure that overseas Vietnamese will be also interested in the video clips that I have recorded and posted on the It’s like going to the market, enjoying cuisine, fixing vehicles and bathing in the rain to recall their childhood," he said.

“Those days living in Ha Noi are the happiest days in my life.” — VNS

Comments (0)

Related content