Hanoi in the 80s - an exhibition - Rusty Compass travel blog

Hanoi in the 80s - an exhibition

| 22 Oct 2013
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22 Oct 2013

A photographic exhibition running for a week in Hanoi features work from former British diplomat, John Ramsden, stationed in Hanoi at the beginning of the 1980s.

Thirty five years doesn't seem like a long time in the evolution of your average Western city. The same cannot be said of Vietnam's capital Hanoi.

At the beginning of the 1990s, a process of economic reform known as "doi moi" kicked in and dramatically changed the lives of the people and the physical character of their city.

Vietnam's reform process was forced by the dire state of the economy in the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union. John Ramsden's photo exhibition, Hanoi - Spirit of Place, is a rare look at life during the hardline years of communism that followed Vietnam's three decades of war.

John Ramsden - former  British Embassy official and photographer.
Photo: Mark BowyerJohn Ramsden - former British Embassy official and photographer.


The black and white collection captures mainly street-life in the austere days of rice books, long lines for food staples, bicycles and packed trams (Hanoi could really do with trams these days!).

Line for vegetables, Hanoi - by John Ramsden
Photo: John RamsdenLine for vegetables, Hanoi - by John Ramsden


One of the most striking things about this exhibition is the turnout. Locals are a rare sight at Hanoi's museums and most other similar exhibitions, but Ramsden's images have struck a chord with Hanoians young and old.

Locals remember the early 80s in Hanoi.
Photo: Mark BowyerLocals remember the early 80s in Hanoi.

Remembering the 80s - Hanoi
Photo: Mark BowyerRemembering the 80s - Hanoi


Visiting with old school friends, one woman, a professor now based in Paris told me,

"We have warm memories. But it's also scary to think of that time".

"People were kinder, life was fairer. We didn't know anything else".

"We didn't take photos so it's special to see these"

Testament to the local interest was the comment book. There were long thoughtful contributions in Vietnamese that might themselves make for a fascinating exhibition in the future.

A local pens his reflections in the guest book.
Photo: Mark BowyerA local pens his reflections in the guest book.

John Ramsden and Hanoi - Spirit of Place is showing until 26 October at the Exhibition House, 29 Hang Bai St, Hanoi - a few hundred metres from Hoan Kiem Lake. Don't miss it if you're in Hanoi. With any luck it might get an extension somewhere in the city!

Check out the website - http://www.hanoispiritofplace.com/

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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