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17 years on, French academic nostalgic for Ha Noi of yore

Update: December, 25/2014 - 09:20
Family portrait: Olivier Tessier with his wife and their two sons. — Photo courtesy of Olivier Tessier.

by Vuong Bach Lien

HA NOI  (VNS) — Two years ago, French researcher Olivier Tessier, chief of the Ha Noi-based Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (French School of Asian Studies), was granted the "Bui Xuan Phai – Love for Ha Noi" award for his research on Ha Noi's Ancient Citadel.

The prize recognised the several years Tessier spent collecting photos and documents on the citadel and organising exhibitions and conferences honouring the values of the old capital.

Tessier, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, said it was a surprise for him to get the prize and that it was an honour not only for his work, but also for the work that the institution had done for 20 years in Viet Nam. The centre has become well-known in the country after conducting various activities and research on Viet Nam's civilisation and history, in particular the preservation of historic sites.

How it all began

Tessier has lived in Ha Noi for 17 years. He first came in Viet Nam in 1993 to do a six-month internship to finish his studies of agronomics in France. Just before leaving Viet Nam at the end of the internship, he met his future Vietnamese wife, motivating him to come back to the city to do another internship the following year. One year later, he began his doctoral studies in the city with a scholarship from the French Ministry of Research. In 2006, he began to work at the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient in Ha Noi.

Having lived for a long time in Ha Noi and conducted research about the city, he has witnessed changes in the capital.

"I fell in love with Ha Noi when I first arrived. At that moment, I looked at the city with the curious eyes of a tourist who is fascinated with the incessant activity of the Old Quarter: 36 streets of old French houses, filled with a never-ending traffic jam of bicycles".

But the city has changed a lot from those old days.

"Ha Noi has become very modern with a lot of cars and motorbikes on the roads. I am nostalgic for the Ha Noi of before, with more urban space and stronger social links.

"I remember in 1993, there was a state shop at the place where Trang Tien Plaza is. The first time I went to Ha Noi, I bought a smiling little plastic Buddha statue. It cost only VND2,000 -3,000. When a little air passes through, it makes a funny sound. It pleased me a lot. I showed it to my friends and told them it was representative of Viet Nam," he said with a big smile.

True love: Olivier Tessier receives the "Bui Xuan Phai – Love for Ha Noi" award for research on Ha Noi's Ancient Citadel. — Photo thanhnien.com.vnTessier is sad that youth in the capital city have become indifferent to national culture

Given his attachment to the capital of the past, Tessier mourned that some people in the city had become individualistic and materialistic, and some young people had become westernised and indifferent to the national culture.

Despite those changes, however, he still loves the city and Viet Nam, which has become his second home. Tessier is married to a Vietnamese woman and they have two sons aged 15 and 11. He often spends Sunday, the only day he doesn't have to work at the office, with his family.

"Whenever I can, I spend time with my wife and my sons. I watch a DVD with my sons and play with them. I am a very traditional father," he said. — VNS

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