|One day in his life: The photo caption for this rat catcher says, "My job starts around midnight. You don't have to travel anywhere far for this, just look out for the drains in the Old Quarter area. Rats live in packs there." — Photo courtesy of Humans of Hanoi
by Nguyen Khanh Chi
HA NOI (VNS) — The message that Humans of Hanoi seek to convey is straightforward: Every individual has a story worth telling.
The project, wherein a group of young, amateur photographers have "devoted heart and soul" to capture images of people residing in and visiting Ha Noi, has gained considerable attention and acclaim since it went public about three weeks ago.
"Our purpose is to capture the seemingly ordinary and modest moments in the life of the people who contribute to the dynamic lifestyle of this beautiful city," said Tran Quang Tuan, head of the Freely Team, which initiated the non-profit photo project.
Inspired by Humans of New York, Humans of Hanoi has already garnered more than 25,000 "likes" on its Facebook page.
"Perhaps, through these simple and humble stories, we can break the invisible borders segregating you and me, and all the lovely people around us," Tuan said.
"We focus on the story rather than the photo, so pictures are not expected to be perfect.
"All of us have the same passion for photography even though none of us trained in this field. And we want to do something helpful for our society."
The group began with six members, all born after 1990, including one Vietnamese-Australian who works long-distance, translating the stories from Vietnamese into English.
It has since expanded to 10 people who go to all corners of the city to make the acquaintance of those they meet on the streets. Their talks typically start with a smile, followed by basic, normal questions that elicit stories worth telling.
‘A piece of myself'
One photo of a street vendor in the Old Quarter has this caption: "I worked in South Korea for 17 years. It was crazily tough, working 12 hours a day. I would much rather sell fried pies like this."
The man sits behind a frying pan with couples of doughnut-looking dumplings floating in the boiling oil.
What makes Humans of Hanoi so likeable is that one can easily find "a piece of myself" in the stories they tell.
"I have read many posts on Humans of New York and now Humans of Hanoi. The re are quite a few interesting stories. Long or short, I keep reading one after another, sometimes making me laugh out loud, " said Le Phuong Thao, a 40-year-old Hanoian.
"I even find their stories similar to my own life experience. I admire what they are doing. It's not such easy to go out and enable people to share their tales but these young people have done it."
The captions are bilingual, so the project helps foreigners learn more about the people and culture of Ha Noi, as well as the nation in general, because the capital city is a place that attracts a lot of migrants.
The project also connects with foreigners in the city.
"It is a yearly custom that I hit Viet Nam twice a year – in April and October. There is no particular reason, I'm just simply in love with Ha Noi!," says an old foreigner.
Another one shows a man in striped T-shirt and sun glasses.
"I'm from the city of Melbourne, Australia, which is a little bigger than your Ha Noi, area-wise. I reckon it's difficult to compare the beauty of the two cities. But still ... I wouldn't survive here for longer than a week!"
It is not just the subjects or the audience that benefit from the project. Those behind the camera say they gain quite a lot from what they are doing.
"The work has done me a lot of good," said project leader Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, who graduated in hotel management from a Singaporean university.
"I used to be a shy girl with an inferiority complex. I did not dare to speak to strangers; that's why I failed so many job interviews," Huong said.
"My fear was a big mountain that I have been able to conquer. I feel much more confident.
"During this work, I met a soothsayer and asked him: ‘What is your happiness?'
"‘I'm happy to help people,' he replied and went on to say: ‘The timid rabbits always fear. To overcome that fear, one should read books and go out to talk to people and learn by experience'."
She felt that this unsolicited message was directed at her.
After two weeks going out as part of a group, Huong now operates individually.
"It's not too hard to talk to people. They are very normal." —VNS