A spray-can vandal invades Hà Nội’s empty walls and irks the eyes of the on-lookers.

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Spray-can vandal making city a ’nasty’ place

December 16, 2018 - 09:00

A spray-can vandal invades Hà Nội's empty walls and irks the eyes of the on-lookers.

Photo by George Burchett
Viet Nam News

by George Burchett*

Hà Nội is fast expanding, vertically and horizontally. There are, of course, other quantifiers for that rapid expansion that can be measured with non-geometrical parameters: air pollution, noise pollution, chaotic traffic and so on and on.

As the laws of physics dictate: what goes up, comes down.

The great number of recent high-rise developments in Hà Nội inevitably affects life on ground level.

And that is something we have to accept as part of life in a vibrant modern city, even if we don’t necessarily like it.

The laws of nature teach us that the old inevitably makes way for the new, just as Rome inevitably fell to the Barbarians. Still, plenty of ancient Rome remains to remind of its past imperial glory.

One wonders how much of old – even ancient – Hà Nội will survive the onslaught of the "new". But that’s not the topic of this story. I’ve dealt with that issue in a previous article (La folie des grandeurs, Việt Nam News, May 6, 2018).

Here, I want to point out a fairly recent phenomenon: I call it NASTY.

NASTY is the "spray-can" name of a spray-can vandal operating around Hà Nội. He/she and his/her  MATE(s) –  fellow spray-can vandals – have recently been busy on Đặng Thai Mai Street, where I live. There’s plenty of building activity in the area, which results in increased air and noise pollution. And now, to add insult to injury, we have to put up with visual pollution: the once graceful and reasonably quiet Đặng Thai Mai is beginning to look like some ugly urban ghetto.

It is rather ironic, as the buildings going up are of the deluxe kind, with names like D’Le Roi Soleil, a reference – I presume – to Louis the XIV, the French Sun King and his splendid Versailles palace.

But on ground level, the neighbourhood is starting to look like an urban slum – something very un-Hà Nội.

The small businesses on Đặng Thai Mai – mostly eating places and car washes servicing locals – have been pushed behind green corrugated-iron walls for some reason. And these ugly corrugated-iron walls are now being sprayed by NASTY and his/her MATE(s).

Allow me to open a bracket here. I love Hà Nội walls. From the beautiful yellow walls of the ancient Citadel, the brick walls and tiles of the Temple of Literature, the fading yellow walls of French villas, the walls in small alleys, stencilled with the phone numbers of tradesman…

Leonardo da Vinci urged young artists to look at stained walls for inspiration:

“Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things…"

Now, when I walk from my alley to Đặng Thai Mai, I see NASTY (and other tags) sprayed, large and ugly, on sections of green corrugated iron. I don’t know why NASTY – whoever he/she may be and from wherever he/she has spawned – has chosen NASTY as his/her spray-can name. It screams at me, like loud music from a ghetto blaster. It disrupts my daily life, my peaceful relationship with my neighbourhood. It screams into my face that the Hà Nội I love is being destroyed and defaced. With NASTYness!

I’m a tolerant person, and wouldn’t have bothered with NASTY – and his/her MATE(s) – just because they irritate me in my own neighbourhood.

But when I spotted NASTY sprayed on the brand new Âu Cơ/Nghi Tàm road, my fuse blew, prompting me to write this.

Sections of the beautiful mosaic wall along Hà Nội’s Dike Road  – the world’s longest mosaic, the collective creative work of many Vietnamese and international artists – had to be sacrificed to make way for the new road. Sometimes such sacrifices are inevitable and acceptable. But it is not acceptable for NASTY – and his/her  MATE(s) – to piss with spray cans on public works. Piss can be hosed off or washed by the rain. Their vandalism stays and is difficult and expensive to clean. These guys don’t operate in daylight: they come out at night, like burglars, to deface public – or private – property.

They show total disrespect for the public and the beauty of the city. If they were young kids, they should be disciplined. But I suspect NASTY – and his/her  MATE(s) – are not so young and innocent. They know what they’re doing.

So if they can read, and get to read what I’m writing – or someone reads it to them, perhaps they’ll have the guts to show their faces and explain to the public why we have to tolerate their visual pollution, what gives them the right to impose it on others and what motivates them to be so persistent.

Okay, NASTY – and MATE(s)?

*George Burchett is an artist who was born in Hà Nội and lives in Hà Nội.