Silent Hanoi

The above lines were penned by the Hanoi poet Xuan Dieu, written for one person, whose name is included in the poem. For the first time, this poem has become public. So who is Nguyen Dieu?

The elegantly-named man named Nguyet Dieu is now 84 years old. Climbing the stairs at number 62 Luong Van Can Street – a small street in central Hanoi lined with shops selling eyeglasses – I find myself in a space that evokes Hanoi of decades past. Mr. Dieu’s home is long and narrow. Stepping onto the balcony, Hoan Kien Lake appears. I’m reminded of the line: “A gap of sky blooms above the lake”.

The man who took these photos has a long face and a large forehead. When I entered his house he was lying on his bed in a dark corner. He seemed glad to see me and asked me to take a seat near his bed. The room held a precious camera cabinet and a high-tech stereo system. I guessed that the stereo might have been a gift from his kids, to help him to relax. A year ago Mr. Dieu contracted palsy. Sometimes, he can barely move around his house with the aid of a wooden frame.

 Silent Hanoi

After some conversation, Mr. Dieu revealed his photo shop’s brand name: Nang Vang (Golden Sunlight). “In the ‘70s, every professional photographer and photojournalist knew this brand name”, recalls Hanoi photographer Nguyen Dinh Toan. “Mr. Nguyet Dieu was regarded the master in reshooting developed photos. Film was quite rare at that time. And Mr. Nguyet Dieu cut the French large- sized film (for shooting from airplanes) to get 3Smm film to use in a normal camera. That was a huge discovery. Photojournalists also knew Mr. Nguyet Dieu tor his talent in repairing damaged him. He could fix every mistake, even if the film got opaque or over-bright”.

 Silent Hanoi

People assume that the shop’s brand name Nang Vang (Golden Sunlight) relates to the perfect lighting of his photos. “It wasn’t that simple,” said Mr. Dieu. “I played with the words, because the letters in Nang Vang can be rearranged into Vang Nang, which means ‘with – out you’. When I asked who ‘You’ was, he just smiled.

If somebody calls me a photographer, I’ll refuse that title. I regard myself as a photo-craftsman,” said Mr. Dieu. “I’ve pursued this career for half a century, first to earn my living and bring up my four children. It was quite hard.” Mr. Dieu was born in Hung Yen and moved to Hanoi in 1950. In 1957, already working as a photographer, he bought his house on Luong Van Can Street. He moved his photo shop there and worked for many more decades.

 Silent Hanoi

Listening to him, I laughed but it was a troubled laughter. Hanoi is now totally different from the city in which Mr. Dieu spent most of his life. And admirable citizens like Mr. Dieu are rare too. They are dignified, humble, quiet and profound.

 Silent Hanoi

Sometimes Mr. Dieu ducked his head and smiled mischievously. I wanted to take a photo of him while he was raising his head a little. But he would not agree, said it would be a waste.

Silent Hanoi

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