It was supposed to be a casual catch up over pho so that Nam could pass me some "chó đá" (Vietnamese art collectibles designed by Thanh Phong) that he helped me buy. But it turned into a 2 hour long and deep conversation about life and especially about his love for Hanoi.
Nam is a 25 years old entrepreneur who dropped out of university where he was training to become an architect. He still managed to learn all the things he needed for his current venture though, Nam is the proud owner of TiredCity, a local brand focusing on empowering Vietnamese artists and showcasing their work via high quality merchandise.
I asked him why he decided to stop pursuing his course. He shared with me that he didn't find it useful and he would rather use the time to do something more practical and meaningful. And that's how Tired City was born. Tired City is also the name of one of his art collections. More on this story to be shared later.
Nam's knowledge about Hanoi just blew my mind especially when he finally revealed that he's not from here. He is originally from Thai Nguyen city which is about 82 km north of Hanoi. He has been living in Hanoi for 11 years and I could tell that he absolutely loves this city to bits. He travels a lot and he compares Hanoi to Kyoto in Japan, an old city with just a bit more chaotic. Orderly chaos, he calls it. On a surface, Hanoi could look quite messy and at the same time, everyone knows how to navigate around it in an "orderly" manner.
A good example of this happened right when we were having pho on the street. There was a mini lorry from the government going around at a turtle pace telling people not to occupy the street and give space to pedestrians. All the vendors immediately moved the chairs and tables to their homes while we sat there eating at the pavement. Nam told me that this happens everyday. After the lorry leaves, people bring back the chairs and tables to the pavement again and business continues as usual.
Nam spoke to me about the "spirit of the place", a concept he learned in his university when he talked about Hanoi. Hanoi has that spirit and the energy that makes you fall in love with it. You can't explain it, but just need to feel it. Think about the time you entered a church or a temple, how did you feel? That's the spirit of this place.
I asked Nam what made him love Hanoi that much. Weather, history, the spirit of the place, to name a few but at the end the "orderly chaos" was his response. He spent days roaming around the Old Quarters and had a lot of knowledge about the history of most of the old houses there. That's also why he chose the location of his first ‘Tired City’ store on a street that's not necessarily busy and viable for his business. It was heartening to see that he still thinks a lot with his warm artistic heart and not with a cold businessman’s heart.
I promised to tell the story of a painting from Nam's ‘Tired City’ collection. Are you ready to get goose-bumps like I did when he told me about it? Here goes. One of his paintings is about the Turtle Tower, a lonely tower in the middle of the canvas with nothing else except the white & grey background. To be honest, I was not impressed with this work until he told me the background story. Apparently the Turtle Tower is the only place in Hanoi that no one has ever been to as it's in the middle of a lake. But there was one person who has been to this tower by swimming across the lake in the middle of the night. And that's the admin of ‘Humans Of Hanoi’ page who is just like Nam has been in love with Hanoi and wandered through all its streets. That person wanted to be the first to touch the tower, to "check-in" and then swim back to the busy tired city.
After hearing this story, Nam got inspired and created this painting. I got goosebumps while hearing Nam speak about the origin of this work and that’s when I knew I had to write this story. Nam’s love for Hanoi is so enormous and contagious that I wanted other people to feel it and get inspired like I did.
I have been wearing so many T-shirts from ‘Tired City’ that I can easily be called their biggest fan. But now I am truly a fan - a fan of Nam and his love for Hanoi.
I can't wait to see how ‘Tired City’ can help bring Vietnamese art to the world and I know they can do it because everything is possible when you do it with love.