Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The city of Hanoi doesn’t rest. I went to bed close to midnight to the sounds of vendors over speakers, advertising whatever they were selling to the streets they drove their motorbikes down. Lots of honking. I heard the same thing when I woke up briefly around 4a and again later in the morning. The tropical depression finally hit us and on our way to our interviews in the pouring rain, I saw families of four huddled on to their motorbikes under the same rain poncho. One motorbike held two men and several wooden boards with nails poking up. If they had suddenly braked, the second man would’ve fallen back into the nails and probably paralyzed.

The only railroad in Hanoi

Our day was a rush, from home to cab to interviewee’s house, a brisk walk to an interview at Vui coffee shop where we had our first interview, to cab to home to cab to third interviewee’s house to cab to home. But I love the rush. I always have. It makes me feel like I’m doing something important and urgent.

The first interview was with a woman, married, in her 60s, who was Trang’s former literature teacher. She didn’t want to be recorded in any way (no video, audio or even notes) because her position and knowledge as a teacher attracts a lot of media attention that she would prefer to avoid. But we can at least use her name in the documentary. Trang wrote down notes afterward in English so we could remember what she said. The woman talked a lot about how controversial it is in traditional Vietnamese society for a wife to earn more money than her husband, as the women are supposed to be inferior in every way. A man, when looking for a wife, may want to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be as smart or driven or successful as him. It’s not an unfamiliar concept. I was always told growing up that boys, then, and young men, now, were just intimidated by me because I am smart, confident and hard-working, so I shouldn’t take it personally if they weren’t interested in me. It always frustrated me, but I never interpreted it as a gender-specific thing until now. But it makes sense. I don’t know any straight woman that wouldn’t date a guy because he was smarter or more driven than her (unless arrogance accompanied it). I feel like that gives even more reason to be attracted to someone!

We met our next interviewee at the coffee shop. Before she arrived, I ordered iced peach tea, which was very good. It was also the first time I paid for something without Trang helping me with the money. It was 28,000 dong, which is roughly $1.40.

Vui coffee shop

We had time to set up and play with the lighting (we like this coffee shop because of the floor-to-ceiling windows). I’m glad to know more about angles and lighting and audio, after taking the cross-cultural documentary filmmaking class last semester. Our equipment includes:

  • Macbook laptop for recording audio through GarageBand
  • Samson Meteorite microphone, connected to Macbook
  • voice recorder, so we have two versions of audio, just in case
  • Nikon CoolPix P100 Digital Camera
  • Camera tripod
  • Extra camera batteries and charging cords

It’s not fancy, but it works. After each day of interviewing, I take out the SIM card from the camera and sync it to Trang’s computer, since my computer doesn’t have a place to plug it in. She uploads it to Google Drive for me to download into Final Cut Pro on my computer, our video editing software (normally $300, but I got a free 30-day trial). I’m hoping it won’t diminish the video quality but this is the best we can do.

Our second interview was with a female student from Hanoi who attends college in the United States. It was in English, so I was able to interview her. She is an incredible activist and she talked about how she chooses to use her voice through writing and journalism. Each summer when she returns to Hanoi, she starts a new project. This summer, the project is Hanoi Coffee Discussion, weekly meetings for about 25 Vietnamese people of all ages and backgrounds to gather and discuss different social issues in an honest and open-minded setting. Last summer, she worked with a team on a project called When the Birds Fly Home, a photojournalistic interview series on people who study abroad and their decision to find work there or return home to Vietnam. It was presented earlier at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum that Trang and I visited this past weekend. All that to say, it was an honor to interview her and I really look up to her drive to use journalism to spark social change. Goals.

Our last interviewee was the woman, the only woman who has held her position in her financial career out of the big 4 banks in Vietnam. We met with her previously but weren’t able to video until today. She talked for an hour and a half, close to two hours. She was so lively and shared so much wisdom and I wish I could have understood her. At one point during the interview, I heard something that sounded like a baby crying. But an impish looking cat sulked into the room, continuing to cry for attention while curling around the woman’s feet. It was very stereotypical.

Trang interviewing our third interviewee of the day

We had several technical issues, all due to running out of battery and storage, because we underestimated how long she would speak. I tried all three camera batteries, then Trang’s phone, then mine, deleted all my apps, and mine again. But I kept calm and remembered what my documentary filmmaking professor taught me: “We’ll fix it in post(-editing).” The good thing was we had continuous audio recording for the entire interview, so we can always add some b-roll (other video footage of things she’s talking about) on top of it.

I still had to eat mostly bland food today to make sure my stomach fully recovers. At some point, I’m planning on cooking a typical southern American meal for Trang’s family. Her parents kept trying to guess it at dinner. “Mashed potatoes?” “Tomatoes?” “Grilled meat?” I thought this was funny. For the record, I’m making BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, potato salad and banana pudding. And I only had to bring the BBQ sauce, Nilla wafers and a can of baked beans with me! We have been watching MasterChef with Vietnamese subtitles the past two days after dinner and I feel like I’ll be under a similar pressure whenever I end up cooking for everyone, especially since I haven’t actually made any of these dishes before (baked beans don’t count – you literally heat them up and they’re ready to go). I guess I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

2 thoughts on “8,745 MILES: DAY 5 IN HANOI

  1. I got a kick out of your having never cooked the things you’ll be cooking for Trang’s family!😁 I’m sure you will do fine. Your interviews sound very interesting! Did Trang set those people up for you before you came? You have good subjects to interview!

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. I don’t have a whole lot of cooking experience! But thankfully, all those things are pretty easy. 🙂 We really have talked with some great people! Yes, she set them up previously, and am scheduling a few more even now that the people we talk to have recommended.


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