The middle of the month of August in Hanoi has always been known to be warm and humid and today wasn’t an exception.
It just happens that Arthur decided to travel to Vietnam for two weeks to celebrate the graduation from his Bachelor’s degree with some of his friends. It was also, in a way, an opportunity for him to reconnect with his family’s roots and get to know the culture a bit better. Arthur Pham, despite being of Vietnamese ethnicity, was born in San Diego, California of parents that were themselves the second generation of immigrants so a big part of the language and traditions got lost as they lacked time to rekindle with them. After studying game design and taking a particular interest in creative writing and character design, Arthur started to grow an interest for history and the peculiar bittersweet tales often told in Asian media.
Although it wasn’t easy, this fascination lead him to plan for this trip. He not only had to work hard in order to maintain his high grades to continue benefiting from his scholarship but also save up from small jobs to finally travel to Asia. Of course, it wasn’t something he had thought of out of nowhere. He always found a lot of comfort in having a close circle of friends, which also happened to have a few other Vietnamese diaspora. He always envied the way they would celebrate each holiday in family and, once in a while, go visit their relatives in Vietnam.
That’s when, as he turned eighteen, he decided that he’ll go there someday too. That he too, would try all those delicious dishes, see the rivers and mountains, admire the colorful buildings and watch the boats of fishers on the horizon of the sea. Just the thought of it was enough to motivate him to work and study harder to afford it by himself. However, life didn’t go as expected despite his best efforts and it took him five more years to finally be able to fly to the destination he had dreamed of.
During those years, he had met Vu Thanh Truc (1), a Vietnamese student in Foreign Languages who had helped him on a few projects and who was now guiding him through the streets of Hanoi. They were close in age, so they got along fast and so did the friends who accompanied him for this trip. Actually, it was the first time Arthur had ever traveled this far without his family—especially in a country he could barely speak the language of. That was why he had chosen to go with a couple of friends he trusted: a couple of Vietnamese diaspora friends—who were already engaged, mind you and Arthur wasn’t jealous of them at all, not at all—and his outgoing high school friend.
They turned out to be really good companions, showing him all the nice places to be, to take pictures at and to make him laugh when an uncomfortable comes up—which always does at some point during travels. But that was fine, Arthur had enjoyed this short time the most out of his whole life and the trip would soon come to an end; he will have to go back to the United States to start the new semester of his Master’s degree.
Better enjoy this while I can, after that, it’ll be no fun. That’s what he often told himself.
Today was their last remaining day to visit Hanoi, the current capital city of Vietnam. They had started the trip with Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where his grandparents came from. They then traveled to the Central region, stopping shortly in Hue, which used to be the capital city during Nguyen dynasty, and Danang, a coastal city to have some fun and nice pictures on Ba Na Hills to post on social media.
They decided to spend the last days in Hanoi before taking the plane back home and today was the day they would relax and walk freely through the city before the day after tomorrow’s hike to the Perfume Pagoda (2).
Since Truc was busy this day, Arthur had decided to challenge himself and visit a few museums and historical sites by himself while his other friends were either off on a date or shopping for souvenirs near the hotel. If there was one thing that Arthur held back on during the trip, it was sketching and taking notes. As he didn’t want to make his friends wait or ruin the fun, he couldn’t always do as he wanted and in this case—it would be stopping and sketch everything that he could use for his own designs. It wasn’t a bad habit per se, but it could definitely bother some as it would not only draw attention but also slow down the pace. It was something Arthur would do a lot on his own though—if he had to spend time alone outside, he would spend most of it capturing all the fascinating details he could catch. It could be anything, the shape of an old tree, the cracks on a statue, the way the fabric creases when a woman in a long dress sits down…he was quite a peculiar and curious person.
Some would define him as weird or creepy but it was more of a strength. In what others could see as a flaw or an insignificant detail, he saw it as something beautiful and unique, something that shaped and gave life to the subject. Maybe that was where his passion for arts came from—at least that’s what he thought.
1. Vietnamese names are usually formatted in three parts as followed: [Family name] [Middle name] [First name] so his family name is “Vu”
2. The Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Hương) is a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines located on Huong Tich mountain, south of the city of Hanoi. It is accessible by boat through the Yen river.