Nguyen Ngoc Tien Reflects on How Hanoian Culture and Lifestyle Have Influenced His Life

Hanoi is renowned for its charm and integrity, a notion that has been perpetuated by renowned writers and journalists focused on Hanoi-related topics. These words are like a warm sea current that runs beneath the ice of time.

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Nguyen Ngoc Tien, a renowned writer and journalist, recently spoke with the local press about his career and his love for the city of Hanoi. He shared insights into his writing journey and his deep connection to the city.

The portrait of Hanoian renowned writer Nguyen Ngoc Tien

As a young man, Tien had initially planned to study at the University of Civil Engineering, but instead, he found himself studying at the Theory and Screenwriting Department of the Academy of Theatre and Cinema. Reflecting on this deviation, Tien believes that talent alone is not enough to excel in writing; hard work and practice are equally important. His writing style, inspired by Confucius’ “description without comment,” allows readers to make their own interpretations. Tien also recalls his initial aspirations to become a civil engineer but attributes his decision to pursue writing to his passion for the craft.

During his military service, Tien carried books with him, even on the frontlines. His dedication to learning and his dream of attending university motivated him to study whenever he had the chance. These books not only provided him with knowledge but also helped him pass the entrance exams for the Academy of Theatre and Cinema. Tien’s commitment to reading even earned the surprise and admiration of his fellow soldiers.

Nguyen Ngoc Tien's book themed Hanoi by Youth Publishing House

As a reporter and editor for Hanoimoi Sunday, Tien had the opportunity to tackle corruption cases and support national renovation and Hanoi’s development. He recalls the emotional impact of his work during that time, as he delved into corruption and revealed the extent of the issue. Despite facing challenges, including disagreements with the editorial board and even being kidnapped by opponents of a golf course project while investigating, Tien prides himself on always maintaining fairness and integrity in his writing.

Tien’s writing is deeply imbued with the essence and daily life of Hanoi. He believes that his upbringing in the city, combined with a genuine love for its culture and lifestyle, naturally manifests in his work. Tien acknowledges that some may perceive Hanoians as condescending, referencing a comment from King Tu Duc in the Chronicle of Greater Vietnam. However, he argues that the honest and warm-hearted nature of Hanoi’s people endures, even in the face of changing times.

The cover of the book titled Me Tu Hong or Madame Tu Hong by Nguyen Ngoc Tien

Tien’s perspective on Hanoi encompasses multiple dimensions, including history, geography, and culture. However, it is the emotional dimension that prevails in his writing. Through vivid descriptions of characters such as the female worker caring for the rooftop clock of the Hanoi Post Office, an old man singing blind busker’s songs, or a woman street vendor, Tien portrays the lives of ordinary city dwellers. He believes these individuals, who navigate the challenges of everyday life, embody the soul of a city.

Tien’s works also capture Hanoi’s transformation from a medieval to a modern city, with contrasting colors and distinct atmospheres. While he has focused on the city center in his writing, he expresses a desire to explore the outskirts of Hanoi, where he was born and raised. These suburban areas, once characterized by rusticity, have gradually assimilated the urban sophistication of the city. Tien plans to write a book titled “Missing the Suburb,” highlighting the changes and impact of urbanization on these areas.

A corner of Hanoi in the artwork of Hanoian artist Pham Binh Chuong

Tien acknowledges the rich literary tradition of writers who have explored Hanoi throughout history. He cites authors such as Nguyen Viet Ha, Nguyen Truong Quy, and Do Phan as his friends and believes that future generations of young writers will continue to delve into captivating themes related to Hanoi.

Nguyen Ngoc Tien, born in 1958 in Vong Village, Phuong Liet Ward, Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi, is the author of several best-selling books themed around Hanoi. His works include “5678 Steps Around Sword Lake,” “Traveling Along Hanoi,” “Traveling Across Hanoi,” “Traveling Through Hanoi,” as well as novels like “Hanoian Soldiers,” “Fragile,” and “Madame Tu Hong.” Tien has received numerous accolades for his writing, including the 2012 ‘Bui Xuan Phai – For the Love of Hanoi’ Awards and the 2012 Hanoi Art and Literature Award.