A Hanoi diary in retrospect

It is, you know. A very beautiful country. Like a drug. The sensory overload of the night-market, walking the long bridge (...to China?) in the night, the streets; surreal rivers of a million Xiaoms, (spelling check needed, but we are talking mopeds - the word itself apparently means to hold on to someone else, suitably poetic) and, like a river, the traffic magically parts if you just move slowly but surely from one side of the road to the other. You can actually cross the street with eyes closed in the middle of rush hour – I know, because I tried. As long as you don’t run, or jump from the blaring horns that go by, you’re ok. If you do, you upset the flow and the rhythm. Stopping in the middle of the road seems to work ok. But don’t rush. Don’t run.

I wish now that I had kept a diary, as it would have been nice to remember in detail all the things that happened. It was such a packed programme, and I had double up: workshops with Vietnamese artists, exhibitions and musical performances. I will perhaps never learn to accept my limitations. Why try, anyway..?

We were a motley crew of people: artists, musicians, film-people, curators and organizers from a variety of nations (predominantly Norwegian), and we were chosen as part the official cultural programme during the Norwegian state-visit by OCA (Office of Contemporary Art), Norway.

We met some incredible people in the short time we were there; Duc and his disciples of underground artists living in traditional stilt-houses in the inner-city, the art-students at the academy who we worked and eventually exhibited with, the buddhist-nuns that blessed our work and tried to heal my sore throat before the important concerts. Our new friends Velli and Katrin who showed us around to places we would have missed out on our own, the Vietnamese king of expatriate-cuisine and all-round showman-entrepeneur Bobby Chin, our always disappearing busdriver, all silkworms, all working to weave it all together.

It had started as a simple idea: I wanted to do some outdoor concerts – playing to people in the streets seemed like a refreshing idea. Like all simple ideas, it proved harder to realize than to conceive. First the music and lyrics had to pass through censorship to make shure there were no hidden anti-government messages, and get a stamp of official approval. Then it transpired that no western artist had ever played an outdoor gig in Hanoi, and getting permission was a labyrinthine experience involving lots of patience and persistance.

We finally did get to play outdoors in downtown Hanoi, and it was worth all the hassle. Lit by mopeds and scooter-headlights and an overhead-projector, we played in front of the Vietnamese national monument to an ever-expanding crowd of curious onlookers. It was a moment we shall not forget easily.

I only spent a week in Vietnam, but some days of your life count as many more than the number they add up to. I remember our 3-day flurry of a workshop at the Academy of Fine Arts, where the students printed more in those 3 days than in the 2 years prior to it. The exhibition of these works was graciously opened by the HM Queen Sonja of Norway.

I remember the concerts at the Gallery Ryllega, in Duc’s stilt-house, at Bobby Chin’s, and of course the outdoor concert… I remember the joint exhibition with the Vietnamese artists at The Goethe Institute, and the concert-performance there, out on the beautiful patio.

I remember all the incredible food we ate, I remember walking barefoot in the garden with one of the nuns at the Buddhist convent, where they kept my Buddha’s head for days, to make sure it would be full of good spirits when I took it home.

My deepest thanks to my Hanoi family for the time spent together: The human dynamite Olav Christopher Jenssen, amongst other things for contributing outstanding and humorous scenography to my shows, the wonderful photographer Mette Tronvoll, our senior family-member Per Kleiva (with more punch than us all!), and his wife Ida, Hans Petter Moland, for his film - The Beautiful Country - and his untiring filming of my performances, something that will undoubtedly result in some weird road-movie down the...eh, road), Elisabeth and Petter Borgli, Veronica, my musicians; Martin Terefe (group-spokesperson), Frode (Frøde, Freude and all the other ones) Lamøy, and Hårek.

To sweet Stephanie our organizer, who never rested for a moment, and her Lukas, who volunteered as roadie - to Simen, main scenograph and allround good guy who gave all he had to everything and everyone, – and last but not least to Ute, our Captain in Arms. It was your brain-child Ute, and now pieces of it are lodged in our minds forever. Thank you.

magne f