Former French ambassador – A Frenchman finds Hanoi’s soul

Wednesday, 2017-10-11 16:07:05
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Former French ambassador Jean Noel Poirier
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NDO – Former French ambassador Jean Noel Poirier, who has a passion for the Vietnamese people’s customs, Hanoi’s history, architecture, and popular dishes has expressed his fascination by making a documentary entitled 'Mon Hanoi’ (My Hanoi). The documentary has been screened at the L'Espace French Cultural Centre in Hanoi and on VTV1 channel, much to the joy of Hanoi lovers.

The most impressive images, as seen in the documentary, are not only the well-known architectural works of Hanoi such as the Opera House; Long Bien Bridge or the Hanoi Cathedral, but also very familiar images of daily life in Hanoi. With simple, honest viewing angles and unfamiliar colors, the documentary captures the scenes of markets, old apartment complexes, and especially the labour class, such as a barber, motorbike driver, and a woman on a bicycle wearing a conical hat as she transports brooms made from chicken feather and grass.

The Vietnamese voice-over of the documentary was performed by Jean Noel Poirier. His brother, Henri Luis Poirier is the director the film. According to the former ambassador Poirier, the documentary was not meant for foreigners wishing to discover Hanoi. First of all, the purpose of the documentary was to introduce to Hanoians to images of their city as seen from his point of view. “I have tried to capture the soul of Hanoi. Maybe I have caught sight of some hidden beauties of the city, which are ignored and taken for granted by Hanoians themselves and so the documentary is my gift to Hanoi,” he said.

Jean Noel Poirier lived in Vietnam for 10 years, during which he worked for one term as a French Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City (2000 – 2004) and another as the French ambassador in Hanoi (2012 - 2016).

However, he has a special affinity for Vietnam. His paternal grandmother was born in Hoi An City in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam. At the age of 20, he started learning Vietnamese and Eastern culture. Telling of the time he first took up the new position, Poirier narrated his story in Vietnamese: “When I first took up the ambassador position in August 2012, I instantly had a familiar feeling with this place, as if I had been living here before. Maybe it’s because in Hanoi, the reminiscence of French architecture still remains, especially in the old Quarter. Actually the first time I came here in 1989. The city gave me a warm feeling, but I was bored as there was almost no nightlife at that time. But by the time I came back, the city had become very dynamic and vibrant.”

The former ambassador’s wife is of Vietnamese origin, so they cook Vietnamese food when they are in France. He likes 'pho' (beef noodle soup) and many other street delicacies. He is now an avid fan of 'bun dau mam tom' (vermicelli served with fried tofu and shrimp paste) in particular and has introduced the specialty to several of his compatriots.

One of the most attractive features of the city for the French diplomat is Hanoi’s architecture, which is a combination between French and Vietnamese design. There is also a mixture of countryside and urban spaces. To him, the “tiger cage” (steel casing that residents make to extend their living space) in old apartment complexes is an evidence of the accommodating lifestyle of Hanoians. Even though he understands that these condominiums will gradually disappear from future urban planning, he still regards the preservation of the old complexes as valuable for the history of Hanoi.

The 52-minute film is a journey through many corners of Hanoi, with interesting insights into the capital’s culture, food, architecture, traffic and people as discovered by the diplomat, showcasing the love of the former ambassador to Hanoi.