Feb 02 2012
In my quest to bring you alternative perspectives on Hanoi, I met with Ian Paynton, deputy editor-in-chief of Word magazine. Word is two bilingual publications aimed at foreign residents and locals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and is available free at various locations around town as well as online.
We met one drizzly afternoon at the Hanoi Social Club, Ian’s favourite café of the moment – “It’s warm and it’s a good place to do some work. I like the branding and the earthy food” — and I asked what brought him to Hanoi. He originally came in 2008, but when he returned to London he “thought about Hanoi every day for two years.” In 2010 he was offered a sales job in Cambodia, which he took, and then a few months later the company asked him to shift to Hanoi.
Once in Hanoi, Ian made contact with the editor in chief of Word and before too long was writing freelance articles. He then became staff writer and finally deputy editor-in-chief, looking after the Hanoi edition of the magazine. He is very proud of the magazine and the wide audience it appeals to: from young backpackers through to diplomats and Vietnamese businesspeople.
“We have to find content that is of interest to as many of our readers as possible,” he says. “We aim to include some utility content, for example, a feature of vegetarian eats in Hanoi, and some items that are a bit deeper, such as our piece on Vietnamese tea culture.”
Ian has a great affection for Hanoi, which he refers to as “she”, so I knew that asking him what he loved could lead to a lengthy response. I was right, although he summed it up by saying: “It’s the feeling you only get when you’re in Hanoi. That’s what I love: the feeling I get when I arrive back in the Old Quarter.”
He also loves how it differs from Saigon. What makes it different? “Saigon didn’t charm or seduce me like Hanoi did. It feels like a Bangkok-to-be. There’s a lot more to do there though, and it’s more outward looking, in business as well. And of course the food is different.”
So what does he hate about Hanoi? “I could say the traffic, but I don’t really hate the traffic: I don’t hate it any more than I hate the tube in London. I don’t really hate anything about this city. Maybe the unpredictability of it: I don’t always understand it. Sometimes I do and other times it baffles me. There are days when everything is perfect and days when everything is terrible. But then, that’s what I love about it as well: it’s like a relationship you can’t leave — you love it and hate it in one go.”
With the ongoing changes in the music scene in Hanoi, a theme Word regularly covers, I was interested in Ian’s perspective. “I really enjoy what CAMA are doing: bringing international acts and showcasing them alongside Vietnamese acts and their new, speak-easy bar (CAMA ATK) is great addition to Hanoi. I also like that the Dubstep scene is popular among the youth and I like real DJs, who are still using vinyl, like DJ Jase.”
Finally, what advice would he give someone coming to Hanoi? “Only take Mai Linh taxis! A few taxi scams and you’re pissed off. Seriously though… you can’t expect that just because it’s Southeast Asia everyone will be all smiles — you have to work with it in Vietnam. Don’t expect it to be like anywhere else and don’t tell people that you had a bad time here — everyone should be allowed to make up their own minds.”
Not everyone can come to Hanoi and have a good time, he warns. “You have to have the right attitude; it’s about you as an individual. How you spend your time, the people you meet, what you’re looking for,” he adds. “If you’re looking to party until 6am, listening to the latest music, it’s not the place for you. But if you want to spend time with quality people who are here for the same reasons, it’s a good spot.”
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