“Put your money where you mouth is” holds a whole new meaning to the Black Dao and Hmong women living in the mountains of Ha Giang, North Vietnam. A sparkling smile catching the light across a corn field can symbolise a few meanings to the unsuspecting onlooker in the ethnic minority market towns of Meo Vac and Don Van.
On the 7th of August I was delighted to be flown to Ho Chi Minh City to be a guest judge on Vietnam’s Next Top Model for the fashion label Eva de Eva. Eva de Eva is a contemporary fashion brand specialising in sophisticated daywear collections, as a sponsor of Vietnam’s Next Top Model it was my role as their brand representative to deliver the assignment and judge the models on their forth coming photo shoot.
Caked in gold, silver and holographic metallic’s, wearing neon pink, canary yellow and lime green, the girls flirt in full flare skirts coordinated with beads, sashes, aprons and head scarfs. It was like watching a group of women going out for a night on the town, only it was 7am…
AT – DONG – VAN – MARKET – IN – THE – MOUNTAINS – OF – VIETNAM.
Smiling ear to ear and ecstatically happy to see me, they heckled me over to join them waving a bottle of something alluring above their heads. Before I sat down my tea cup was filled with a black liquid and Chúc sức khoẻ was cheered in the air. The ladies were obviously in the prime of their life and enjoying each other’s girly company on a hot and hazy day. The reasonably pleasant tasting black liquor was some kind of home brew made from herbs and rice wine. It wasn’t their first, nor would it be our last.
A short 30km ride from Mai Chau nestled away from the mountains main road is the tiney tiny village of Pa Co. Small in size but heaving in habitué at the weekend, for the Sunday markets main trade is in textiles, costumes and haberdashery for the ethnic Red and Blue Hmong people. (Reading time 3 minutes) Continue Reading
Mai Chau is a seeming easy 150km cruise out of Hanoi. Only a 3-4 hour drive they say! Hmmm well, Im currently sat in my idyllic stilt house listening to White Thai women sing their folk songs in harmony with the crickets, but it didn’t start out that way. For those of you the don’t follow me on Facebook yet please click the link to read the funny story that matches the picture below of what actually happened on the first day of the rest of my life. (Reading time 4 mins)
So it’s the evening before I leave Hanoi after 2 years. It’s been a while since I blogged and I feel this deserves a brief update just to ground myself, keep those who are interested in loop and quite frankly step back and observe. To say my life has been ridiculously insane in the past 2 weeks doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
(Reading time 6 mins)
I’ve left my first ever full time job. I saw my beautiful and talented / pain in the ass students host their exhibitions. I watched in awe as their arduous creative endeavours strut down the catwalk on 6ft models to an audience of over 900 guests. They hugged me backstage and after I cried with exhaustion, pride and love for those little monsters, and they did the same. It was extremely emotional time for everyone when I had to say farewell. Teaching at LCDF has taught me more about myself then any of my students probably ever learnt from me.
Immediately after (like the next day) I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to be a guest judge on Vietnam’s Next Top Model in Ho Chi Minh City!!! Sounds great huh? Reality behind the shiny Instagram filters is that I have always secretly suffered from severe pre flight anxiety. I had to seek support through councelling, hypnotherapy, natural (and not so natural) drugs together with a lots of hand holding to just board the plane. I’m embarrassed to admit that I literally feel like I’m going to die every time I fly. I’m proud to say that I faced my fears and came out the other side stronger, richer and happier for it.
I returned to Hanoi and I said good bye to my best friends and colleagues, moved out of my gorgeous little house and reduced 95% of my accumulated possessions to fit in a mere 20 litre back pack. I checked my bank account today and surprisingly I’ve saved enough cash dollar to travel for nearly 2 years! Pretty banging achievement if I say so myself. Now is the time to figure out why, how and where I’m going to research cultural costume and fashion around the world. I couldn’t be happier to be pursuing the career that i’ve always wanted.
After a disastrous start to the year back in January, I feel truly blessed to say I fell happily in love once more, but sadly at the most inappropriate time of our lives. Amid this madness I’m trying whole heartedly to let go with peace but everyday is heart breaking as we walk in opposite directions and the distance between us grows. And now my 7 month long plan to travel with a dear friend from the UK is currently on hold because I literally feel like I cant tell the difference between my head and my arse.
As for Haute Culture i’ll figure all that out on the road. Get ready for tribal encounters, sartorial street style snap shots and traditional textiles galore. My first priority is to redesign the blog and get up to date with a back log of fashionable events and adventures that are yet to be published. (Actually thats not true, my first priority is to sunbath, sleep and be kind to myself at the moment, the blog is a super close second.)
I recently came across a new word “Fernweh” (n.) An ache for distant places; the craving to travel.
I’ve been literally counting down to this day for the last 7 months! I have no idea when I’m coming back to the UK. So i’ve finally I’ve come to the conclusion that all I need is a bigger, better, and more badass looking motorbike. Tomorrow morning I will ride off alone to Mai Chau on my spanky new Lifan, with very little idea of where I will go next. As my mate Dan would say “be a leaf in the wind”. I have wifi speakers to play music on the road, a hula hoop to re-bond with, a real map!! (as well as google maps) and a first aid kit just incase.
All I know right now is that I can totally do this. I can travel, research, write and be totally fucking awesome at what I do (whatever that turns out to be), and despite my previous doubts I’ve realised once again that I don’t actually need to rely on anyone else. Im feeling brave and a bit erratic, but I’m ok with that, I think it’s only natural right?
Please send me love, light and luck as I embark on the adventure of my life. I thank you all for your support with my whole heart and invite you to join me all the way???
Transcending Ethnicity and Crossing Cultural Identity: Interview with Alisher Sharip about his new photography exhibition Babylon 21Posted on May 31, 2015
A few months ago I was invited to join a photography project exploring the identity of international residents living in Hanoi. The only mandatory obligation was that the model must wear a headdress of some kind in a bid to disguise their traditional appearance. Intrigued I agreed to participate as I saw it as a rare opportunity to appropriate my Vietnamese hill tribe accessories with contemporary fashion trends for a credible cause. (reading time 10 minutes)
About Babylon 21 Transcending Ethnicity
“This series of photographic portraits by Alisher Sharip represents the diversity of Hanoi, an amazing ethnic and cultural melting pot that is home to people from all around the world.
Moving from portrait to portrait, the viewer’s eyes go on a journey of individuals shaped not only by the communities in which they grew up but also by life in cosmopolitan Hanoi, an environment that often triggers creativity and allows a person the chance to develop abilities otherwise repressed by the demanding social-economic reality of the places they came from.
Life in Hanoi challenges identity at all levels, professional, social, religious and cultural. By stepping out of the stream of daily routine and creating unconventional images, the participants question the concept of ethnicity itself and demonstrate how contemporary cities eliminate ethnic boundaries and create global citizens.” For more information visit the event page on Facebook.
Interview with photography Alisher Sharip
- Can you briefly describe your background and experience in relation to working creatively and living in a multicultural society.
In a way I’ve lived in a multicultural societies for all my life. Born in a mixed family in Uzbekistan (USSR at that time), I grew up in Belarus, did my MA and PhD in St. Petersburg, worked in the US and Vietnam. In all those countries I’ve always been a foreigner occupied in creative fields like icon painting, copywriting, journalism, TV production and scholarly research. The camera has been my working tool since early 2000s and a few years ago I started to make a living as a freelance photographer.
- How did the project start? Are there any personal experiences that inspired the project?
It started spontaneously. I was working on a series of portraits of Mai Khoi the singer, and one day we were having a session with her and another singer, Dong Lan, they both wore scarves on their heads and I was amazed how the beauty of their facial treats stood out. Combining headpieces with ethnic clothes, I experimented the concept with a few other people. Hoang Minh Chau suggested making more similar portraits for an exhibition.
- You previously named the project Ethnica, why did you change the title to Babylon 21: Transcending Ethnicity?
Ethnica sounded too broad. At some point I started thinking how to narrow it down and focus on the national and ethnic diversity of Hanoi. Then the metaphor of Babylon popped out in my mind and I decided to use 21 as a reference to both 21st century and the number of participants that equally distributes gender presence.
- How many people from different cultures and ethnicities are involved in the exhibition?
There are people from different Asian countries, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Quite a few people in the series have mixed ethnic origins.
- What is the significance of the cultural costume, headdresses or props in the portraits?
My idea was to take people out of their everyday context, make them look different but still the way they wanted to look. So I asked them to prepare any sort of ethnic outfit they could think of – not necessarily representing their ethnicity but anything they associated themselves with. It was interesting to observe how some of them preferred their traditional costumes and others experimented putting together various national elements of costume, accessories and props to construct their identity.
- Working in fashion design and specialising in cultural costume I understand that our first impressions are often heavily influenced by the way individuals dress, do you think Babylon 21: Transcending Ethnicity challenges social stereotyping?
In a way it does. When we see a person dressed like that we are puzzled for a moment trying to classify what we see. Traditional “hippie” label doesn’t always work these days so we might have to think of a new decoding system to read people’s style.
- As a participant for me the project aspires to explore, challenge and combine the visual identity of the diverse ethnic and cultural community currently residing in Hanoi, would you say this is a accurate perception?
Yes and no. I didn’t try to show what people really wear in Hanoi in order to create or highlight their identity. It was rather an attempt to change the frame, get rid of conventional brand clothes that we usually wear without thinking twice. I wanted people to look different. And I liked the transformation. Human beauty shines when our ordinary perception is shaken a bit, when we visually slapped in the face and puzzled for a moment. I can’t wait to see participants at the opening, browsing among their portraits, taking selfies next to their framed images and comparing themselves with their photographic doubles.
- Will you reveal the portrait participants true ethnicity or will the observer have to guess?
I decided not to reveal their ethnic identities. Let it be a little hide and seek for the audience.
- How do you think multicultural communities have changed the creative scene in Vietnam over the past 10 years?
Dramatically. I came here 8 years ago and couldn’t find a joint with live music. Vietnamese artists were trying to create new forms coming up with something that had been out of date at the Western art scene for decades. I observed the emergence of the musical groups and was myself a part of it for a few years. I remember how traveling musicians Jason and Luke started Cinemusic Wednesdays and Phuong Dang was a part of it too and the place was always packed with local and foreign listeners. Now you can just open Grapewine or TNH and pick a gig where to go every day. It’s a completely different world and huge part of this change is multicultural influence.
On Wednesday 3rd June 2015 my portrait and 20 others will feature in a photography exhibition titled Babylon 21, exploring how contemporary multicultural living in the 21st century can challenge, change and create continuous conversation questioning who we perceive people to be based on their appearance.
Babylon 21 photography exhibition opens on Wednesday 3rd June 2015 at 6pm at Chula 43, NHAT CHIEU , 396 LAC LONG QUAN, Hanoi, Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Ao Dia is a high neck, slim fitting 5 panel dress, with side splits to the waist and generally worn with palazzo style trousers. It is the symbol of Vietnamese beauty and can be seen almost everyday in Vietnamese culture. It is often worn for formal and special occasions by women and girls of all ages.
Vietnamese Ao Dai Event
“Hanoi Connecting Five Continents” was a colorful event boasting traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai, music, dance and fashion. Staged outside in Ly Thai To Square in the hub of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the event was to honour the 125th birth date of Vietnam’s revolutionary communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The department of culture and commerce wanted to celebrate Hanoi’s cultural diversity with a creative collaboration by combining Vietnamese and international fashion designers with it’s expatriate residents.
French, English, American, Russian, Australian, African, Spanish, and Vietnamese beauties proudly paraded down the catwalk in front of government officials, locals and curious tourists. It has been along time since I have done any modeling, probably over 10 years, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Cross Cultural Collaboration
The renowned designer’s NtK Nhat Dung ( Vietnam) and Diego Cortizas of Chula (Spain) presented their contemporary interpretations of the traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai. Both designers collections were inspired by Vietnams rich and exuberant artistic aesthetics. They applied an assortment of textile techniques such as hand painting, embroidery, beading and applique on a luxurious selection of multi colored silks, brocades and velvets. The designs themselves exhibited influences from Vietnamese ethnic hill tribes, french iron works and ceramic floor tiles.
With special thanks to my friends Hoang Minh Chau, Diego at Chula and Nhat Duong for making me feel beautiful, and Morgan Ommer for his lovely photos.
It was 35 degrees in blazing sunshine, I was slightly shell shocked and extremely sweaty after 6 hours of fittings, rehearsals, hair and make up, but all the other models, organisers and friends made it such a fun and memorable experience. I felt proud after two years of living in Hanoi to be offered such a special opportunity to wear Vietnamese Ao Dai, the symbol of feminine beauty, and the pride of the Vietnamese people.
Have you tried on a Vietnamese Ao Dai? How do you think the Vietnamese National dress compares to other countries? Where are the best places to have Vietnamese Ao Dai made in Hanoi? I would love to hear from you, please share your experiences and recommendations in the comments box below.
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Beating the usual stroll to work on a monotonous monday morning, today the streets of Hanoi where I live were packed to the rafters with the sound of drums, rainbow coloured costumes, flying flags and dancing dragons! Reading time 2 mins, short and sweet.
At homes, throughout villages and across the depth and breadth of the country, Vietnamese people are consistently enthrawled with traditional customs and cultural festivities that take place all through out the year. Today was a special day in the village of Nghi Tam where I live. At the start of spring each year the local residents parade joyfully through the streets, honouring and celebrating the village gods and their families ancestors. Historically a farming community, Nghi Tam’s 2 day festival hopes to deliver prosperity and good luck to all that live in the area during the harvest season. Happy spring everyone! Summer soon!
A weekend adventure motor biking around the mountainous province of Ha Giang Vietnam. 1000 metres above sea level Ha Giang boarders the southern Yunnan province of China. At last count over 60% of Vietnams hill tribe minorities call Ha Giang home, making it a culturally diverse and naturally beautiful destination to explore. There I met with local men and women on the markets and at their homes whom took great pleasure and pride in adorning me with their costumes and customs. Reading time 13 mins or scroll down to the bottom for my travel tips and advice on Ha Giang.
“HA GIANG”, “HA GIANG” I heard the guy yelling in my direction. I woke up to realise that there was only myself, the driver and bag boy left on the coach. I got down from my bunk bed, gathered my belongings and stepped out onto a flood lit derelict construction site. Wicked!! I sarcastically thought to myself, time to jump into action and figure out what to do next. It’s 4:30am. I hear sounds of chattering over the wall ahead and see an exit leading out onto a road. Looking like a rabbit in the headlights, I sense the local men sat outside the station are laughing at my expense. I hear a guy wolf whistle which instantly puts me on tenterhooks, Vietnamese men don’t normally do that, I thought. Another “wit whooo” comes my way and I’m feeling really uneasy. I look left and right for my friend Esteban, “Wit whooooo…..DONNA!” I breathe a sigh of relief, it was him all along.
Ha Giang City is No Sapa
I spend my first day in Ha Giang City just chilling out with some friends who are living there teaching English. They were working all weekend and I was hesitant to travel up into the mountains on my own. For one I don’t think I would get that far and I felt a bit paranoid about getting lost or in an accident. As a solo female traveller and don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I read online and my friends confirm that there is a guy in town that offers motorbike tours, normally for 3 or 4 days. So I set off to convince Jonny Nam Tran to take a day out of his normal adventurous schedule to chaperone/babysit me for a day. As I wondered around I realize Ha Giang City is nothing like Sapa. In Sapa everyone is a “Del Boy“. You can’t go to the toilet without someone asking you if you want to do a homestay, go on a trek or buy a bracelet, bag or blanket. Elaborately dressed Hmong and Dao women with children strapped to their backs line the streets with handmade ethnic textiles, crafts and jewellery. Coaches, buses and motorbikes wizz through the busy streets as tourists sip on their lattes in the French cafes overlooking the chaos. It’s full on, but at least you know you’re in the right place. Ha Giang is not set up for tourism at all, I only saw a couple of very basic hotels, cafes and convenience stores. Getting around to see the sights would not to be that easy without Jonny. No one is trying to sell me anything, no one gives a crap that I am there, and from what I can tell there is nothing to do apart from make my plans to head for the hills.