‘When the streets aren’t too busy, I can ride around and look at the landscape – enjoy the colours of the trees, the flowers, the sky – then try to copy these colours in my paintings’, says lacquer artist Chien.
‘And when there’s less pollution you can see the colours more clearly’, he adds.
Chien has recently returned to Hanoi after 10 years in Adelaide, Australia. He moved back in to his parents’ house near the Hanoi University of Fine Arts – the same place where he had studied and also where his father used to teach drawing and painting.
Unlike so many people in Hanoi, Chien does not own a motor bike or car: he owns a bicycle. And although he doesn’t have to commute to work these days – he just walks upstairs to his little studio – he uses his bike to get to appointments, visit art galleries, collect supplies and meet friends at their homes or local cafes, for example.
Born in the Ha Nam countryside in 1965, Chien is the third of five children. He served three years in the army after graduating from high school and then ‘had to really think about what I want to study for myself and for my future.’
He was keen to study art – perhaps partly influenced by his artist father – and was eventually successful in gaining a place at the University of Fine Arts. Chien studied for eight years, specializing in lacquer painting. He has since participated in solo and group exhibitions in Vietnam, China and Australia.
A month after arriving back in Hanoi from Adelaide, Chien wondered whether to buy a motor bike as two of his brothers had already got their own and everynight had to keep them in the house, occupying a lot of space.
He decided to buy a mountain bike ‘with good tough tires and gears so I can go faster if I have an appointment.’
‘Hanoi is small’, says Chien, ‘you can get around quite easily by bike. It’s more convenient than a motorbike, easier to ride through narrow alleys – It’s a cheap way to get fit.’
His bicycle is much lighter and more flexible than a motorbike, easier to bring it into and out of the house. ‘If you get stuck in traffic you can just get around it,’ Chien says. ‘You also save a lot of money; my older brother spends around VND500,000 per month on petrol.’
Chien’s younger brother had spent many years overseas in Berlin, Germany.
Both he and Chien love Vietnam, the land of their birth – but they dislike the increasingly dirty, polluted and noisy environment in Hanoi.
‘Every time I came back to Hanoi after moving to Adelaide I would see more and more rubbish lying around and worse traffic. I hope people start thinking long-term about the future of the environment for their children and their grandchildren, not just thinking short-term about business and money’, says Chien.
When he studied in primary school he could still swim in the (then) clear water of Ho Tay (The West Lake) near the Trấn Quốc Pagoda. This simple pleasure is no longer available to the local children.
Urban design is part of the problem, says Chien. ‘Too many tall buildings jammed together so you can’t see past them into the distance; not enough trees; all that glass and concrete retains heat, like an oven.’
As a child Cien found ways to make toys – cars, planes and even basic radios – out of simple materials, and often without any tools. He likes to find solutions to problems. Sometimes his ideas and solutions to environmental problems come out in his paintings. At other times Chien feels he is demonstrating good solutions by his actions (putting rubbish in the bin, not just leaving it anywhere and everywhere, for example).
Chien wants Vietnamese people to know that they, like everyone else in the world, need a healthy environment, clean food and air – and that there are many ways we can make less damage to the environment. ‘The people who live in the highest mountains of northern Vietnam still have fresh air, trees and a lot less concrete. But if everyone acts we can improve Hanoi: make it truly Clean, Green and Beautiful!’
‘Bicycles help make a cleaner environment. And that’s another good reason to ride.’