Things About Me: The stuff of Hanoian blogger and musician David Payne
Tangled in a Ba Dinh alleyway and waiting behind a set of double doors that read in wideset letters ‘O P E N’, David Payne, musician and writer of literature and translation blog Hanoi-Ink takes time from running laps with his six year old and working at the UN to show us the home he has transformed.
David Payne: (gesturing towards two water bottles filled with red liquid) “We made a lava lamp. You get water, oil, and … it sort of looks like a lava lamp. He’s really into science. I’m not sure that he’s a classic scientist but, I kind of feel like reinforcing it.”
There is no music playing but there are sounds from Hanoi and the Japanese Animation his son is watching in the next room. All spare surfaces are covered in stacks of books, antiques, ‘science experiments’ and paper-mâché crafts.
Do you buy stuff for the life you wish you led? Or the one you actually lead? I find that’s a trap for me. The [life] where I practice upright bass for an hour a day and then drink tea and then translate for a bit and somehow sustain myself. When in reality I’m fucking working and doing awesome stuff with my boy.
I don’t have a favourite tea, I don’t have a lot of time in my life to sit and drink tea. I guess the theory is it’s an aspirational purchase.
I do drink Vietnamese coffee now and again but whenever I do I get really emotional and can’t sit still. I get really antsy and then I’ll walk into a crappy meeting with the UN because I’m…. I had this really bad experience. My band, we went to Ha Giang to shoot photos for our new album cover. It’s really awesome, like this big entourage of twelve people just driving through the mountains, shooting photos for a rock album. By the last day we had this killer drive back to Hanoi. I was driving all day and halfway back the guys decided they wanted to fill me up with some very strong coffee. It was such a bad move, by the time I got to Hanoi I was just on edge and had this big argument with one of my good friends. The whole way there he was just giving me directions when I didn’t really need it. And then we got to Hanoi and this one turn really near his house he thought I knew it and I missed it. And… it was not good.
After my bad coffee experiences lately, I bought this [tea set] thinking I’ve gotta create a context in my life where I drink tea more. That’s my next step.
I found this [cabinet] on the side of the road. I think I might have paid ten dollars for it, it’s a little cracked and I’ve never really been motivated enough to replace that knob. What I really love about that, and these chairs is that a lot of my friends walk in here and they go, oh, I grew up with that!
What’s nice is sitting down with my Vietnamese coworkers. They’re really busy, they’re raising their families, they’ve got films and music, they say, oh we’re not literature experts, but they’ve all memorised poems and they all have these long discussions about how to translate. It’s really nice to have that kind of interaction with them. And the furniture’s the same thing.
[My friend] Mark is a designer, he’s very passionate about this work, he’s really into the authenticity of his designs. One of his real passions is the old hand painted signs in Vietnam. Because they’re painted they age in really interesting ways. These slowly rust and there’s a lot of texture and some depth. This is Mark’s work. He’s sold some pieces in Europe and to a few of us here who know him well. I just love it. For me it’s really special because after I split with Dion’s mom I was a bit of a mess. I had this empty shell of this building and I had no idea what to do with it. My friends at the time turned it into this. So yeah. It’s very special to me.
Vintage Vietnamese magazines
“I just love this picture. It’s from a magazine in Saigon in the early 70s. It’s probably very derivative if you’re an artist, but of course like many of us we’ve had our motorbike fetishes over the years so it’s just a really fresh picture for me. I wasn’t drawn to comics before Vietnam.
This is interesting, American style cartoons so just slightly racy or funny or ridiculous. Like here’s a guy with a telescope knocking on this woman’s door saying, “Oh hi I’m your neighbour!” That sort of cheap humour. There’s just some really weird stuff like this that was influenced by what was going on with the U.S. It’s interesting to think of when these northern troops came out of the jungle, where they’d been living in absolute poverty and hardship, and then coming upon this society which they’ve been told is degenerate and hedonistic and materialistic. Obviously it would have looked very degenerate to them. I mean this is one of the more racy covers you’ll find but all the old advertisements…. it’s bizarre that there was a war going on and everyone was ignoring that by just kind of getting on with life.”
“These are some really groovy albums from pre-’75. The quality of the vinyl, it’s really hard to find the good stuff in Hanoi but these are sort of different. These records I found in Sydney, I don’t know what they were doing there, they’re all sort of related. They’ve got these beautiful covers.
I’ve only ever seen these albums once in my life and so I bought them. There’s some stuff that’s really not that interesting like Vietnamese songs composed in the style of Russian songs …. but there’s some really classic songs I do love. It’s really fun to put them on for Vietnamese friends.
Some of it’s just… I mean this song.
“Irrigating Under the Moonlight.
” …. it’s pretty… (laughs). Then of course, only a socialist country could produce a song called “The Geologist’s Wings”
One of the things I love about Hanoi especially in the past is the obscurity. The fact that you can be sitting in some room in Hanoi, and I’m quite a nostalgic person as you can imagine, and you’re lost in time and put on an old Vietnamese album and its sort of crackling away and it’s lovely.”
“So this guitar is from Czechloslovokia, I found it in Hanoi years and years ago. The brand Jolana was actually well known back in the Soviet Union and I suppose this guitar is from the 60s or maybe the early 70s, obviously referencing a Fender Telecaster.
I like to think of how it got to Hanoi. What kind of person brought it back and what sort of music they were playing on it. you know it must have been in the 70s or even the 80s it must have been such an interesting thing to people in Hanoi because there were so few instruments in Hanoi [at that time].
When I first came here in 2000 my musician friends went through a process where they saved up for years and then they finally decided what to buy. Then they found someone who was going overseas to bring back one good guitar…. I mean it’s changed now.
You can see the cracks emerging and I don’t know why there’s red paint under the white paint, whether that’s like an undercoat or they painted them all red and you could request other colours on top. It’s all peeling but it’s really cool, and there were these weird stickers of two cats on here and the bridge has been replaced. The coolest thing, I didn’t realise this but if you screw out the plug here for the strap there’s a little screwdriver inside and that is genuine Czheckloslovokian innovation because there’s no other guitar on earth but all the Jolana’s.
I’ve actually gigged with this guitar a couple of times. It’s really nice to put on your lap and play slide guitar. My big regret, there was a bass guitar I think from the same company, I guess I was pretty ignorant and I didn’t know better and I didn’t buy it. The Nirvana bass player owned one of [the bass] as well, I really regret not buying it.
The guitar on the wall, that’s really beautiful and possibly worth a little bit of money now. It’s actually a replica of the one Van Halen played five pick ups. It’s become this kind of cult guitar; they’ve got really beautiful sound and pickups. That I found in Saigon on guitar street.
For a while there were all these old beautiful guitars coming in from Japan. There’s a Japanese fender, it’s a really nice bass. There was this moment here when there were these Japanese guitars that are really sought after in the west. I think I was just really fortunate to be one of those people who knew [how] to find those things.
This particular model had a little bit of cache and people are getting back into them, but as like funny retro guitars. This is from the early 80s in Japan. When Dion’s friends come around they love this because you can make drum beats of Cassio organ sounds or country rock and harp and stuff. You can actually play it but it’s hard.
I just pick things up because they’re great. I’ve gigged a lot with this amp, I’m always scared it’s gonna catch fire but when it’s good it’s amazing. I think the one thing is that I’ve played in a lot of different bands here, because I’m the same person always playing it’s gonna sound the same. The three guys in Numbfoot are in another band, we’re all playing the same instruments, it’s hard to keep them distinct. So it’s nice to have different instruments for different bands.”
This interview was conducted in English. It has been edited and condensed.