Hanoi cartoon exhibition revisits ‘subsidized’ humor

By Giang Huy, Bao Ngoc    August 25, 2018 | 06:41 pm GMT+7

A Hanoi exhibition is displaying cartoons that capture the wry humor evoked by subsidy era troubles in Vietnam.

Nearly 30 cartoons by Thanh Phong and Huu Khoa, chosen from a book published earlier this year, are on display.

The cartoons are funny yet realistic. They deal with the tough times before Doi Moi (Reform) in Vietnam, when life was shaped by a reliance on governmental rations. Amidst constant struggle, many people composed funny poems to describe their lives and relieve some of the stress.

Hanoi cartoon exhibition revisits subsidised humor

The cartoon reflects on a time when owning a “favourite” model bicycle and a portable radio guaranteed a high status in Vietnamese society. Photo by Bao Ngoc

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A clever word play with the word “nuoc” in this cartoon refers to such a severe water shortage that “during the day, the whole country does housework and during the night, the whole family does ‘water work’. On the left, an official says “wait for me, let me finish washing these clothes” as a colleague tells him that it is time for the meeting, while at night, the entire family waits for water.” The exhibited pictures are drawn in the old propaganda style. Photo by Giang Huy

This cartoon accompanies a poem about people returning to Vietnam after being sent out on working contracts. When they returned, they would come with normal household items that they could sell and make some money. Even these items were difficult to get during the subsidy period. Photo by Bao Ngoc 

This cartoon accompanies a poem about people returning to Vietnam after being sent out on working contracts. When they returned, they would come with normal household items that they could sell and make some money. Even these items were difficult to get during the subsidy period. Photo by Bao Ngoc 

Pressure cooker on the head

Irons under the heels,

From afar he looks like a ghost

Turns out he’s returning from Russia.

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“You go to space if you want, I am going to stand in line to get instant noodles.” This cartoon highlights the contrast between the first Vietnamese to go to space and the plight of ordinary people. There is great attention to detail in this cartoon, with the last two people arguing over a brick placed to reserve one’s place in the long queue. Photo by Giang Huy

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“You look so sad as though you have lost your rice book.” Losing one’s “rice book,” in which a family’s monthly food ration was specified, was an unmitigated disaster. The idiom “as empty as losing the rice book” is still used widely in Vietnam. Photo by Bao Ngoc

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Hong and his wife, Hanoi Old Quarter residents, were moved as the pictures brought back memories of a time long gone. Photo by Giang Huy

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Khue, a high school student in Hanoi, finds it difficult to imagine the subsidy period. "I find the idioms in the pictures strange and funny. Everything I know about the subsidy period is from my grandmother’s and mother’s stories,” she said. Photo by Giang Huy

Carefully looking at each picture, Lam, a Hanoi resident, was nostalgic. I miss that time. We were so poor, but people showed much love for each other. Photo by Giang Huy

Carefully looking at each picture, Lam, a Hanoi resident, was nostalgic. "I miss that time. We were so poor, but people showed much love for each other." Photo by Giang Huy

Sevaral foreigners have also visited the exhibition. Photo by Giang Huy

Several foreigners have also visited the exhibition. Photo by Giang Huy

The exhibition will remain open until August 31 at L’Espace, 24-26 Trang Tien Street, Hanoi. Entrance is free.

 
 
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