Photos by Nam Phi Dang

Nam Phi Dang is a 23-year-old aspiring photographer who, aside from working towards his dreams, actively strives to reconnect with his Vietnamese roots. We invite you to read about his compelling journey below.

“My parents were originally from Hai Phong, but left Vietnam as “boat people” after the war. During their time as refugees, they stayed at a refugee camp in Hong Kong, where my parents gave birth to my older sister, then in the Philippines, where I was born. One year later my family and I arrived in Canada where we started a new life.

“Since the age of 5, we made frequent family trips to Vietnam, but it was my recent short trip two years ago to visit my ailing grandmother that made me reflect on my own life I and what was important to me. My first project was to appease the questions about missing memories and gaps in my life. I retraced my steps from childhood, documenting the places I had once frequented on those family visits through my photos.

“As I worked on this project, new questions came to mind. I wondered about a life I’d never experienced. My late grandma was the inspiration behind my first project and my mother was the motivation for the second. During evenings at the dinner table she often shared memories from her youth back in Vietnam. As I listened, I began to compare her stories with my own upbringing in Canada. I wondered to myself, ‘What would have happened if my parents never left Vietnam? Is there even a remote possibility that I’d lead the same life there as I did here in the comfort of western society?’

“My one-month trip to Vietnam was an opportunity to learn about my roots. I visited Hanoi, Saigon, Sapa, Hai Phong, and Nha Trang. Althought I had visited the country before, this was the first time that I really observed what was around me. Youth culture interested me and before my trip I had imagined it was drastically different from Canada – a complete culture shock from a tourist’s point of view. But what I found was a mixture of cultures and ideas between mainstream western, Korean and Japanese pop culture. I didn’t find anything distinctively Vietnamese. Despite being halfway around the world, I felt that I never really left the comfort of my own home.

“Right now, I am planning another roots trip to Vietnam. We shall see what I find this time. Somehow I feel the journey to discover the country I consider my second home has only just begun.”