This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. Sonic portraits of young minds reshaping the country’s future.
In Episode 6 we talk to Hải Đăng. Also known as Dan Ni.
When my mum named me – Hải Đăng – “lighthouse” in Vietnamese, she had an idea of wanting me to inspire people. I’ve realised that’s what I wanted to do more…
We talked to Dan Ni about the art of cocktail making, standing out from the crowd and. polyamorous dating…
Hi I’m Dan Ni, I worked here.
Dan Ni is 22.
I’m a bartender and a mixologist at Daluva…
…and a general flamboyant man about town.
What actually is a mixologist? We were at Daluva to find out.
Basically, a bartender is someone who practises making drinks and a mixologist is more of the process of creating a drink.
Daluva has a line up of tiny bottles on the bar that Dan Ni bought from a medical supply shop, and he’s filled with them liquids such as Buddha’s hand rice wine, rosemary bitters and kaffir..
This was done from a trip to Chinese drug store. We bought liquorice barks and literally just went aroun and sniffed everything until people shoot me out.
Jameson is a very bland whisky… it’s like canvas you can paint a lot of different flavours on and it compliments it.
… The Hanoi side car…
This is like candied lemons, we… and soak them in brandy…
Vietnamese dried mango shrub, paprika powder and star anaise… It sounds very strange but the cocktail makes perfect sense…
Let’s go back in time to Saigon, and Dan Ni as a child.
What did he want to be back then, a cocktail maker? A fashion star?
…from a comic artist to… like a tour guide, or pilot… and my mum was a very good teacher so I dreamt of being a teacher as well.
We’ve seen photos of Dan Ni from when he was that age until today, and have seen how he went through a transformation in his high school days.
Back then I always had a thing for style and clothing so I was the only boy in my class that had his hair done 6 times a year. Curled my hair, straighten it again, bob cut, bangs, fringes.
This is very unusual for Vietnamese guys. He must have had some kind of role model.
Looking back at the photos that my Mum had of her, when everyone had flared trousers, she managed to have her slim-fitting trousers made and she cut her hair when everyone was growing their hair longer. If she could manage to do that, at a very rural place, she is kinda a style icon to me, to be honest.
A couple of weeks after our evening at Daluva, we met in a quieter setting. We asked him to bring these pictures of his Mum.. expecting some torn vintage polaroids of the 70s.
But being a digital native, Dan Ni just took out his phone and showed us them on his instagram feed.
That’s my Mum in the 90s and her alleged boyfriend.
He looks really handsome.
Yeah, he’s super tall as well. He was like 6 feet 1 or something. And this is her 22 years later. That’s the red dress that she had made… one of the pieces that has very strong impact on me.
His Mum stands out like how Dan Ni does today, not conforming, brightening up dismal weather with bright colours. Where does this attitude come from?
I think that has something to do with the fact that you know she got divorced… But before that she was always the one who raised us financially. I think it formed an image in the back of her mind that we need to grow up as independent individuals.
This was knowledge he needed, as Dan Ni moved to Hanoi to live by himself and look after his own finances.
We weren’t really wealthy when I was a kid so I kind of learn how to manage my financial situation. Not too much when I am living on my own now and I bought ten coats over the last winter.
His Mum is his role model, mentor and best friend.
I talk about almost everything to her…
Like a lot of best friends, Dan Ni’s mum knew him inside out. He didn’t need to ‘come out’ as gay to her, she knew already. But that didn’t mean everything was easy for them.
Being so close to a homosexual person was still a strange concept for her even though she was a very open-minded person. She’s got OK with it.
Do they talk about dating too?
It’s just a matter of time till we talk about how I feel about dating this or that person.
So who is Dan Ni dating now?
Yeahhh I’m dating my boss… awkward silence…
I actually met Shaca at a bar like a normal person in the 80s would do. We’ve known each other for more than 3 years now. It’s long and complicated.
Complicated in the way that he’s 22, Shaca is 37, and that they let each other date whoever they want, despite being in a relationship.
As long as we are ok with it and and it’s fine, you know… and is we’re not then we raise a question that… ok I don’t find it’s ok that you are seeing this or that person but that never really happens. I still talk to him about my dates and he as well but the nice thing is that we’re both very lazy at dating so it doesn’t really happen that much.
Dan Ni is very open about his sexuality, but is Hanoi ready for that?
A lot of people are saying that because it’s a developing country… you know you’ve got a kind of homophobia floating around. But I for once think that the kind of homophobia around here comes from ignorance.. so it’s only because you don’t know any one around you who’s gay. It doesn’t have like a strong root of gay hating like it does in developed countries that they developed such a strong systematic hatred to others. I don’t know why white people have to hate…
I hate bad fashion, and that’s it.
Talking of fashion… we were interested to know what he would feel like if he lived in a place where him and his style didn’t stand out so much.
If I have to move somewhere, it can be very challenging at first to realize that you’re not the it person anymore but then I think it’s the kind of motivation you need to up your game again you know. And it kind of matters more to a creative person to be comfortable with their own skin instead of feeling like they’re the obscure one. It matters more that you’re comfortable with who you are.
Dan Ni is able to reflect on the last couple of years of his life in Hanoi, and then think about the future…
I used to manage a bar in the Old Quarters. And now my two trainees are working at different places now as head bartenders. I realize that there’s more outness to inspire people and touch people’s life than just art and fashion.
Talking to people also inspires them as well. So I’m trying to do what I think is my life mission.
This is being The Renovation Generation. Follow us on SoundCloud or subscribe to The Renovation Generation on iTunes, Stitcher or Mixcloud to never miss an episode.
It is produced by Eliza Lomas and Fabiola Buchele. Our production assistants are Trang Nghiem and Trang Ngo. Jacques Smit is our photographer and research is done by me, Maia Do.
An & Of Other Things production.
In Episode 7 we’ll talk to Quyên: free-thinking future yogi. Be sure to listen!