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The Renovation Generation: Exploring What It Means to Be Young and Vietnamese

In the years after 1986, Vietnam’s Doi Moi economic reforms transformed one of the world’s poorest countries into a dynamic, fast-growing nation, shaping a generation of young Vietnamese into bright, creative, entrepreneurial, and often social media-minded individuals.

But to weave a singular narrative about those born after 1986 would be a misrepresentation of the group’s many nuances. From indie rock frontmen to eccentric emo icons, outspoken young schoolgirls to pragmatic wedding planners, Vietnam's young population is diverse, complex and full of stories.

Since early 2016, Hanoi-based expats Fabiola Buchele and Eliza Lomas have worked to capture “sonic portraits” of young Vietnamese through their podcast, The Renovation Generation, so named for those born after the Doi Moi reforms took effect.

“The idea of The Renovation Generation has always been to diversify and complicate what it means to be Vietnamese and not further participate in finding worn-out boxes to define people of a country that is already too often portrayed through a few narrow lenses,” Buchele tells Saigoneer via email.

This week, the duo and their Renovation Generation team are closing in on the final third of their 30-episode podcast as they prepare for a live recording that will take place tomorrow evening at Salon Saigon. Throughout its run, The Renovation Generation has featured a wide range of individuals, many of whom work in creative industries. However, Buchele and Lomas plan to add a new element to the podcast with tomorrow’s interviewee, artist and illustrator Florian Nguyen, their first overseas Vietnamese subject.

Artwork from Florian Nguyen's Les Gestes de Nos Memoires series.

“We have been wanting to include a Viet Kieu as the people of Vietnamese descent spread around the globe or having grown up outside Vietnam and now living back here are one more aspect of the multitude of meanings being Vietnamese can have; from simply having Vietnamese features or a family name to strongly feeling rooted and connected to this place,” Buchele explains.

This is a large part of The Renovation Generation’s goal: to create a wider, more varied exploration of modern Vietnamese identity through the personal stories and experiences of their interviewees. Though the podcast, now on its 20th episode, began as a pet project – Buchele was hoping to hone her audio production skills, and Lomas happened to have a background in radio – a small but devoted group of listeners have responded to their storytelling efforts.

“We seem to have hit a little niche, which has been the source of a steady trickle of wonderful feedback,” says Buchele. “Listeners in Vietnam from the same age bracket as our interviewees tell us they feel like there are finally stories they can relate to and second generation Viet Kieus have written to us saying it has broadened their thinking about people their age in Vietnam.”

Artwork from Florian Nguyen's De Memoire et d'Oubli series.

For Friday’s live recording, Buchele and Nguyen will discuss not only identity – Nguyen’s grandparents left Vietnam for France, where his father grew up and eventually met his Caucasian mother – but also the artist’s own creative practice. From a production standpoint, recording live can come with challenges, but the presence of an audience will be a welcome addition, Buchele explains, as engaged listeners can move the conversation in new and unexpected directions.

As the podcast continues to expand and grow, there’s no telling where its subsequent interviews will lead, only that Vietnam's Renovation Generation has plenty more stories to tell.

The Renovation Generation's live recording with artist and illustrator Florian Nguyen will take place on Friday, August 11 at 6:30pm at Salon Saigon.

[Top photo caption: Artist and illustrator Florian Nguyen with his artwork.]


Related Articles:

Here and There: Exploring Vietnamese Immigrant and Refugee Experiences

Between 2 Worlds: The Dilemma of Vietnam's Foreign-Educated Grads

Art Photographer Explores Vietnam's Spirituality Through Muted Conversations


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