The Final Days of Tay Ho's Ghost Ships
|The ghost ships at dusk. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
On a crisp November evening, South African expat Lavonne Bosman was surveying her usual photo spots around Tay Ho. The stunning lake has always been a source of inspiration for the photographer. The consistent stream of motorbikes and cyclists juxtaposes the tranquil stillness of the lake, making her photos a mix of action shots surrounded by Hanoi's urban beauty.
This night seemed different, however. An ominious plume of black smoke wafted in the skyline. The bottlenecked traffic around northern Nhat Chieu Street was filled with curious onlookers. In the distant, firey sparks illuminated the silhouettes of construction workers, toiling in the last moments before nightfall. Without warning, Tay Ho's abandoned boats were being dismantled.
Following her photographer's instincts, Lavonne rushed home to grab her camera.
"When I saw it happening, it felt surreal. It felt historical," says Lavonne. "I first noticed the incredible coloring, the hazy weather, and the sun setting in such a dramatic way. I could already picture the photograph in my mind."
|An end of an era. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
|Piece by piece. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
Seeing no other photographers around, Lavonne knew she had a duty to document this abrupt end to an era of Tay Ho history. For years, the abandoned "ghost ships" of Tay Ho enchanted the expat community, yet many do not recall the heyday for these vessels. Prior to 2016, these boats would double as fancy restaurants, offering a panoramic view of West Lake's majesty.
Unfortunately, the boats generated a lot of trash that would end up in West Lake, blackening the water. After local authorities banned the boats from operating, the owners made one final voyage to a northern corner of the lake, where they remained for the next six years. Newcomers to Hanoi would marvel at these ghost ships, as they added a bit of culture to Hanoi's iconic lakescape.
In November of 2021, the dismantling of the ghost ships began and was completed the following year. Now, the legacy of these vessels lives on in Lavonne's photography.
|Smoke on the water... Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
|...fire in the sky. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
While Hanoi continues to grow and move on, Lavonne mourns for the loss of Tay Ho's ghost ships.
"I always found them quite charming," says Lavonne. "Some of them were rotten but the others were very beautiful. I was quite sad when I saw they were taking them down. They were such an interesting sight. When I saw them, I really felt like I am in Asia. I feel that now the lake will be empty and people will forget that the boats were even there."
After practicing photography for the past twenty years, Lavonne has developed a passion for things overlooked by the modern world. For example, in her native South Africa, Lavonne explores the rural wonders of the AmaXhosa people, detailing their lives through intimate portraits. This project helped Lavonne uncover what exactly she wants to photograph.
"I am not interested in modern things," says Lavonne. "What I am looking for is something not yet developed but it is in the process of development. It gives me the urgency to photograph what is left because it is disappearing in front of my eyes."
|The ghost ships in 2020. Photo by Lavonne Bozeman.|
Since moving to Hanoi three years ago, Lavonne has developed a love-hate relationship with the Vietnamese capital. Compared to Saigon, Hanoi is more traditional which aligns with Lavonne's photographic interests. The daily chaos of fast-paced Hanoi gives plenty of opportunites for "street stories" - photos that depict a scene happening naturally in the street.
"I look for moments where everything falls into place," says Lavonne. "I try to capture that moment. Sometimes it looks like I set it up but it is all just natural. I am looking for something to make sense in the middle of the madness."
Yet, Hanoi's grand expansion plans often encroach on Lavonne's photography.
"I feel that it is my purpose as photographer to document what is happening. The face of Hanoi is changing, the younger generation will forget what it used to be like. Basically they are rebuilding the whole city."
|The shipyard is now a graveyard. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
In Vietnam's quest to modernize the nation, many historians, architecture enthusiasts, and creatives worry that cities like Hanoi are at risk of losing their historical authenticity.
"I wish I had more places to photograph. Hanoi is turning into a modern city but it is losing its specialness," says Lavonne. "Kids are growing up without knowing what nature is. Currently, projects are taking nature away and replacing it with cement. Do you just want Hanoi to become Disney World?"
|Say goodbye to the ghost ships. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
With more projects for Hanoi to become bigger and better, Lavonne's job becomes increasingly more difficult. The capital's few green spaces are often erased by construction. Pastoral sancturaries like Banana Island are threatened by more land development. Even the serene beauty of Soc Son, a district in the outskirts of Hanoi, has been warped by multiple trendy cafes and gigantic summer homes.
The destruction of the ghost ships is just one of the most recent changes to Hanoi and there are sure more to come. Someday, after the dust settles perhaps, the magic of old Hanoi will be unrecognizable.
|West Lake has successfully exorcized the ghost ships. Photo by Lavonne Bosman.|
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