Last week, a TEDx event focusing on the arts & design took place at the University of Architecture in Saigon to much fanfare. Hive Life was there to take in all the action.
Bringing together a gathering of young talents and some of the most original minds of Saigon, the recent TEDx event at Saigon’s University of Architecture may well turn out to be the city’s own version of SXSW. Centred on the metaphor of black mirror – the powered-down screen – it featured talks from stellar speakers who touched on authenticity, meaning and an escape from the madness in the digital age. Read on for our take on the Tedx Saigon’s speakers and their big ideas.
Helly Tong: On Finding Balance in the Digital Age
Once the It-girl of Saigon’s glitterati, Helly Tong nows live the quiet life, tending to two flourishing green-living businesses: Lại Đây Refill Station and The Yên Concept. Building the brands without ever referring to herself, Tong has left the vanity fair that can be the fashion world all behind. “All I ever wanted was to be normal. To live, to breathe, to find tranquillity,” she shared during her confessional talk, revealing much about how a seemingly glamorous story can mask so many hidden truths. After bouts of depression during college in Australia, Tong returned to Vietnam without her parents’ knowledge. At 23, and now a successful businesswoman, Tong shares the guiding principles of her life that steered her through. “You don’t have to be a leader, you just have to be yourself,” she adds. With anecdotes that exposed the differences between existing and living, she urged her audience to recognise the three stages of making sense of the world: knowing, understanding, and truly realising the mission of our existence.
Tom Trandt: On Leadership in Design
A self-proclaimed “black sheep” in a family of scientists, Tom Trandt has never been one to follow expectations. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, he left behind the glitter and glamour of New York City for what he saw as more ambitious projects. “I want to be known as a Vietnamese designer promoting Vietnamese brands,” he said during his inspiring talk. “Fashion designers are not people who decorate our society. Our job is to reflect it.”
Dismayed by the sheer amount of waste produced by the fashion industry, even by brands with claims to sustainability, Tom Trandt is striving for zero waste with his flagship brand Moi Dien. Exhausting leftover fabrics, he’s recycling them into one-of-a-kind jackets, bags, and decorations. The signature patchwork bag from Moi Dien, which was sold out almost immediately, was fashioned out of palm-sized floral and indigo-dyed pieces of fabrics. “There’s more to fashion than just style. We need a motivation that is more than just money. An emerging market such as ours will open doors for new leadership to come. This has to be the most exciting time to be a Vietnamese designer, thanks to the changes in culture and politics,” he declared. Drawing on issues such as sustainability and gender equality, he urges young designers to make a statement with each creation: “Art reflects life, and we reflect what we build or censor. Making sure that every painting, every photograph, every product, and every design sends a message of change.”
Nguyen Quynh Nghi: On The Perks of Not Giving a Damn
#NOMB, or “None of My Business,” is Nguyen Quynh Nghi’s life motto. Yet, belying her irreverent attitude, the award-winning young architect delivered her life-affirming message with humour and contagious passion. “It may sound like an insult, but it could possibly be a very good attitude towards life,” she explained. “By giving too much of a damn about what people do, you end up questioning your own existence,” she explained of the intentional practice of #NOMB. Citing an incident at the Asia Young Designer Award 2016 in which she and her team presented a project together instead of nominating an individual, Nguyen showed the rewards of knowing the rules before breaking them. “A nerd and a geek” at heart, Nguyen was the force that brought the Harry Potter inspired “Muggle Quidditch” game to Vietnam, despite facing harsh criticism and cyberbullying for their efforts. GiantsQuid, the Saigonese Quidditch team, made the Asian Quidditch Cup 2017 in Vietnam and the Hanoi team took part in the Quidditch World Cup 2018 in Italy – all proof that not giving a damn has its perks. As Nguyen concluded: “If we let those criticisms and discriminations get us down and swallow us, none of this could have happened. So, I’m glad that we did it out of sheer curiosity and followed our own geekiness. To care or not to care is a choice. Ask yourself to have the courage to look at something that truly doesn’t matter to you, and say to its face #NOMB: none of my business.”
Matt Sherwood: On The Value of your Voice
With nearly two decades in the gaming industry behind him, Matt Sherwood has seen his fair share of artists and engineers whose success is hampered by their ability to communicate, defining “shy talkers” and “karaoke talkers” as the two extremes at either end of the spectrum. Opening his talk, he charted the rise of digital communication: “In the digital age, the phone is man’s best friend. The starving artist is now the thriving artist: anyone can publish their own art gallery online, reaching a global audience. Yet the key to success is to speak well, not just online, but in real life.”
An accomplished art director who has worked with brands such as Disney Online Studios, Sherwood found his other passion as a public speaking coach. Likening public speaking to riding a rollercoaster, he advised on how to channel your nervous energy into excitement. “Your most valuable device is your voice,” he told us all. Yet devices are only a means to an end. Citing Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Sherwood stated his belief that the ability to relate is the key to success. Whilst the ability to communicate well gives us all the chance to give voice to our authentic selves.
Nguyen Hanh Nguyen: On The Origin of Idea
Professor Nguyen, an internationally acclaimed architect regarded by many at her city’s University of Architecture as a legend, has been inspiring generations of artists, engineers, and designers for decades. She started her talk with a fear that plagues the dreams of every true creative: “After 25 years in this profession, my biggest fear is still for my project to be approximately similar to others.” Back when I was in college, there was no internet, and students didn’t know where to start. Now, you have Pinterest, and students still don’t know where to start.” She lamented the prevalence of ready-made solutions, leading to a lack of local knowledge, emphasising the process of understanding each project, each landscape, and each local community intimately. With examples of past successes and failures, Professor Nguyen concluded her talk with one final piece of advice: “Don’t ever let technology overpower your projects. Dig in for the “soul” of the place. Everything, no matter how small, has its own story.”
Thanh Luke: On Interactions in Concerts – Eyes & Screens
A multi-instrumentalist and multi-culturalist, Thanh Luke is the frontman of the genre-defying band Ca Hoi Hoang, a cult favourite among the underground music fans in Southeast Asia. He stood up to recall a magical moment that happened 18 years ago at SV2000 – the largest student rock show of the nation: “At the end of the show, there were thousands of people putting on their lighters, waving around, enjoying the music, chanting the song. That was the definition of live music for me.” Today, in the age of smartphones, he finds that those larger-than-life, transcendental moments are becoming increasingly rare. “As a performer myself, I feel disconnected sometimes. But I couldn’t blame technology, or smartphones, for ruining the magic I had when I was a little kid. Because you want to save that moment. Because you value the memories too much.” The solution? Put your phone away. “If you focus too much on your smartphone when you’re enjoying the live concert, you’re missing out. So, shall we bring it to the real experience?” he asked before proceeding to write a song on stage with audience suggestions. The result – the whole auditorium belting out his written-in-the-moment song, with Thanh Luke banging away at the piano – it was the crescendo of the night. If TEDxUAH was an occasion to bring artists, makers, and dreamers together; the performance was the full embodiment of the community’s creative spirit.
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