Nguyen Chi Tuyen wears a purple plastic rain poncho as he points out the spots near his home where the secret police sit. Here, in the alley that leads to the main road, so they can stop him from leaving if they want. Here, on this wall outside his front door. And over there, when they are bored and tired of staring at his house, and slouch on their parked motorbikes and sweat in the sun.
Though this neighbourhood on the east side of Hanoi’s Red River is just a fifteen-minute drive from the chaotic Old Quarter, it has a suburban feel. A neighbour maintains a vegetable garden along the small alley she shares with Nguyen, and a half-built house, separated from his by the narrow alley and a wall, boasts a large yard.
The house has sat unfinished for years. Rows of knotty logs gesture towards internal walls, and exposed wooden beams span the space where the ceiling should be. The first-floor windows are merely holes in the wall, through which one has a perfect view of Nguyen’s front door and bedroom window. During a three-month period in 2012 and 2013, a rotating cast of secret police made the house their home as they kept watch on Nguyen, who had recently begun attending protests and criticising the Vietnamese government through Facebook posts under his pen name, Anh Chi.