The hall is hosting an on-going exhibition John Ramsden and Hanoi: Spirit of Place, featuring hundreds of photos taken by John Ramsden, a former British diplomat posted in Vietnam in the early 1980s.
The old man lingers in front of a photo of two old women tugging a tricycle loaded with logs. He takes off his glasses, deep in thought, old memories flooding back of the Hanoi that was.
"Many of the images here portray hardworking Vietnamese women, particularly Hanoian women of that time," said Hung, deputy editor-in-chief of Xua&Nay (Then&Now) magazine.
"I feel sorry for the women who had to carry such immense burdens. They did everything: pull tricycles, carry heavy rice bags on their shoulders, queue for water at night time and for groceries."
As one of the first people contacted by Ramsden, he was asked for help to write caption for the photos. The images bring back a lot of memories.
"I had been to all of these places. The images remind me of a Hanoi in the past when we worked extremely hard but led very simple and intimate lives."
This is the first time the photos taken by Ramsden and illustrating the capital city in the period prior to Doi Moi(Renewal), have been made available for city dwellers.
The Hanoi of 30 years ago appears vividly. At a corner of an old Hanoi street (now Cau Go and Nguyen Huu Huan streets) everyone is rushing to make a living; women bring goods into the city centre, men cycle their way to work.
Another image features a very common sight in the city of that period: a bearded old man with snow-white hair and a pump near the corner between Hang Bac and Hang Be streets.
"It's a fascinating snapshot of an era and activities prior to Renewal that no longer exist. I spoke to a Vietnamese friend who told me that photography was a luxury in those days, so it's really interesting to see the images," said Claire Boobbyer, author of the Footprint Vietnam guide.
"It's obvious from these images there were no motorbikes, no cars. Streets seem uncluttered in contrast to Hanoi today - all streets are cluttered with people, cars, motorbikes, food stalls, shops, clothing, everything. All the paraphernalia of Hanoi is on the street."
"I'd like to see it prior to doi moi, I'd like to see a country like that but I also like Hanoi now."
Love for Hanoi
A diplomat with a life-long interest in photography and the visual arts, Ramsden was sent to Hanoi as Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy from 1980-83.
While in Vietnam he enjoyed taking photographs while wandering the streets of Hanoi and during weekend trips to the countryside.
In the eyes of the British diplomat then, Hanoi had just emerged from a long period of war and had not yet had time to undergo a metamorphosis: the austerity, distress and disorder of that time still left deep marks on the capital and on its way of life.
In the west, 30 years ago people only heard about the war, nobody knew that Hanoi is almost 1,000 years old, nobody knew about the temples, heritage here, all about the daily culture in the north, Ramsden said.
"It's really interesting for me to go and explore what it's like."
In three years, the photos John took in his free time accumulated to an important historical archive containing over 1,800 photos of the capital city, part of which were exhibited in London and Copenhagen.
Ramsden had not been back to Vietnam until this year. He found the capital city had retained its charm and took the opportunity to learn about modern Hanoi.
“Hanoi has changed a lot. I'm telling my friends that 30 years ago Hanoi was such a quiet city. I was sitting by Hoan Kiem Lake on Saturday evening and heard only a few bicycles going by."
"I'm really happy to see so much interest and I'm moved by such interest. For old people it brings back strong memories, and I think for young people it's difficult to visualise what the life is really like back then, so I found it wonderful reactions."
Ramsden's busy diplomatic career provided him little time to look at the photos he had taken, which he was able to do so after he left his career.
However, he feels "it's a good moment" as the exhibition also marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relationship between Vietnam and the UK and that "maybe with this 30 years, people see the real difference," as Ramsden said.
Working as a volunteer in the country, Deffrennes, known as Stan, says he has learnt Vietnamese to talk to local people and always takes part in helping disadvantaged students at school.
Stan (centre) and his students in Hue
Through many trips to different countries in Asia, including Japan and Thailand, he was attracted to Vietnam by its land and people imbued with patriotism and optimism.
“I am very curious about the Vietnamese people’s long-protracted struggle against foreign aggression,” he says.
Stan and Vietnamese friends
His exploration started from the imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam where he stayed for more than three months, teaching English and French to children in Huong Ho commune, organising fun games for children and giving a helping hand to farmers. “Hue people are poor, but very friendly,” he says.
Stan in Hue traditional costume
Stan is very impressed by the traditional food in Hue which, he says, is typically served in a unique way. “I often find food shops in the market or on the pavement where a large group of locals are gathering. I like to eat where I can see the flow of traffic along the road and Vietnamese young women walking gracefully in their Ao Dai (traditional long dresses),” he says with a happy smile.
The fond memories of Hue and other places of interest in Vietnam are unforgettable. And he wishes to come back and stay longer next time.