I was born in Hanoi, grew up in Saigon - today's Ho Chi Minh City - and matured in London, UK. I started my career in journalism in 1970, joining hundreds of international journalists to write and report on the Vietnam/American War. Two years later, I was asked to come to the United Kingdom to take up a position at the BBC, World Service. I completed my career at the BBC in 2001 as Senior Producer for Radio and Television.
I soon made one of the best decisions of my life; to go back to university to study for a Master Degree. The momentum carried me forward to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, where I graduated with a Doctorate in History in 2008. It was to have been the last challenge I set for myself but, incredibly, more challenges soon entered my life; I was asked to write a book on Hue, the ancient Capital of Vietnam, in 2009. I had been writing news and features all my life by then, but writing a book is a new experience and, indeed, a challenge. It is like going back to study for a Doctorate again, but this time, not for some examiners but an infinitely large broad of examiners.
Royal Hue – Heritage of the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam is my first book, commissioned by River Books, Bangkok, Thailand. I wrote it with my heart and love it the way a mother loving her first baby, so fresh, so new and so full of delightful promises. For this book, the photographer Paisarn Piemmettawatt and I travelled all over Hue and took more than 3000 photos of the area in different moods. I stayed in Bangkok as guest of the publisher to watch with pride as the book designer set my text to the photos. And then, everything stopped. There followed an uncertain couple of years of not knowing when the book would go to print. Nothing happened for four years. Meanwhile, invitations to write other books and chapters in books arrived which I gladly accepted. I did not know until then how much I enjoyed writing books, however hard it seemed at times.
'Descending Dragon, Rising Tiger: A History of Vietnam' was released by Reaktion Books, London, UK, in November 2014. It is a serious look at the history of Vietnam from prehistory to today, written in an easy reading style but using strict academic standards of research. It is a short and concise book to quickly answer questions such as ‘what is the Vietnamese four thousand years of culture?’, ‘how did the French/the American get involved in Vietnam?’, why did the Nguyen dynasty reject Christianity in the 19th and early 20th centuries, or ‘did they really?’, questions that I am asked constantly both as journalist and academic. As soon as the book went to print, a new request by Reaktion Books set me to work on another book, this time on the history of food in Vietanm.
To my delightful surprise, four months after the publication of ‘Descending Dragon, Rising Tiger’, 'Royal Hue - Heritage of the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam' came out in March 2015. It was a wonderful event but even more amazing events rapidly followed. I was asked to launch the book in Hue, that April, by the highest authority in heritage conservation of Hue, the Hue Monument conservation Center. With only six weeks to manoeuvre it was a race against time for both River Books and myself to get enough books to Hue and to get ourselves there on the appointed day, which has been named and printed in the brochure of the Hue Arts and Crafts festival of 2015.
The book launch on the 28th of April 2015 was one of the most memorable days of my life. I was almost speechless to learn on arrival that the Hue Monument Conservation Centre has chosen the newly restored Royal Study Thai Binh Lau as the venue for the book launch. This building, a World Heritage monument was originally built by the second Nguyen Emperor Minh Mang in 1821 as a place for him to read and to compose poetry. It has been damaged and rebuilt a couple of times since but managed to retain its elegant wooden structure and its lavish decoration of historical scenes in fine mosaics. The roof corners were decorated with statues of scholars clad in mosaics, scrolls of poems in hands. It was an incredible moment for me to stand and talk about my book where 12 Nguyen Emperors have sat to compose their beautiful verses.
I returned to London to finish writing Rice and Baguette – A history of food in Vietnam for Reaktion Books and the book is scheduled to come out later in 2016. It is another beautiful book in the series of ‘Foods and Nations’. Rice and Baguette looks at the Viet progresses from mollusc eaters to hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists and beyond. Through eight chapters, I present an insider’s view of the foods, the famine and the pervasive outside influences on Vietnamese food, and explain what rice means to the Viet culture and why the French baguette suddenly took the international sandwich markets by storms. The book is illustrated lavishly by over a hundred photographs and garnished with clever graphics. Although I have seen the book in full, I am really looking forward to holding it in my hands, the way I have held my other books when they came out . The location of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail has always fascinated me, not because it was once a fierce battle zone but because of its geo-historical position in the evolvement of our planet. My research on this area results in a chapter called ‘From Ho Chi Minh Trail to World Heritage – The Phong Nha-Ke Bang Nature Reserve of Vietnam’ in a book on UNESCO in Southeast-Asia (NIAS Press, 2015), edited by Emeritus Professor Victor King. This historical location, along with its oldest habitat and largest cave system in the world is also the venue of my fiction ‘Half a Tiger’, written in 2011, and soon to be re-written with new elements.
I am currently re-editing my PhD thesis on Kublai Khan’s failed invasions in Southeast Asia in the thirteenth century for publication. A small chapter on one aspect of these invasions is available online under the title ‘The Mongol Navy: Kublai Khan’s failed invasions of Southeast Asia’. 
POSTED BY THE AUTHOR
A HISTORY OF VIET NAM by VU HONG LIEN & PETER D. SHARROCK