21/09/2009 | 10:57:00

Hanoi – a real blast from the past

Sitting in his house on a bustling street, Nguyen Vinh Phuc, an expert in Hanoi studies, searched through his encyclopaedic memory, remembering the people, places, and buildings in Hanoi and the changes that have taken place over the years.    
      
Nostalgia, a siren song from long ago   
      
His love of Hanoi  is fuelled by his nostalgic memory; to him,   Hanoi   is not just the modern-day city, but a siren song from the past.    
      
“Every inch of land here possesses its own, unique history and, in that history is something that keeps me wondering,” Phuc said.    
      
Although Phuc’s ancestors hailed from the   northern province   of Hung Yen and he has spent parts of his life in other provinces, he feels that he belongs to the capital.   
      
“The more I traveled and studied, the more I learned that   Hanoi   has so many interesting things and such a deep, beautiful history,” he said. “Hanoi   is marvellous. Sitting at   Hoan   Kiem   Lake   on an autumn day, watching the mix of smoke and fog over the water is very relaxing.”   
      
He has written a number of books, all of which are about Hanoi, including  Hanoi Quarters and Streets ,  The Trung Ladies’ Uprising in Hanoi, Hanoi Passing Years and Months, Hanoi Historical Streets and Rivers, Hanoi Land and People,  and  A History of Thang Long-Hanoi , among many others.   
      
Bygone Tet celebrations in Hanoi    
      
The “call from the past” in him is not just fuelled by the city’s history, beauty and sacredness, but is also fired by his nostalgia for the Tet celebrations he enjoyed years ago.   
      
He remembers a small boy, asking his mother for money for a haircut, being happy at being dressed in new clothes and shoes and eager to try his first chung cake, a sticky rice cake filled with green bean paste and pork fat.   
      
“Children like me would accompany their parents on a Happy New Year trip, letting off firecrackers, walking around Hoan Kiem lake and watching the people celebrating the coming of spring. They would also visit Ngoc Son temple to pray, and then go to theatre to take in a Tuong, or traditional drama, performance,” he said.   
      
Rich families enjoyed Tet in their own manner, with men wearing brocaded robes and new turbans and the women wearing their new phoenix-wing shoes and velvet coats. They would enjoy a Cheo, or traditional opera performance or play cards.   
     
Poorer families, no matter how poor they were, would scrimp and save to be able to buy a new shirt for each of their children, prepare a pot of chung cakes, make pork-pies and cook dried fish. But before any of that could be contemplated, they would first have to clear all of their debts.   
      
Tet festival celebrations under the subsidised economy were even more worthy of note. Even though the country was facing many difficulties, the government made sure that the people had everything they needed to celebrate the New Year, from sticky rice, green beans and meat to pepper, firewood and leaves for wrapping cakes. The government even provided parallel sentences for Tet.   
      
Nowadays, people no longer have to prepare too much for Tet, as they can buy everything ready-made from markets or supermarkets. “The poor are less miserable, and Tet provides a chance for people to go somewhere for a trip,” Phuc said./.

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