Going to the village of Dao Thuc to watch water puppetry or to Thach Xa Village to learn how to make bamboo dragonflies are trips that you should try.
For a long time, memories about peaceful childhood in bucolic areas revolved around the image of kites, the blue sky and beautiful swarms of dragonflies. However, this memory is gradually becoming strange to young people. Now, they do not fly kites or catch dragonflies to make it “bite their umbilical” like the older generations did in the past.
So, you may be surprised to know that in a hustle and bustle city like Hanoi, there is still a village making simple toys which remind people about their childhood. It is Thach Xa village.
The village is located in Thach Xa commune, Thach That District, not far from Hanoi center. There are people there who are famous for making products made from bamboo, especially attractive colorful bamboo dragonflies. The bamboo dragonfly village Thach Xa was born decades ago; residents have no intention of doing another job with high income instead of their traditional job. Surely, it is the love of the job that creates a strong attachment to the traditional work for such a long time.
In the beginning of your journey, you will visit residents’ houses and see colorful dragonflies, which are laid on sunblinds or poles in the yards. To give birth to such bamboo dragonflies, draft workers have 10 processes.
Firstly, they cut bamboo to make the body, then drill two small holes on the sides of the dragonflies, sharpen tail, and dry beaks to wrap its head. After the first process, they continue to sharpen wings, polish and join all pieces into a raw dragonfly. It is then put into a small stick to check the balance level, and then the body is fixed by adhesive. Finally, workers paint and decorate the bamboo dragonfly.
Unlike any other village making bamboo dragonflies, Thach Xa residents decorate dragonflies by different patterns for original products. You can ask residents to instruct you and help you make your own dragonfly. Although it seems to be simple, when you really start to make one, you will feel that the job is very difficult and requires workers to be skillful and careful.
The price for a bamboo dragonfly is low (VND2,000 to VND4000 for each). Therefore, you are freely to choose and buy them to give for your friends or family. They can also remind you about an interesting journey to Thach Xa village.
Bamboo dragonflies differ in size. The smallest is 7cm; the bigger ones are 15cm and 10cm. However, 10cm bamboo dragonflies are very popular. They are exported with thousands of orders every day. It is exciting to put it on the top of fingers and see how they can miraculously stay balanced.
Chang Son Traditional Fan Village.
Chang Son fan-making village is very familiar and close to the Vietnamese people. For a long time, the Chang Son fan was not only a useful utensil in daily life, but also a beautiful image appearing in many poems, on stage and in the cultural and spiritual life.
When speaking about the history of fan making in Chang Son, Vietnamese people are very proud of it. From the 19th century, the French people were so keen on it that they took the Chang Son fans to many fan exhibitions held in Paris. Artisan-artist Duong Van Mo, who has 70 years of experience, said that the fan making in Chang Son Commune has existed for hundreds of years and it is still preserved by the villagers.
To make a beautiful and durable fan requires meticulousness and skillfulness from fan makers. Normally, the fan’s blades are made from bamboo, which are at least three years old and grow in the middle of a grove.
Moreover, to make fans more durable, the fan makers use joined blades, which have to undergo many stages, such as cutting the bamboo into short pieces, scratching off its green cover, splitting the bark of bamboo and applying a layer of varnish between the slats. Then, they are tied up in a bunch.
After a few months when the layer of varnish is dry, the slats of bamboo are whittled to make the fan blades. Paper to make fans must be do (poonah) or diep (poonah paper covered with egg-shell powder) bought in Dong Ho Village, Bac Ninh Province.
For a long time, the fans made by the Chang Son villagers were well known in both domestic and foreign markets. In Chang Son there are now many famous fan-making artisan-artists, including Nguyen Duc Lan and Nguyen Lan Tuyet. Over the past 10 years since the national renovation, the Chang Son fans are also valuable products, used for export to Japan and the Republic of Korea.
To export more fans to overseas markets, the Chang Son villagers make fans with diverse styles and models. They include not only paper and bamboo fans, but also chiffon and silk fans in all sizes, and painted fans, large in size. While the silk fans are mainly sold to artistic groups and used in festivals, the painted fans are decorate walls in houses. Making this kind of fans requires the makers to have a skillfulness and thorough knowledge of painting, especially lacquer art.
Besides economic benefits, such as increasing income for more than 20% of households in the commune, the fan-making craft in Chang Son has a great cultural significance. All patterns and designs on the Chang Son fans are very lively, creative and deeply imbued with national cultural features. There are landscapes of the country, images in stories and legends of Vietnam, poems, literary works, parallel sentences, folk-songs, chanteys, etc.
Looking at the Chang Son fans, only simple colours, such as green, red, violet and yellow are seen. However, when the fans are unfolded and seen in the light, all the delicate decorative patterns and designs will appear lively and bright. To foreigners, they can see the characteristics of the Vietnamese people: simple but profound, and beautiful but discreet.
Ban Soy-sauce Village.
“Grilled rice in Vong village, fragrant rice in Me Tri village, soybean sauce in Ban village and basil in Lang village are the best products in Hanoi” goes an old saying, showing the popularity of soybean sauce made in Ban village, Yen Nhan commune, northern Hung Yen province.
Ban soy sauce is popular because it is made from large-grain sticky rice, small-grain soybean, and in particular dinged-well water. There is only one well in Ban Village to supply the water to make the soy sauce, which is its sole purpose. Therefore, coming to Ban village to witness the sauce’s production in Hung Yen is recommended to tourists as it is a fascinating sight around harvest time.
March to August is that time for the villagers, so expect to see hundreds of jars in diverse sizes filling yards of every household. Making soy sauce is not difficult but making Ban soy sauce is an art form.
Producers have to wash the rice carefully then soak it in water and cook into sticky rice, and next scatter the sticky rice onto a large bamboo flat basket and dry it in an airy place until the rice turns yellow. Soybeans must be roasted until the bean is brown and then the beans are soaked in a clean jar for one week. After the beans have fermented, producers will add a little salt and more soybeans into the water and stir regularly. The sauce must be fermented on sunny days.
Quat Dong Embroidery Village.
Along Highway No. 1A about twenty kilometers south from Hanoi, is the patrimonial land of traditional embroidery: Quat Dong Village. Scenes formed by the highly-skilled artisans of Quat Dong have won the hearts and minds of people around the world with their traditional needlework in this most-famous embroidery village.
According to family annals, the ancestor of Quat Dong embroidery, also revered as the patriarch of Vietnamese embroidery, is Le Cong Hanh. Born in 1606, he became a well-known scholar of his time when, as a member of the King’s envoy, he traveled to China where he learned a new embroidery technique. Upon return to Vietnam, he taught this new technique to the poor villagers of Quat Dong with all his heart, and it remains a strong tradition to this day. Ever since then, he has been regarded as the master and patriarch of Vietnamese embroidery. The anniversary of his death is revered throughout Vietnam on June 12th of every year.
For many Quat Dong villagers, embroidery is considered a long-standing tradition. All villagers, regardless of age and gender, do intricate needlework.
Visitors will forever remember the image of a young girl sitting next to her great-grandmother, being taught lessons handed down for generations in exactly the same manner amidst the fragrance of rice fields gently waving in an afternoon breeze. The art of embroidery is taught within the family, and a potential daughter-in-law wooed from a neighboring village will soon learn the same skills taught only in this quiet village.
To the onlooker, it may seem to be simple or relaxing work because there is no laboring under a hot sun, or being subject to the torrential downpours of a seasonal shower. However this work requires an extremely skillful and steady hand, an eye for the most intricate details, a demanding concentration, and a thorough commitment to producing only the highest quality.
In order to successfully complete a detailed and intricate scene, the embroiderer has to first capture the image they wish to convey, whether it be sitting quietly to observe the sun setting over a forest lake, or examining an artist’s rendition of a moment in time.
Next is to stretch and test the fabric, inspecting the weave for imperfections or discoloration. This is followed by making a detailed sketch on the fabric and selecting the perfect thread colors to convey the desired contrasts and shadows.
Once the needle work begins, the most time consuming challenges the artisan must face are to form gently curving edge lines while presenting the most intricate and minute details such as the veins of a leaf, the early morning shades and shadows within the cusp of a flower, or the fire in the eyes of a rising phoenix.
In order to do so successfully, the embroiderer must flawlessly combine and mingle the chosen threads with a steady hand for hours on end. They must focus on the harmony of nature to capture a frozen moment of life in the needle they have been so well acquainted with since childhood, using the same skills taught five centuries earlier by Le Cong Hanh to the ancestors of today’s artisans. Today, these skills continue to attract the attention of foreign markets to this quiet village.
Dao Thuc Water Puppet Village.
The village is located in Thuy Lam Commune, Dong Anh District, a few hours on a motorcycle from Hanoi center. This is a place where art of water puppet has been stored and preserved for 100 years.
No matter how changeable the society has been, the Dao Thuc villagers have not intended to quit their traditional water puppet performances. Only coming here can you feel they do love their job so much. Even the youngest children are well acquainted with the profession through the teachings of adults. Although Dao Thuc is only a small village, but it always has happiness with laughter. Water puppet relaxes them after a day of hard work.
According to legend, Nguyen Dang Vinh under the reign of Le Y Tong (1735-1740) was the father of the water puppet in Dao Thuc village. That time he learned and acquired art puppetry performances from the ward that served the king and the dynasty. After that when he returned to the village, he taught the Dao Thuc villagers how to perform water puppetry. It can be said that water puppetry has become a spiritual food indispensable for Kings in the past, and for everyone.
Coming to Dao Thuc village, you will see puppetry artists including about 20 people including actor puppeteers, musicians playing flute, drums and vocalists.
To perform water puppetry, you will have to dip under water, be hidden behind bamboo blinds to perform. At first it seems a bit difficult and tiring, but you will certainly feel happy after experiencing that moment. Singing is also important during a water puppet performance. The artist must understand all the traditional folk tunes such as chep, tuong, and xam to meet the needs of everyone.
These puppets on the water are very versatile and lively. Melodies from the traditional folk bring a unique feature to national music. Dao Thuc water puppet artists attract both domestic and foreign tourists.
Whenever you enjoy water puppetry, you will feel the“Vietnamese spirit”.