by Van Dat
Tarred with the same brush
It is a phenomenon to get the best geomancer’s head scratching.
There are guild villages all over Viet Nam, and it is well known that the country has a long tradition of honouring people who introduced a vocation and gave the village or community a stable livelihood.
But what makes Ha Nam Isle in Quang Ninh Province stand out in this is that all its farmer residents seem to have the same hobby – painting.
There are nine villages in the island, and for any decoration needed for any celebration, if it has to do with painting, there are “farmer artists” galore on hand.
Many houses, roads, temples and even schools on the island have been painted and decorated by the villagers themselves, with a unique style that cannot be found in other areas in the country. To add a unique twist, the painter- farmers never sell their work. But that is maybe because most almost everyone is an artist.
Vu Tu Khang, head of the painting faculty of the province’s Literature and Fine Arts Association, says the legend goes that an ancestor living along Bach Dang river mouth picked up a huge pen brush from the river and went to work with it.
Since then, the islanders have loved picking their pens for writing and/or drawing using any free time they get from farming. So, after toiling in the fields during the day, the farmers gather at nightfall, sip tea and discuss art, particularly painting.
Dang Dinh Nguyen, a farmer and a famous painter among the villagers, says he was able to earn a lot of money when he was just eight years old by drawing portraits, a skill that he learned from his father.
He is now head of another painting club in Hung Yen District and has opened a free painting class for young people at his home, teaching them the ABC of painting – from how to hold a painting brush to how to express emotions through their works.
A bridge not too far
It was after he turned eighty that one farmer began working on his lifelong ambition.
Nguyen Van Van scraped and saved every cent he could for fifteen years, gave most of his land away to his children after they got married and settled in their careers, saving just half a hectare for himself.
Then, and only then, did he walk into the office of local administrators with his plan, and VND150 million (US$9,375) in hand, to build a bridge over the Sa Mao Canal that would link the Thanh Loc 1 and Thanh Loi communes in Thot Not District, Can Tho City. The Sa Mao Canal is around 20 metres in width.
Before this year, the two sides of the canal were connected with pieces of bamboo and coconut palms. Van says he cannot count the number of times in his life that he has seen people fall into the canal as they navigated the makeshift bridge.
Since then, he has nourished his dream of having a concrete bridge built to cross the canal. “I will sell the rest of my land, if there is not enough money for building the bridge,” he told local officials.
Such determination could be thwarted, and the bridge has come to be.
“I am very happy. Finally I can realise my life’s dream, building a concrete bridge in my village.” — VNS