Writings and drawings draw thousands to a Saigon street

Friday, January 25, 2019

With Tet just 10 days away, the "Teacher" street in Saigon comes alive with calligraphers, their customers and curious visitors.

The sidewalk on Pham Ngoc Thach Street in District 1, Saigon, has become a calligraphy street since January 22. Many skillful, talented calligraphers present and sell their works here.

Calligraphy works, mostly Chinese letters symbolizing what people wish in their lives, like good health, happiness and wealth, are much sought after during the Tet season. The place offers an important cultural experience every spring in Saigon.

This year, the street has 30 booths displaying verses and beautiful words written on red paper sheets and paper rolls. Nearly 60 calligraphers, mainly young people, will "give" the words. The visitors come here, take the words and gift the calligraphers some money, but avoid mentioning "buying" or "selling" in order that the transaction is not commercialized.

The calligraphers dress like ong do, an archaic address for people who passed academic exams under the old imperial regime in Vietnam. These people usually became teachers and were adept in Chinese.

It is said that when Vietnam officially adopted the new, Roman alphabet, these teachers became calligraphers who would draw Chinese scripts for people to hang on walls in their homes for good luck and prosperity. Every Lunar New Year, Vietnamese families continue this tradition.

"Each booth is decorated to present scenes typical of the Tet holiday. People wear the ao dai (traditional long dress) and scarf when they give the words," said Xuan Thanh, 19, a calligrapher.

Writings and drawings draw thousands to a Saigon street 

On the street today, female calligraphers ply the trade, too, something that did not happen under the old feudal system, since women were not supposed to learn much and take academic examinations.

"I come to this street to write calligraphy when the Lunar New Year nears, my daily job is a script writer. My main job is quite flexible, so at this time of the year, I spend all my time here to take care of my calligraphy booth," said Thuy Tien, 28.

Writings and drawings draw thousands to a Saigon street 

Each booth has different decoration styles. "Being a 'teacher' is not only about writing beautiful words, but also listening to the stories of those who come to ask for the words. Every word they want is meaningful to their families and relatives," said Thu Thanh.

From the day it opened, the street has been busy with local and foreign visitors.

Paintings and calligraphy works sell for tens of thousands to millions of Vietnamese dong ($1 = VND23,196).

"The words everyone wants to receive usually mean luck, fortune, happiness. The booths have reference books for visitors to read and understand every word and sentence. Besides, souvenirs like key chains or pig-shaped mascots are also items of interest to buyers," said Huy Khoi, 78, a visitor.

"I sell this painting about father and mother for VND4.5 million ($194). It is hard to sell paintings for millions of dong, but people who are actually interested will not hesitate to buy, and will ask us to draw what they like," said Pham Van Nguyen, 31, a calligrapher here.

Looking at the paintings, Tuong Nhan, a resident of Phu Nhuan District, said: "Every year, I come out here to ask for the words, this year the street is more beautiful. Besides the apricot trees, there are also the place to present the eye-catching pig mascot and the old items in the New Year."

A corner has been decorated with typical Lunar New Year motifs, and it has become a prop for people to take photographs.

The street is the busiest in the late afternoon and evening. According to the calligraphers, visitors mainly visit and take photos. It is only after the offerings are made to the Kitchen God on the 23rd of the last lunar month that many people will ask for letters.

The calligraphy street will remain open until February 4 on the Gregorian calendar, which is the Lunar New Year’s Eve.

(Source Vn.Express)

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