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Expat enlivens schools with art

Update: October, 23/2014 - 09:13
A new canvas: Bridget with the Black H'Mong children of Ma Cha school. — Courtesy Photo of Bridget March

by Le Huong

Sa Pa Market, in the heart of mountainous northern province of Lao Cai, is in full swing by midday. A myriad of colours interwoven into ethnic garb enliven the bustling atmosphere.

By then, the sun has finally warmed the foggy, fresh air. Local women's beauty is only enhanced by their rosy cheeks.

Bridget March strolls along the steep stone staircase of the market – her favourite haunt for the past four months.

She sometimes stops by just to say "hello" to local acquaintances before choosing a quiet corner from which to sketch a scene that suddenly catches her eye.

"The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, but I find more beauty in buildings and people's faces," she told Viet Nam News. "Sa Pa is changing very fast, so I enjoy drawing the old buildings that still remain in the town's quiet lanes. The old pagoda, the market steps and the view from my studio window are also frequent subjects. These things resonate with me."

The British painter explains that she was invited to go to Sa Pa for the summer by a philanthropist.

He thought she would enjoy painting there. In return, he asked her to help raise money for the schools he supports.

"This was an opportunity I had been waiting for, so I worked all summer to make some products to raise money for education in poor villages," she said. "I created 25 decorative canvas prints, 10 postcards and a brand new folding guide of Sa Pa's people and culture. When everything is sold, we will have raised around US$10,000."

March went to local schools at Ma Cha and Sa Seng villages to teach children drawing on Fridays, also bringing lunch as a special bonus.

"The children have no inhibitions about drawing," she noted, "They shared their lives with me through their drawings. They enjoy learning, the friendships they find in their schools, and they graffiti their desks just like any other school kid in the world."

Hoang A Do, 11, a local student could not hide his excitement when talking about March's Friday lesson.

"I love going to school on Friday," he said, "We all got delicious meal and then learn how to draw funny things. I'll no longer quit school."

Sa Pa's landscape is breathtakingly beautiful but Bridget March finds more beauty in buildings and in the faces of people. — Courtesy Photo of Bridget March

Besides painting, March writes a monthly column for Oi Vietnam Magazine called "Postcards from Vietnam". The column is a collection of her experiences and capped off with a water-colour postcard to illustrate the story.

March also published a painting book titled, A Week in Hoi An, which is a foldout book of more than 60 paintings that amounts to two meters of her impression of the ancient town.

"In Hoi An, I feel very connected to the history of the once important trading port," she said, "I have a clear idea of how the port looked 200 years ago, when the river was wider and filled with ships from Japan, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Holland and India. It must have been such a vibrant place. Now it is sleepy so visitors might imagine it has always been that way."

One reader's review on an online blog touted the book as, "a celebration of the history and culture of Hoi An, and a brief guide to its heritage. It makes for a unique souvenir of Hoi An and is small enough to carry around when touring the town."

March said she would publish several new books on HCM City and Sa Pa in 2015. A cookbook titled, The Art of Nourishment, is also in the works for spring. The Vietnamese and western fusion cookbook includes, of course, her illustrations and anecdotal stories.

The book, like the rest of her recent work, is concerned with the children of Sa Pa. Part of the proceeds will go to kids' educational and nourishment projects. — VNS

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