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Clock collector keeps timepieces ticking

Update: November, 17/2014 - 11:53
Winding up: Ngo Dung winds up his antique clocks, a pleasure after a hard working day.

Ngo Dung traded his lucrative business career for the unique joys of hunting down antique clocks. Trung Hieu reports.

Ngo Dung was making good money in his hotel business when he decided to spend time hunting for and collecting antique clocks.

Though he is still young, Dung wanted to slow down the pace of his life and follow the ticking rhythm of the old clocks.

Visiting Dung at his home along Nguyen Khuyen Street in Ha Noi, few people will think that within the noisy street exists a desirable space for silence, with an entire floor dedicated to the showcasing of antique clocks, the hobby that is almost exclusively for old men who have passed the age for "developing business".

Asked why he began collecting antique clocks when he was doing well in the hotel business, and whether he recognised a cash cow among the antiques, Dung smiled and replied: "I still do the hotel business in Ha Noi's Old Quarters, but I assign the work to a manager. I still have to do the hotel business for my subsistence, but collecting antique clocks is my passion."

Dung revealed that his father had loved clocks since childhood. When Dung was growing up, the sound of clocks and the soft lines meticulously engraved on the boxes had entered his flesh and blood.

"Although I know that youth means doing business, the obsession called time still follows me," he explained.

Dung has so far built a collection consisting of hundreds of antique clocks from many countries, some of them worth a few hundred million dong.

"These old stuff took a lot of time and money to collect. But it is not as important as the meaning that I find in my life while in the process of collecting them," he admitted.

Tick-tock: Some of Dung's antique clocks.

Dung viewed his collection of antique clocks as an elegant hobby and his clocks as close and intimate friends. He explained that each timepiece seemed to have a soul and a vivid and meaningful life.

"Coming back home after a hard day at work and lying down in a quiet room to hear the sound of ticking clocks, I find that everything seems to slow down," he said.

"Many people told me I was foolish, but each time I listen to the ticking clocks, I feel that time flies away and life is but a brief moment in time. Each man is like a lightning that appears across the sky and then disappears. The world is always moving and therefore, we must spend each day by being helpful," added Dung as he waxed philosophical.

Dung recalled that when he first brought the clocks home, he wound them up differently so he would hear the sound of the pendulums every hour, mimicking great works of music.

But these pleasures initially made insomniacs out of his wife and domestic helper. His wife sometimes had quarrels with him, and his domestic helper once asked to be allowed to resign from her job because of chimes of the clocks.

But gradually, the sounds of clocks became a source of enchantment for members of his family.

"The helper who wanted to leave was invited to work for other families for higher pay, but she decided to stay with us, fearing that if she moved to another house, she would no longer hear the clocks ticking," he said.

With a passion for clocks but no knowledge and professional training in running and managing them, a collector would be hardly qualified to keep the unique timepieces, he said.

"If you buy clocks without understanding them, sooner or later you will own a syncretic collection," Dung said. "The collection requires collectors to work hard."

Skilled hands: Preserving antique clocks requires knowledge and understanding. — VNA/VNS Photos

Ironically, it is hard to find an antique clock but even harder to find an antique clock repairman in Ha Noi, the collector noted.

There are only a few highly skilled repairmen and most of them are old, so they refuse to make house calls to repair clocks.

Normally, if you want to have your clocks fixed and cleaned, you have to bring them to the repairman's house. But most antique collectors love their clocks and refuse to take them anywhere outside their homes.

Luckily, antique clock collectors have found a reliable repairman in Pham Van Thuc, who was born in northern Nam Dinh Province.

Thuc has been in Ha Noi for only three years, but antique clock collectors trust him because he has a reputation for being careful in his repair work.

Thuc literally means to stay awake in Vietnamese, and the name has been linked to his career, so the clock collectors always joke that "if we give our clocks to Thuc, they will never sleep again".

He never refuses difficult cases involving antique clocks in need of repair. Even though the clock suffers from a "serious disease", Thuc comes to each home and painstakingly works from morning till evening to examine and fix the clock.

He left his home village to settle in the capital city and ignored his family, who had advised him to join a university so he could find a more stable job in the future. Thuc's love for the craft and above all, his desire for a career in the repair business had prompted him to cling to the city in spite of numerous difficulties.

"Antique clock repairmen are now quite rare because most of them are old. If they want to train in the craft, very few young people will want to learn because of the job's uncertainty. Young people nowadays prefer modern gadgets and hot jobs," Thuc observed.

"If I have a professional repair room with advanced instruments and young enthusiastic colleagues who always inquire about repair techniques for different types of clocks, I will be able to fulfill my dream of professionalising the craft, which is often considered an odd job," he said. — VNS

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