John Reilly, chairman of Friends of Viet Nam Heritage (FVH) Ha Noi, an organisation that aims to enhance foreigners' understanding of Viet Nam's cultural heritages, tells Ha Nguyen that local residents also benefit from their membership.
Inner Sanctum: Who founded FVH and when was it set up?
Friends of Viet Nam Heritage (FVH), a volunteer educational organisation, was set up in 1998 by a small group of international and Vietnamese friends who were resident in Ha Noi. It was patterned after the Indonesian Heritage Society and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's International Co-operation Department.
Its founders were Erika Daum-Karanitsch, Mary and Dennis deTray, Dorothea and Peter Ruesch, Annemarie Leuenberger, Bettina Grieser-Johns, Tomoko Fukunaga, and Huu Ngoc, as an advisor, with help from Professor Le Van Lan.
Inner Sanctum: What is its aim?
FVH tries to help foreign people living and working in Ha Noi enjoy and understand more about the city and country in which they are living. Membership is free and if a person gives us their email address they will receive a programme of our events each month. Most of the members are international residents of Ha Noi, but nearly 150 Vietnamese are also on the membership list.
Inner Sanctum: What other activities apart from tours and walks do you offer members?
FVH tries each month to offer its Discover Ha Noi walks around eight different areas of Ha Noi but also a monthly Day Excursion to areas outside of Ha Noi. There are walks in English, Japanese, Korean and sometimes French.
In addition to these activities we hold lectures with Vietnamese and international experts in the field of arts and antiquities, history and culture. We form study groups related to these areas which change as the interests of volunteer leaders change. The activities of each group also change each year depending on members' interests.
In the past we have had study groups on Vietnamese history, beliefs and religions, ceramics and pottery and traditional medicine. Volunteers work closely with the history, fine arts, ethnology and women's museums. Now we also have a music section led by a volunteer team. Also, each month we try to find and run a film directed by, acted in or made by a Vietnamese company or individual. Whenever possible we invite those involved in the film to join us during the screening for a Q&A session. Sometimes these films are produced by international film makers, and some rare and important documentaries have been discovered years after they were first made.
We support a resource centre at the Ha Noi Public Library on the corner of Ba Trieu and Tran Hung Dao where reference books can be used by the general public.
Each year FVH plans a multi-day study trip to an important cultural or historical area outside the city to learn more about significant and treasured sites.
Inner Sanctum: Has FVH many Vietnamese supporters? Are they helpful?
FVH is very grateful to its many Vietnamese supporters, without whom we would not have been able to learn about Viet Nam's rich and varied history and culture. First and foremost, we are grateful to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for its enthusiastic interest and continuing support for our organisation. In addition, we have worked closely with many famous professors, libraries, universities, businesses and experts in many fields of interest. The list of Vietnamese academics and other experts who serve as information resources and lecturers is long. We also deeply value the Vietnamese volunteers who help us with the behind the scenes' daily operations for FVH events through: providing the maintenance of our resource library, publishing our monthly programme, helping find contacts who can work with us to produce an activity, providing interpretation and translation services, providing access to venues and transportation and, most importantly, keeping us interested in Viet Nam's culture and history.
FVH presently has approximately 150 Vietnamese volunteer members, some of whom are officers on our Executive and Governing Councils.
Inner Sanctum: What feedback have you received from tourists?
While we do not focus on providing activities for tourists, they are welcome to join in the events we organise. Usually visitors are friends or family of our members who join us on our activities, but sometimes there are other visitors to Ha Noi who have learned of our activities through our website fvheritage.org or through other media. They say they are glad to join in our activities because they are able to visit interesting venues that they would not be able to find on their own.
Many members and their guests have commented that they like to know they can leave Ha Noi safely to visit areas to which they could not drive or take public transport. They also value the expert guidance of our knowledgeable volunteer guides and organisers.
Inner Sanctum: Could you give us your ideas about how to protect and preserve our heritage?
Many of our FVH members have spoken about historical or cultural areas in other countries' large cities which have been preserved and revived without changing the original look or even the operation of a building. They do this by finding innovative ways to support new businesses there or reviving interest in traditional activities.
FVH members are happy to see more maintenance work on historic sites being seriously undertaken and the revitalisation of many valuable historical and cultural locations around Ha Noi and Viet Nam. At the same time, there are projects being undertaken that could be detrimental to the highly valued traditions and cultures of some of Viet Nam's regions. For example, it is hard to imagine the long term value of building a cable car system to the top of Mt. Fansipan, or turning Sa Pa into a luxury resort area. There is great value in having wild and challenging places to walk and experience, not to mention the preservation of traditional ways of life. Once the treasures of natural and cultural value are destroyed they can never be retrieved, as many other countries have learned through hard experience. We hope that will not happen to Viet Nam.
FVH envisions having an activity section where its members can contribute labour, knowledge or even new paint towards the preservation or maintenance of some of Viet Nam's important cultural and historical sites in the future. — VNS