by Phuong Mai
Villagers have got talent
One of the more unusual contestants in this year's Viet Nam's Got Talent reality show is a group of violinists in their mid-fifties.
What is unusual is not their age or even their talent, but the fact they are farmers from a village where playing the violin has become a tradition. People of all ages, men, women and children are proficient in the instrument.
Formed ten years ago, the 11 member-group have won acclaim from the judges and audiences, propelling them to the semi-finals.
Nguyen Quang Khoa, the group's leader, said his group joined the contest in order to introduce the "beautiful tradition" that his villagers have.
His band members are all farmers from Then Village in the northern province of Bac Giang.
Then is known in the area as "the village of violinists".
Khoa recalled that when he was 14, he and his friends began to learn the violin with Nguyen Huu Dua, a musician with the Ha Bac Art Troupe.
Later other villagers also sent their children to Dua to learn to play the violin for free, he said.
Dua, nearly 80 years old now, is a pioneer in awakening the love for music among the villagers.
"Playing violin after a hard day's work in the fields make us feel comfortable and joyful," said Nguyen Huu Thi, a group member.
Khoa said the initiative to learn music began in the 1960s when every household in the village owned at least one musical instrument.
During the war, most of the instruments were lost and broken, but the villagers still held on to their hobby of playing music.
These days, there are more than 100 violin players of all ages in the villages.
However, Khoa is worried that young villagers are leaving the village to study and work in big cities, so there are not enough people to keep the beautiful custom going.
"We (the group) are teaching music to children in the village to raise the love of music among younger generations and expect them to keep the custom."
Rural oasis in a crowded city
In Quang Ngai City, there is a 400-year-old village.
This by itself might not be a contradiction in terms, because many Vietnamese cities including the capital city can boast of some really old villages.
But Thich Ly Village is still special.
Nguyen Trung, an 85-year-old resident, says the village was the home of the father of Queen Mother Tu Du during the reign of Tu Duc Emperor in the middle of the 19th century.
The village also boasts two 300-year-old sago palms and a 100-year-old large bamboo cluster, he says.
The village, home of several dozen households, has stumbled on a way to keep itself rustic, green and peaceful.
In 1992, Ta Xuan Hoang, a resident, was scared and fed up of the village's rat population. So he cleared his land and opened the village's first coffee shop, Phuong Cat.
Two years later, another native, Ho Viet, launched the second coffee shop called Dan Phuong and soon after, more households got into the act and there are more than 10 such establishments now.
The shops' ambience and bamboo furniture are a popular draw among other city residents who like to get away from their busy life and enjoy the peace that an old village offers.
Nguyen Van Truc of Son Tinh District said he took his wife and children almost every weekend to Then Village to relax and enjoy fresh air.
Vo Van Loi, chairman of Nghia Lo District, said the village has become a popular destination for tourists in recent years.
The authorities are encouraging families living in the area to continue to preserve and restore the green and ancient space for next generations, he said. — VNS