|Made in Viet Nam: A woman helps her son choose a paper lion head at a shop near the corner of Hang Ma and Hang Cot in the capital. All the goods sold on the shop are produced domestically. — VNS Photo Khanh Chiby Nguyen Khanh Chi
HA NOI — It's 9pm on Monday and people are still flocking to colourful Hang Ma Street in Ha Noi's Old Quarter. The shops are festooned with lanterns, masks and toys, creating a fanciful and festive atmosphere.
As drum beats echo, adults, youths and children converge in the street trying to find favourite items for the Mid-Autumn festival. The festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, or September 8 on the Western calendar this year.
For children, it is the most awaited annual event.
"Every year on this occasion, we bring our children here twice so they can enjoy the atmosphere and choose whatever they would like for the festival," said 40-year-old Nguyen Thi Huong Dao from Dong Da District.
"We have fun even it's hot and crowded," Dao's husband chipped in.
Dao said that the family preferred made-in-Viet Nam goods and was pleased to see that this year they were far more plentiful.
"It's good to see that," Dao said as her husband picked up a miniature lion head. Meanwhile, the kids put on paper masks representing characters from folk tales and popular cartoons and pose for photos.
While the festival is popular throughout eastern Asia, Vietnamese scholars maintain that it also has its roots in Viet Nam.
During the festival, many activities are held at home or in public places. Children enjoy processions of star-shaped lanterns, lion dances, singing and dancing and other colourful and noisy events.
According to the calendar, this is all supposed to happen on the fifteenth day when the moon is full. However, streets selling items for the festival offer real nights out for those seeking fun even a month beforehand.
Sandwiched between Dong Xuan and Hang Duong streets at one end and Hang Ga and Hang Cot streets in the other end, Hang Ma Street is frenetic at this time of year. Like occasions for Tet (Lunar New Year), Christmas or the Mid-Autumn festival, the street is filled with sounds, colour and light. The shops are open from morning until midnight every day.
Lion heads, small and big; angel wings; plastic and paper lanterns in all shapes and sizes, especially star-shapes; masks and toy bunnies hung high or placed on shelves, providing a mountain of choices.
"I always look for Vietnamese traditional stuff for my kids, the sort of things I played with during my childhood," said Le Tam, a resident in the Old Quarter.
"I'd like them to understand Vietnamese culture," Tam said, holding the hand of his four-year-old son who is beating a new wooden drum. His wife and elder daughter were busy choosing a star lantern.
Tam said his family often went to the street at this time of the year so they could taste the real mood of the festival.
Traditionally, the event is dedicated to children. However, as time went by, it also became a pleasure for young people.
Holding their mobile phone high, Hoang Huong Thao and her classmate posed for a "selfie", lines of colourful lanterns glowing behind them.
"We get used to visiting Hang Ma Street on this occasion. We have been so for the past three years since we came to Ha Noi for our tertiary education," said the third-year student at the Foreign Trade University.
"We come here two or three times," Thao said, adding that she would buy masks, lanterns and drums to organise a festival for children in her hometown in Thai Binh Province next Sunday.
The Roberts family from England found it strange but highly stimulating to arrive in the midst of all the action. After they checked into their hotel in the Old Quarter at 10pm they decided to take a walk.
"We feel excited to be here. It's very noisy, and very different to England, people everywhere," he said.
His wife agreed, adding that they did not know the festival was taking place because the lunar calendar is different. "Anyway, I love it, the atmosphere," she said.
"It's really cool and amazing," their nine-year-old daughter said, her face radiant with smiles. Like they say, it really is a festival for kids. — VNS