by Thu Anh
A lifetime of contemplation
Huynh Duy Sieng is not what you would call a "born writer" or a "born poet".
If he were, it would not have taken him 75 years to have his first first collection of poems published.
But the setuagenarian's debut, Het Mua Thu Chua (Has Autumn Ended), has become an instant hit after its recent release by the prestigious Thanh Nien (Young People) publishing house this month.
His style, simple and profound, has impressed.
"Not many writers can achieve it," said poet Le Thieu Nhon, a member of the Viet Nam Writers' Association. That it is profound is not surprising, for the 80-page book is the result of musings over more than 70 years that the writer has "lived in the darkness".
"I have spent all my time imagining life," said Sieng, a resident of Tuy Hoa City in the south central province of Phu Yen, who became blind at the age of three after a smallpox attack.
"My poems are my dreams of life and people," he said.
Sieng dictated his poems to relatives and friends. Some of them, who professional writers, sent a collection to Thanh Nien.
Het Mua Thu Chua sold over a 100 copies in just two days.
The amateur writer now has more opportunities to contribute to several newspapers and publishing houses, and earn enough to support himself.
Lam Thi Xuan, a Sieng fan, said his work and story shows that "the writer can set alight the darkness around him".
Auspicious and lucky
In District 5, also referred to as HCM City's Chinatown, one street seems to get a head start on Tet (Lunar New Year) season.
Luong Nhu Hoc can be said to be a guild street, one that specialises in a very special product line – masks, especially unicorn heads, as well as other paraphernelia like drums and cymbals used in performing the traditional unicorn dance.
The dance is associated with an auspicious start, and whether it is the opening of a company or a shop, or the completion of a new house, the unicorn is asked to put in an appearance to ensure luck. Children and adults alike enjoy the noise and action of the unicorn dances performed during Tet, but not many are aware of the time and money spent on creating the beautiful yet formidable looking masks worn by the artists.
Making a unicorn head mask is also a task that requires considerable skill and deftness. If the worker takes his/her time and throws his/her heart into making it, the end product is very beautiful.
"First, the frame must be constructed by knitting zinc and bamboo, then a over of cellophane applied, before it is covered with cardboard and decorated with colourful paint," said Huynh Van Sang, a unicorn head mask maker at the Minh Xuong workshop.
The most difficult part of the mask, according to Sang, is the placement of the eyes, eyebrows, horns and beard because of the importance they play in highlighting different aspects of the mythical creature.
With a unicorn dance costume comprising a head mask, numerous smaller masks for each team member, drums and cymbals, a complete set can easily cost more than VND2 billion (US$100,000).
With so much work going into each mask, it's aso easy to understand why smaller ones, such as those sold around the city for amateur use, can cost between VND120,000 ($5) and VND300,000, with those for children cost around VND50,000.
For Sang and his colleagues, the business of making unicorn head masks is, just like the unicorn symbol itself, a lucky one that has endowed them with success, prosperity and fulfillment. — VNS