Did you know that Vietnamese artist Lê Phổ (1907 – 2001), a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, is largely responsible for popularising the modern ao dai? We hope you enjoy this selection of his ao dai paintings.
There’s a busy street in Hanoi called Lý Thường Kiệt, named after a famous 11 Century general who was also a poet and, quite surprisingly, a eunuch. Castration was practised in Vietnam for centuries and it didn’t just involve the removal of the testicles – the penis was also cut off! Many men volunteered to become eunuchs, so that they could secure a better job; the only men allowed inside the Forbidden City at Huế were the Emperor and his eunuchs. During the Nguyen dynasty, however, only men from wealthy families could be considered for castration. Lý Thường Kiệt is not Vietnam’s only famous eunuch – there’s also Nguyễn An, a hydraulics specialist and architect who was given to the Chinese emperor as tribute in the 15th Century.
If you’ve been living in Ha Noi for a few months of more, chances are you’re already familiar with Ba Dinh Square and/or Ba Dinh Square. There’s an interesting story behind the name, Ba Dinh, which means ‘3 communal houses’.
Over 130 years ago in Nga Son district, Thanh Ho province, 3 villages turned their communal houses into guerilla bases, from which they attacked the French colonialists who ruled Vietnam at the time. The fighting raged for 32 days and nights and the incident became known and celebrated as the Ba Dinh Uprising.
When President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence from France in 1945, he chose to do so from Ha Noi’s Ba Dinh Square, giving a nod to the rural men and women who bravely rose up against the colonial oppressors back in 1886.
You know that Autumn has finally arrived when you see cốm for sale on the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter. Cốm is young rice, harvested early, pounded within an inch of its life, and served in a lotus leaf. Much tastier, sweeter and chewier than conventional rice, cốm is best eaten slowly and, believe it or not, tastes great when eaten with ripe bananas.
One of the easiest ways to feel connected to Hanoi & meet some people outside your workplace is to join a volunteer organisation. We recommend starting at this website: http://www.ngocentre.org.vn/ The site contains an up-to-date Vietnam-wide database, in alphabetical order, of NGOs in the country together with the email addresses of their offices. (The site also lists paid employment opportunities if you’re looking for a job change) This website is not comprehensive, though – we noticed that Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is not listed there, and this is an excellent organisation that relies on volunteer input to keep its vital anti-human trafficking programs in place. Blue Dragon can be contacted at: email@example.com
Koto is another favorite with expats, offering volunteering opportunities for people with hospitality experience and/or English teaching qualifications. You can read about the Koto story here