Vietnam’s Hidden Treasure

After the excitement of exploring the carving village of My Xuyen, 40km north of Hue city, I was thrilled to discover another hidden treasure of Vietnamese carving. My translator and guide for the day, Thanh Nhan Ho, had heard rumour of a 140 year old traditional house located somewhere nearby. He said it was remarkable that the house had survived the destruction that occurred during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). In somewhat like a treasure hunt we set off down the narrow lanes near My Xuyen, stopping now and again to inquire as to the houses whereabouts.

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The house is the ancestral home of Mr Le Tjong Phu, who incredibly is the sixth generation of his family to live there. Welcoming us at the entrance, Mr Phu kindly let us look around his home, informing us that this type wooden house decorated with intricate carvings, used to be a fairly ordinary 140 years ago. He told us the house was specifically designed to have a low roof, in order to protect it from storm damage and interestingly to cause the person entering the home to bow, thus apparently enforcing a reminder to respect the home.

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Mr Le Tjong Phu

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As you enter the house you are greeted by beautiful array of carvings which are immaculately preserved given their age and the limited amount restoration or preservation work thats been conducted. The carvings you see in the photo above and those below are placed at the entrance as a constant reminder of the virtues that can create the ‘perfect’ human being such as poetry, writing, music and the martial arts.

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Education

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Music

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Fruits that represent wisdom

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Protective animals such as this bat were used as protection from evil spirits

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I think you would agree that the level of detail, beauty and intellect shown in these carvings is staggering. I found it amazing that many of the cuts still looked so crisp, as if they had only been carved a  minute before.

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Inside the house we were struck by the beautiful panel work and shell inlay dotted around the room. Mr Phu told us that many of the carvers who had made the house 140 years ago originated from northern Vietnam and had travelled across the country carving in homes such as this.

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Reflecting for a moment on the similarities that I have seen in the carvings across Asia, I noticed that the  carving at the top of this blog contains the swastika symbol, which I saw extensively throughout Bali, such as in the image below. The swastika is a commonly found in Hinduism and hence why I noticed it so much in Bali (Bali being a hindu country). The swastika is said to represent good fortune, luck and wellbeing and thus gives an indication as to why we may see it carved on the entrance to this traditional home in Vietnam.

The entrance to a temple in Bali

After a fond farewell to my excellent translator, Thanh Nhan Ho, I loaded up the bike and set off south down the coast of Vietnam. I was heading for the beautiful town of Hoi An, where I had been told I would find a number of exceptional woodcarvers. What I found definitely didn’t disappoint.

To find out more about the Carving Countries journey see: www.facebook.com/carvingcountries

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