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Traditional calligraphy markets open for Tet

As the most important event of the year in Vietnam, Tet (Lunar New Year) offers many traditional customs, including calligraphy.

Calligraphy expresses the Vietnamese people’s respect for knowledge. Before Tet, people receive calligraphic works in Vietnamese, Chinese and Han-Nom (Chinese Han and Vietnamese Nom ideographic) scripts from elderly scholars. The scripts are written on beautiful do (poohnah) paper and become symbols of good fortune.

“Receiving and giving calligraphic works have become a fine tradition of the Vietnamese people,” said Le Xuan Kieu, Director of the Centre for Scientific and Cultural Activities of Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam, where the Spring Calligraphy Festival is hosted annually.

The centre has cooperated with the Hanoi Department of Culture and Sports to organise the festival at Van (Literature) Lake beside the Temple of Literature from January 29 to February 17.

There are 60 booths designed as bamboo huts where scholars perform the art of writing, and children can come to enjoy traditional games and painting.

A traditional handicrafts fair will also be held to showcase products made from silk, lacquer, pottery, rattan and ornamental plants.

During the festival, visitors will enjoy traditional music such as love duets, hat xoan (Phu Tho’s spring singing), cheo (traditional opera) and ca tru (ceremonial singing). At night, people can release lotus lanterns to pray for good fortune.

Visitors will also join a culinary experience and learn how to make banh chung (square sticky rice cake), an integral part of the Tet feast.

To offer foreign visitors a glimpse of Tet, the Hanoi Daewoo Hotel has turned part of its lobby into a special space featuring chung cakes, peach blossoms, trays of “five natural element” fruits, red parallel sentences and calligraphy – the images that symbolise the traditional festival. Visiting the corner, guests will have a chance to talk with calligrapher Thanh Long to lean about the traditional custom.

Similar events to highlight the immortal value of calligraphy will take place in HCM City. Residents and visitors are already enjoying shopping and taking photos at calligraphy markets which have opened two weeks before Tet.

The colourful calligraphy market at the Youth Cultural House is always crowded with visitors taking lots of photos.

More than 50 calligraphers are taking part in the event. They are all members of calligraphy clubs in the city and neighbouring provinces.

The calligraphers, dressed in ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress), include men and women of varying ages selling calligraphy in black and yellow ink on red paper.

They sit on mats arranged in an oval shape symbolising peace, similar to calligraphy markets in the past.

The market is decorated with mai (ochna) and đào (peach blossom) trees set up along Pham Ngoc Thach street and inside the Youth Cultural House.

Nguyen Thi Huong, a 56-year-old living in Binh Thanh district, said: “I often visit to look for calligraphy works at the market in hopes of bringing happiness, success, wealth and health to my family.”

“This year, I came with my daughter and granddaughter to shop and take photos. We want to keep these nice memories,” she added.

Apart from mai and dao trees, the market has a nostalgic background with old furniture and television sets, bringing back memories of Sai Gon in the 1950s.

Vo Minh Tram, a student at the HCM City University of Architecture, said: “As our tradition, my friends and I wear ao dai to take photos at the calligraphy market. This year, with a new background, we hope to have more nice photos for Tet.”

Another calligraphy market located at the Labour Cultural House in district 1 features nearly 30 artists. Most of them are members of the cultural house’s Vietnamese Calligraphy Club and some are students from the city’s universities.

Duong Hai Au, a member of the club, said: “Thanks to the good response, we organise a calligraphy market every year during Tet. I’m happy to introduce my calligraphy works to people to wish them a happy New Year.”

Each calligraphy piece is priced from 20,000 to 200,000 VND (0.8-8.6 USD), depending on the craftsmanship, size and materials. Larger works cost 500,000 VND (21.5 USD) or more.

The calligraphers are also taking requests from visitors for words to write on red lucky money envelopes. The envelopes cost from 30,000 VND (1.3 USD) for a set of five.

The lucky money envelopes and small calligraphy works are hung on mai trees to wish for luck, happiness and prosperity.

The markets at the Youth Cultural House and Labour Cultural House will remain open until February 4 (Lunar New Year’s Eve).-VNA/VNP