Nguyen Vinh Phuc, 83, has spent a lifetime studying Ha Noi s long and eventful past. Recently, he was awarded a Grand Prize in a contest entitled For the Love of Ha Noi for his extensive research over 55 years. Minh Thu reports.
During that time, the education ministry compiled the first textbooks in Vietnamese to replace those in French. Mistakes were not uncommon. When teaching, many details left me confused and often doubtful. I began visiting libraries and reading up on the true nature of events to provide my students with the correct facts. If I was dissatisfied with information in the archives, I went to temples, pagodas and other historical places to look up ancient books and writings on stone slabs and pillars.
The more information I found, the more enthusiastic I became. I was discovering what no one knew or even spoke about. Since then, Ha Noi started to become a treasure trove for me to explore. I was so happy when I provided my students with the right information, which wasn t mentioned in any curriculum.
Well, I faced many obstacles in the beginning. During the time of the US air raids against northern Viet Nam in the late 1960 s and early 1970 s, there was heightened vigilance, and a number of government offices had to evacuate from the cities to villages. The people had no sympathy for those wandering around pagodas and temples in villages seeking information. I was often threatened. Getting information was really difficult, but my passion for history helped me overcome all problems. Looking back at that period, I realise that the difficulties were what I had to spend to gain the knowledge.
The title appeared for the first time in 1984 when Su That (The Truth) Publishing House published a book on Ha Noi in which I wrote one chapter. The editorial board referred to me as Nguyen Vinh Phuc, a researcher on Ha Noi.
I consider it a noble accolade as it has been given by other researchers, colleagues, students and the people, not by the state or any organisation. It makes me happy that my findings and efforts are recognised, honoured and that people trust me.
In term of characteristics, I think Hanoians have something that typifies the characteristics of the Vietnamese people patriotism, energy and graciousness.
Ha Noi has long been the craft and trade centre of northern Viet Nam and has drawn many people from many villages together. Their presence is still felt in the Old Quarter. Hanoians like renewal and innovation. They quickly accept or adapt to new things.
Compared to the fast pace of HCM City, Ha Noi has grown slowly. It s a slower melody up north. While the residents of HCM City have keen intelligence, Hanoians are serene and thorough.
Recently, there have been complaints that Hanoians do not have the same elegance that they once possessed. But this is true of only a segment of the city s population. When we open the door to new cultures, we have to accept the good with the bad.
There are many factors contributing to the problem. Discipline today is not strict or clear. Schools teach children to pass exams, not how to live and behave. Anyhow, I believe that time will refine all this and produce the true values of old Ha Noi. The essence of the old capital s characteristics won t be lost.
Firstly, I want to mention the people who have lived in old Ha Noi before it started to grow. I regret that their highly civilised, cultured and elegant lifestyle has declined. Sometimes, ego and profit are favoured above everything.
In old times, people living closely in hamlets or streets always took care each other. Now, my house is my castle. Residents relationship with their neighbours is not as deep-felt as it was before. We rarely visit each others houses or talk together, which was a fine tradition.
People always drive fast on roads even if they are not in a hurry. Those living in apartment buildings often feel happier by appropriating more space than others by building balconies.
More and more people from different parts of the countryside are moving to Ha Noi to earn a living, bringing with them different styles and customs. The large population waters down the traditional values of Ha Noi.
Now that Ha Noi has officially expanded, I think old Hanoians and the people in the former Ha Tay Province can create a united culture if they share the same outlook.
Despite some weak points, Hanoians in general are tolerant, compassionate and kind. I believe old and new Ha Noi people have the ability to integrate and live in harmony.
Well, my love for Ha Noi is something I can t display in words. I m not young now, but haven t stopped studying about the city. My love for Ha Noi is unconditional and never changes. I wasn t born in the city, but it nurtures my soul. VNS