Life Life

22/09/2020 - 07:27

Missing my native village

Once upon a time...
It was a summer day in 1976.

Without telling my mother, I invited some girl friends from the southern hillside to cycle up many slopes to get to the other side of Canh Tien Mountain. Over there, there were the houses of our classmates Xuan Quang, Ve, Hung, Tap, etc. What is more, there was also the ancient village of Dong Son, right on the southern bank of the Ma river, which I had read about in books. 

A pristine Hue garden house  Photo: ĐANG TUYEN

It was just a very brief visit. Dong Son Village has therefore just appeared vaguely in my memory. I remember the village path and long alleys paved with blue stone and old brick, the quiet houses with dark brown roofs and the mossy rock fences. Now and then there appeared some old barefoot people in brown. Some children in flowery costume were skipping with a rope. Some people were walking bringing their ploughs. I don’t remember exactly where my friends’ houses were.

Another time, my mother and I dropped by the village when we visited Lo Cao in Ham Rong, where my mother worked in 1962-1963. We went to the hillside where I had attended kindergarten at the foot of the hill and learned with Ms. gentle Tram before the war, when the American bombs had not yet hit Ham Rong.

It seemed that Lo Cao Enterprise had disappeared without trace after half a century of changes. My Mom and I just dropped by the small lotus pond in bloom in front of the village pagoda, took some photos and left.

Another time still, my friends and I came together for a reunion of alumni at a park near Dong Son Village. I stood on the porch for a long time looking toward the ancient village.

The mountains and the village keep calling me back.

My memory of Dong Son is therefore that of a village both familiar and remote.

In my mind, the village was there, in a valley on the hillside. Out there was the Ma river with windy brown sails. The mountains in the distance were so green reaching clouds, but lower into hills near the village on the bank of the river. Viewed from the north, they looked like sacred dragons reaching down to drink water from the river. They opened their mouths wide, waiting to swallow the Jade mountain on the side of Hoang Hoa.

But I feel very close. I always miss that familiar and simple beauty. Is it because of the clothes of Dong Son villagers I met that day? Brown dresses, turbans on heads of old women, then brown coats and pants of elderly men, the gentle gazes of children and adults, etc. They all remind people of a distant homeland of Cuu Chan.

In Hue, every time I visit old houses, I feel missing Thanh Hoa so much. It is because in the past in evacuations, I followed my parents to villages far away from the city and took refuge in many old houses whose owners were from Thanh Hoa. Yes, there is a relation between Thanh Hoa and the Nguyen Dynasty.

I feel more grateful to ancient communal houses and old houses, including the French-styled villa in Thanh Hoa which had protected my family in years of bombs and bullets. (My mother's medical clinics were often located in those places).

I miss the very beautiful communal house of Ngoc Am Village in Quang Xuong, the one of Da Loc Village filled with singing and laughing in the harvest time in Thieu Giang and Thieu Hoa, and still another of Mat Son Village along the canal by the Le Dynasty, and the cave in the mountain near the town where we hid ourselves from bombs. I miss the old houses filled with the fragrance of ripe fruits which brought me up and treasured my childhood.

The modest beauty of the ancient village of Dong Son. Photo: TL

I have more than once visited the ancient village of Phuoc Tich in Phong Dien in my hometown, Thua Thien Hue. I was so moved to come to the ancient village of Duong Lam in Son Tay. I feel insufficient if I do not come back to visit the ancient village of Dong Son, the old homeland in people’s mind.

Coming back to Thanh Hoa this time, after a trip in Hai Phong with my friends at Lam Son School during 1973-1976, I invited a few close friends to return to the village with lots of desires and feelings which we had cherished forever in our heart.

Here was the ancient village of Dong Son. That early morning, I walked like drifting in the summer sun. Just as it is in my memory, the village was located in a very beautiful place. Leaning against Canh Tien Mountain, it was in a green valley. The rocky mountains were so imposing, as wild and primitive as the beginning of Dong Son civilization. 

It seemed that when you closed your eyes, you would see fairies, Miss Tam, Thach Sanh and Ly Thong who came out from inside the blue mountains which had been fading with time. There were probably many relics of the Stone Age in there and the echo of bronze drums floating on the Ma River.

Our first destination on the main road in the middle of the village was NHAN Lane paved with blue stone. (“Nhan” means human.) It was still there almost intact with time and bombing. Was it the message from predecessors to people now that we should keep the word “human” for our life forever.

Passing some little houses, now and then, I saw old brick walls and mossy stone fences before arriving at TRI lane, to the house No. 10 of my friend Luong The Tap. It was the only ancient house left in the village. It was the house of a general in the old days with the golden board with Chinese characters on it granted by the king.

It was a pity that my friend Tap and his wife were not at home. (We hadn’t told him about our visit before just to give him a nice surprise.) 

But the house said it all. My friend’s mother must be over 90 years old, dressed in the old style. Despite that, she was so eager and brisk. Watching her was like touching the spirit of the village in Northern Central Vietnam. 

With my friends, I took a close look at that over-two-hundred-year-old house. It was designed in the old style with skillful carvings, containing many dreams and aspirations of farmers for their fields, for a good life filled with gratitude for the predecessors of the old village.

The objects on display in his house and in the garden show my friend's nostalgia for the countryside. I saw his love for his parents and his people in his mind and the soul of Dong Son people.

Here were the rice mortar, the grinder, the fan, the sickle, the basket, etc. It was as if the life of Vietnamese people in the old days came back, as closely as our breaths. I was so overwhelmed with mixed feelings.

My friend Nguyen Ve (now an elderly villager and the main character in a video clip about the ancient village of Dong Son on VTV) and I walked around the ancient village before returning to his house. In the shade of trees in his garden, we saw birds up the longan trees. He said he didn't pick longans because he wanted birds to stay. Their twittering was very interesting. If only I could hear the birds and the fairy tales about the village which was thousands of years old. 

Goodbye the village with many cultural sediments. Goodbye Thanh Hoa. Goodbye my cherished friends. I came back to Hue with lots of emotion.

Story: TRIEN THAO

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