Life Life

23/06/2018 - 08:29

Phan Dang Luu street through time

Established in the late 19th century and bearing various names such as Cua Dong, Gia Long, Phan Boi Chau, this 700-metre-long street has been officially renamed Phan Dang Luu since 1977. An overview on nearly two centuries of existence of the street will reveal many interesting slices of life.

Thuan Hoa Bookstore, former secret office of the Central Vietnam Branch of the Party

Bits and pieces of the past

Located at the junction of the business corridors created by the two bridges, Dong Ba and Gia Hoi, this street owned a lot of advantages as to business transaction.

Here there still remain traces of shops selling hand-made leatherwares, pottery, furniture, and especially traditional herbal medicine stores owned by ethnic Chinese families.

In parallel with Phan Dang Luu Str. is Huynh Thuc Khang St., formerly known as Hang Be St., from which trade routes by boat once could reach all the way down to Bao Vinh near to the sea. These are some bits and pieces  of description regarding economy, but the image of the past of this street could not but bear historical and cultural imprints of the place.

Located  in Phan Dang Luu Park, at the corner between this street and Mai Thuc Loan Str., was the French-Vietnamese Dong Ba Primary School. Established in 1905, the school was the first of the type in Hue to teach in the three languages: Vietnamese, French and Chinese.

In 1906, when coming to Hue for the second time, Nguyen Sinh Cung (birth name of President Ho Chi Minh) attended this school from 1906 -1908. In 2008, this location was recognized by Thua Thien-Hue People's Committee as a provincial monument.

While looking for documents regarding Phan Dang Luu St., we found out that Ba Tuan Theater is best remembered. It was built by Dang Ngoc Oanh's wife in 1923, also known as Dong Xuan Pavilion (Pavilion for enjoying spring together.)

In addition, Ba Tuan Theatre was also the place where “bói tuồng” [traditional drama for fortune telling] was played on Tet holidays. Having existed for some decades, the theatre is no more now, but its image is still alive in the minds of old people in Hue who once enjoyed folk drama.

According to Buu Y, a researcher specializing in Hue, this theatre was for hat boi, cai luong (theatrical dramas) and ca Hue (Hue singing). San Hau, Giang Dong Pho Hoi, Giang Ta Cau Hon, etc. were favorite theatrical pieces at that time.

Phan Dang Luu Str. , forever a crowded street alive with business.

Modern rhythms

I first set foot on this street in 2008, while wandering around town on a bike. Of course compared to its past, Phan Dang Luu St. is presently very different from its old looks,  with quite a new face and new vitality.

Many people say Phan Dang Luu St. now looks like Hong Kong in miniature since it is so modern and full of business. Some subtle attention will enable us to see that most of the sign boards here are designed to be hung vertically, hemmed in by multi-storied buildings on both sides, and with the outstanding inscription coloured in red.

Some shops still hang signs in Chinese due to their Chinese origin, and the fact that they deal in Chinese herbal medicine. Take a view of the street from Tran Hung Dao St., you will see Phan Dang Luu St. is very different from other streets in Hue, not only in business but also in its urban atmosphere.

The most prominent stores in this street are those that sell household electrical appliances. Most of them are heritages passed down through the family’s tradition; some others are owned by tenants coming from other areas.

"This store is passed down to me from my father. I am of the third generation," said Mr. Luong Dat, owner of a household appliance store. "We sell mostly new appliances but also second-hand items for low-income workers."

Besides household appliance stores, there are shops selling objects for worship and  sewing machines. The specialization in goods in this street shows the consistent habit typical of inhabitants in the Inner Part in the past (from Gianh River to the South). This proves the imperial capital owned its capability in economic and cultural convergence and exchanges, better than that of any other places.

Phan Dang Luu flower garden, the old site of the Dong Ba Primary School.

It is impossible to talk about the present-time Phan Dang Luu St. without mentioning Suu Cafe. The cafe opens as early as from 4:30a.m. and is always filled with its customers. Right from the moment of daybreak, almost all the tables are occupied. Customers, lottery ticket sellers.. all together share the same space under the large canopy of a big tree.

A regular customer who lives as far as Vy Da never fails to pedal his bicycle here for his coffee. "I drop by this cafe not merely for coffees but because I miss the place. There are so many cafes in the city, but I like this best: modest and peaceful like home."

Few city dwellers make breakfast at home. They get up early, doing morning exercises, drinking coffees, then buying breakfasts to bring home or to eat on the site. Here and there you may notice an old man sitting in contemplation on the threshold, looking at the traffic. In an alley, some people are carrying their children to school on their motorbikes, trying to avoid clashing with the others, before going to work. Sounds of motorcycle horns can be heard from morning till night.

At night, well-lit signs and bright light from household appliance stores make the street a typical urban scene. After all, it is now the 21st century; and one can be sure everything keeps changing!

Just like any other street, Phan Dang Luu Str. wears a crossover shirt of old and new things, traditional and modern lives. The old historical fragments, nostalgic shadow of aged people, the old-looking alleys..all are combined with the modern urban life. It is the basis for the continuity of culture. The modern street seems not itself any longer but is still very Hueish.

Story: Nguyen Huong, Photos: Linh Dan