Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Hoi An, Vietnam Trip #1

February 7, 2008 at 11:42 pm | Posted in itchy backside | Leave a comment
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Hoi An is an idyllic old town set on the coast of the South China Sea in Central Vietnam. It used to be an important international trading port in the 17-19th century and has since 1999, been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The many old buildings against an ancient street backdrop is a great place to just relax, sip vietnamese kopi, take pictures or shop for some handicrafts. Hoi An is also well known for its abundance of tailor shops where you can have outfits made to order for a fraction of the price you would pay back home.

We had a 2D1N stay at Hoi An during our last trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The first day there dunnu why si bay suay leh, got full blown high fever! So didn’t really get to enjoy it too much, plus the weather was also so hot! So when the fever sort of subsided a bit the next day, which was also the day we needed to check out and catch the domestic flight back to Ho Chi Minh, there’s really this urgency to capture whatever we could on camera.

While we were happily snapping the charming buildings and street scenes, an old man approached us. To our surprise, he spoke to us in Mandarin!

old man
“Are you from China? I am from China…My name is Liang Yu Tai,
75 years old this year.”

He came to Vietnam as a small kid and picked up Putong Hua (Mandarin) from his parents. He loves China and Chinese culture and works as a calligrapher in one of the clan association in Hoi Ann and showed us his chinese writings in pen. Then he showed us a pen with chinese etchings on it given to him by a Chinese tourist, and asked if we had anything from China with us. Dun have leh, we also not from China….Then he invited us to his house, which was five minutes’ walk just across the bridge, and said he had many visitors to his house to look at his calligraphy. “Dun worry! I am educated people! Won’t cheat you one lah!” Out of courtesy, and how many times during travelling do you get the chance to be invited to a local’s house to see their way of living, Tisu Boy agreed readily. Ok lor, since we had a bit of time before checking out.

follow home
“5 minutes’ walk across the Hoi An Bridge! I got a daughter, my wife
passed away 4 years ago…last year a French man came visit…”

What we saw was not what we expected…We had thought an educated person here would be much better off…

The exterior of the house. My finger got poked by the umbrella (very hot leh!)
and started bleeding just before reaching so didn’t take a better shot of it…:(

There was really not much in the house. The wall and floor were just cemented and his calligraphy was the only ‘decoration’ in the house…

Ooo…why some of the words below cramp cramp one….??

He seemed so happy to have visitors, and was so busy clearing his table, digging out his portfolio and the dictionary he used to learn chinese for us to see. The daughter was also very hospitable, offering us tea and switched on the fan.

show me money
Har??? Where got people write this one har??? Not ‘Gong Xi Fatt Cai’??? 
The ‘Shou’ looked ok though…

The Ah Peh said he was now into this Wang Yun Wu Dictionary…
Dunnu who is this Wang Yun Wu guy leh…so did a search and found
that he’s the inventor of the Four Corner Method. So Chim!

The altar of the late wife looked similar to that of Chinese, with photograph,
offerings, flowers and joss sticks. Cannot take closer photo lah! So rude!

Ah Peh chit chatting with Tisu Boy while I flipped through his dictionary.
The daughter showed us some photos of the Ah Peh. Ah Peh said
Daughter was not interested to learn Chinese. Doesn’t that sound like
our young school kids back home?

He offered to write us something, and started discussing what to write, what date to write, whether in Lunar calendar date or normal date, whether to put name or not….so the whole process from preparation to completion of four chinese characters took at least 30 minutes or so…

For those itchy fingers interested, here’s a step-by-step dummies guide on how to write calligraphy….

First, you have to wipe your face because…

hot’s very hot! :p

Step two, unroll a piece of red paper. Go find some clothes pegs and then go find again an old calendar paper as marker for positioning.

Peg the calendar marker securely on the red paper, make sure the
fan is switched off by now.

Next, dunnu which step liao, go find the brush and dun forget the ink..if not… go find again…

China brush
And handle it with utmost care and respect…

We are almost ready to start…but wait, go find some clean cloth…

..and clean away the dust…

wipe wipe
Make sure you clean thoroughly…

While away to find the cloth, Daughter switched on the fan again for the guests cos it’s hot..

So gotta switch off the fan again, and make sure the marker and paper are
pegged together tightly…Go find the dictionary as a paper weight…

Finally, settled down on the chair and start to write….oh, not yet…

Make sure the ink is mixed evenly. Mix mix mix mix…stir stir stir stir….
er, Ah Peh…my aeroplane gonna fly liao…tick tock tick tock….

start liao
Finally start to write liao! Yeah! So happy! :p

Must be serious and concentrate…er…Ah Peh…you din follow
the marker leh…how come the words like getting smaller har???

Be sure to find some space for the last character….

And allow viewing space for friends and family

Done! Er, can’t find space for name or date liao…

Finally finished the masterpiece and here came the catch. He started to say the French guy who came over to visit last year liked his calligraphy so much that he gave him US$50 for his effort. Some other tourists who visited also gave a few thousand Vietnamese Dong. He said he was already 75 years old, daughter still not married, wife had passed away, his family was so poor and pitiful…Asked us if we could support him cos the next time we visit Hoi An he might not be around anymore…:O

Er, this put us in a spot. Normally when travelling, we would avoid giving money to locals as that would encourage them to beg. But in this case, a bit awkward leh, cos firstly he’s not exactly begging for money. In a way he also tried to earn it with his skill, but it would be nice to ask in advance if we mind paying or not… Though we were not very impressed by his calligraphy, but the fact that he kept his love and passion for Chinese art even though he’s not living in an environment that speaks or uses much of the language; and most importantly, we as Chinese ourselves, can’t even hold a brush properly to write a decent character! So what right do we have to belittle his effort? In fact, we should respect him for upholding his Chinese roots so tightly. But hor, as cheapo backpackers, we don’t normally carry a lot of spare cash with us. So in the end I told him that we would like to help and give more, but given limited means, we could only give him US$10 in return for his hospitality. He seemed happy about it and thanked us continuously. We left shortly after this as we still had to do some last minute packing and also wanted to take a few last shots before leaving Hoi An.

Tisu Boy and Tisu Girl wish everybody a happy Chinese New Year!

P.S. I hope Hoi An has recovered from the big flood last year. We wish Ah Peh good health!


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