by Phuoc Buu
THUA THIEN-HUE (VNS)— Sat quietly in the rural outskirts of Hue, Thanh Toan tile-roofed bridge draws visitors from the city with its own particular charms, offering something different from its sister Japanese-style bridge in Hoi An.
Thanh Toan is located in Thanh Thuy Chanh Village, 10km east of Hue’s centre. It is surrounded by an abundance of green fields and waterways and serves as an out-of-the-way tourist spot for visitors seeking an insight into rural traditions.
Built in the 18th century, the bridge is no longer a crossing place for traffic on the two sides of the canal that cuts through the village. A recently built concrete bridge nearby connects the banks and helps to keep the older bridge relatively quiet.
These days, Thanh Toan is predominantly used to provide shade for tired and hot villagers during the warm summer days. The seating that lines either side offers a perfect opportunity for napping, particularly for farmers after a hard days work. It also acts as the heart of the village; a place for ladies from the market to sell their goods, older residents to reminisce about the past and courting couples to sit and watch a romantic sunset.
The bridge is often used for community activities, more so than its Hoi An counterpart, as it is fairly wide and its central altar does not take up much space.
Reliving the past
Across the bridge, visitors can call in at a nearby museum which boasts an impressive array of farming and fishing tools which are surprisingly interesting for both foreigners and Vietnamese people born in urban areas.
Nguyen Thi Hau, a 76-year old local lady, bounds from tool to tool, offering passionate demonstrations of how they were once operated, singing as she does so. One minute she is furiously grinding rice with a stone, the next she is pedalling at top speed to show off a traditional water retrieval system.
“Operating the stuff is very easy as I have done it for much of my lifetime,” she says. “Now I perform the task again every day for visitors, who really love to see it. I don’t feel tired because I am encouraged by their smiles.”
The farming tool museum was set up in 2007 and every three years the village votes for a farmer to be the performer at the museum. Hau is the latest.
Although she can’t complete full English sentences to communicate with foreigners, her winning sense of pride and energy is at the centre of a wonderful type of community tourism.
The soul of the bridge
Few visitors escape the village without first getting their fortune told by Tran Thi Dieu, an enigmatic mainstay of the bridge. Many people have called Dieu ‘the soul of Thanh Toan’, where she has spent the last 16 years working as a fortune teller. The 72 year-old is still going strong, offering predictions to all who pass her way. She has even learnt to talk to foreigners in English, using the bits of language she can remember from her first marriage with an American soldier in Hue in 1967.
“Speaking a little English has been helpful for my career. It also lets me have foreign friends, although unfortunately my powers don’t allow me to predict when they will return to my village from their homes abroad!”
Among the other colourful characters in the community is the poet known as Kinh. A normal lady who sells drinks and coffee, Kinh has become locally famous for her poems about the beauty of the bridge and her love for her village.
A day-long visit reveals that in reality, and despite its fame, Thanh Toan is not all there is to Thanh Thuy Chanh. Any trip to the village should take in the unique colours, contours and characters in this remarkable rural getaway. — VNS