A pilgrimage to Nhi Khe (1)
The village of Nhi Khe, about 20 kilometres south of Ha Noi, has a twofold interest for students of Vietnamese culture. It is the native place of Nguyên Trãi, who was one of the prominent figures of Vietnamese history and literature; it is also the cradle of a traditional handicraft using the turning lathe.
Some distance from Nhi Khe I could not help making a stop at Quan Ganh, a small locality famous for the banh day (small round cake made of glutinous rice) made and sold there and praised in old folk verse:
" Whether a woman is repudiated by her husband, or a man made light of by his own wife,
Let such unhappy couples come to Quan Ganh to enjoy its banh day together.
Let those who have tested the urge others to do the same,
Aged people will be rejuvenated by the experience, young women crowds of suitors."
Nhi Khe features a gate with these ideograms: "Nhu kien dai tan” (Welcome to the distinguished guests), wide paved lanes, a park with the statue of the great man, and a temple dedicated to him housing two precious objects: an ancient portrait of Nguyen Trai and a magnificent age old blind made of fine strips of bamboo whose joints compose a landscape design in relief.
It was here and in several world capitals that in 1980, UNESCO celebrated the 6th centenary anniversary of that eminent humanist to implement a decision of the organisation. General Director A.M.M’ Bow explained: “Our epoch is the first in history to regard the totality of the world’s spiritual and material, literary and artistic supports as an indivisble heritage which belongs to the whole of humanity. Poets of a country are in many cases its messengers. They deserve even more that title when, centuries after their deaths, their messages are evoked in the minds of subsequent generations. This was the role given to the work of Nguyễn Trãi in the history of Việt Nam. There his voice remains pre-eminently that of a great patriot tormented in his own country.” The French writer Yveline Feray devoted an 800 page novel to the fascinating life of that peerless man who has been depicted in the following poem:
“On takes and rivers I have wandered so many decades
Again the night once more I moor my sampan.
Numberless the glancing mirrors of the waves, still the moonlight on the shore,
Framed in the tangled shadows of the trees, from the harbour rises a trail of smoke,
No one can bring back what is past, too often are chances lost,
Our country still waits to be avenged, but now old age, which does not wait, is here.
Lifelong I have sought always to foresee the people’s needs
Through the long night I have held close this care, a cold covering.”
Nguyen Trai (1380-1442) rendered invaluable services to the country as a strategist (he was the soul of a victorious ten-year-long war of resistance against Chinese Ming aggressors), political figure (minister of the Interior), diplomat, writer (he wrote the famous Proclamation of the Victory over the Wu), poet (he was the pioneer of poetry in the national language), and scholar (he was the author of a treatise of Geography). Victim of a court intrigue on account of his uprightness, he was killed together with almost all members of his family.
His native village, Nhi Khe, has become a national centre of pilgrimage. It is located in Thường Tin district (Ha Tay province) which abounds in historical memories. Nguyen Du (18th century) was its mandarin administrator for two years. It was birthplace of the scholar Luong Van Can (1854-1927) who made a name for himself in the movement of cultural resistance to the French colonial administration.
The provincial administration of Ha Tay should be praised for its decision to undertake the task of making Nhi Khe a typical traditional village of the Việt ethnic majority in the Red River delta.
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