Hanoians from all walks of life seem to have forgotten a long-standing tradition of elegance and courtesy, and authorities as well as intellectuals feel it is high time for a restoration project, reports Hong Thuy.
If you ever wanted to know how Hanoians behaved in the olden days, there is a Vietnamese folk verse that depicts and glorifies the typical nature of the people.
“Chang thom cung the hoa nhai, dau khong thanh lich cung nguoi Trang An” or “nothing can equal the fragrance of jasmine, no one can surpass the elegance and courtesy of Trang An people”.
Taken together, this verse, verbally passed down from one generation to the next, highlights the elegance and courtesy of Trang An people.
Though there are numerous ways to explain why Hanoians sometimes call themselves Trang An people in a flowery way, this meaningful verse has become the guideline for drafting a project to restore the elegance and courteous nature of Hanoians.
The project has been initiated by the Ha Noi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in collaboration with the Viet Nam National University – Ha Noi’s International Studies faculty.
Through building and applying codes of practice in public offices, schools, hospitals, enterprises, residential communities and public places, the compiler is hoping to change the inappropriate behaviour of individuals and groups in Ha Noi.
“The project aims to preserve and develop the elegance and courtesy of Hanoians. It targets not only individuals and organisations in Ha Noi, but also requires to be standardised and look into every activity of people and organisations here, contributing to propagate cultural behaviour worthy of Ha Noi’s thousand- year civilisation,” said project compiler Mai Anh at the Ha Noi’s International Studies faculty.
Going further, the head of the Ha Noi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Cultured Lifestyle and Family section, Nguyen Thi Minh Hanh, said the project is being initiated to correct the inappropriateness in the cultural behaviour of people and organisations living and working in Ha Noi.
Once completed, the codes of practice will be formalised into concise, easy to understand and applicable rules when administrative agencies, schools, hospitals, firms, residential communities and public places build their own rules of behaviour.
“The polite behaviour of Hanoians, while they communicate with each other, is disappearing. Replacing it are complaints about authoritarian behaviour of many officials in administrative agencies, the willingness of many health care workers to accept bribes from patients for better services, and behaviour of students. Then there are issues related to problematic teacher-student relationships, and an increasing number of road rage incidents,” Hanh said.
Degrading behaviour in the workplace, schools, and public places has concerned the Ha Noi Party Committee, urging it to work out a plan to restore the elegance and courteous behaviour of Hanoians.
In this regard, the committee has asked the Ha Noi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, to draw up codes for behaviour in public places that restore the city’s former stellar reputation.
“Building the codes of practice for Hanoians has never been a more pressing and necessary requirement,” said department Deputy Director Nguyen Khac Loi.
Loi’s remark is based on a survey conducted last year on 6,300 people living in Ha Noi. The survey showed that both, state employees working in administrative agencies and ordinary people, who came to the offices to have their issues settled, all displayed inappropriate behaviour.
Specifically, as many as 94.7 per cent of people when asked, said officials in public agencies displayed inappropriate behaviour when working with people.
Inappropriate behaviour by officials included indulging in corruption and other forms of misconduct as a way to avoid being disturbed or face action, and taking off during working hours.
They were also found to be bootlicking their bosses and bullying inferior employees in the workplace, apart from being self-seeking and exaggerating their achievements instead of assessing if the achievements were real and/or met certain requirements.
Besides the inappropriate behaviour of public employees, as many as 95.8 per cent of respondents said ordinary people also behaved badly while dealing with officials.
Assessing the inappropriate behaviour of people in public places, the survey found that people violated public rules (59 per cent of respondents), encroached upon public space (56 per cent) and made crude on public works (53 per cent). They disturbed the peace in public places (51 per cent), became drunk and got into fights and caused a public nuisance (50 per cent). They also elbowed others out when standing in a queue (50 per cent) and refused to give up their seats to senior citizens, children and people with disabilities (42 per cent).
Approximately 50 per cent of those questioned said students were involved in fighting, smoking and drinking alcohol on the school premises, as well as not caring to protect school property and the environment.
Another 60 per cent of respondents said students’ uniforms were inappropriate for a school environment. Students were also caught cheating in examinations, swearing, driving motorcycles on the road before they turned 18, and using mobile phones in classes.
“It is common to see students not complying with traffic laws. They use motorcycles on roads even though most of them do not have driving licences. Some students have even uploaded video clips on social networking sites about their fights and quarrels with their friends, negatively impacting other young minds and the society,” said a university teacher in Ha Noi.
The survey revealed that about 27 per cent of those questioned said many teachers ran extra classes to earn extra money, which rules and regulations did not allow.
Nearly 23 per cent of those surveyed said teachers intentionally gave students lower marks in order to receive bribes from parents.
Inappropriate behaviour was also reported in hospitals, business firms and residential areas.
The survey also suggested the kind conduct expected from people in an attempt to restore the elegance and courteous manner of Hanoians.
Back to its origins
In Viet Nam in the late 10th century, King Dinh Tien Hoang founded the Dinh dynasty following years of civil war and a violent secessionist movement against China’s Southern Han dynasty. He named the country Dai Co Viet (Great Viet) and its capital Hoa Lu-Trang An (968-980).
Hoa Lu-Trang An was the capital city of the Dinh dynasty (968-980) and the Tien Le (Early Le) dynasty (980-1009). The Ly dynasty (1010-1225) was also formed from this capital city.
Though that period was very short when compared to the nation’s thousand-year history, the ancient capital of Hoa Lu-Trang An marked a splendid historical period in the country.
Under the rule of Dinh and Tien Le dynasties, Hoa Lu was an economic, political and cultural centre of the nation. The entire populace was well-fed, stayed warm and lived in peace. They were attached to each other and willing to protect and help one another in times of distress. They were also polite and respectful towards one another. Since there was neither theft nor robbery in the ancient capital, people did not worry about intruders and never locked their doors.
Later, as the country underwent different stages of development, King Ly Thai To changed Hoa Lu to Trang An and moved the capital city to Thang Long (now Ha Noi), where it remains to this day. Since then, according to Dai Viet su ky toan thu (Complete Annals of Dai Viet), Hoa Lu or Trang An has been known as the formal capital.
Who are Trang An people?
Being polite and refined while dealing with others are key personalities of the Trang An people, and these inherent, traditional values in the capital city give Hanoians a reason to feel proud.
Bringing into play the traditional values, few Hanoians, especially those born in well-educated families are able to keep these alive.
Ninety-four-year-old Nguyen Thi Hien is one among them. It is her custom to chew betel so that Hien always makes betel quid small, tight and eye-catching. By doing so, each quid still looks nice and keeps its fragrance even after two or three days, she said.
In her leisure time, Hien often makes lotus and jasmine tea the traditional way, which has been handed down to her family from generations.
“Her lotus and jasmine teas are very unique in Hoan Kiem District. They have a pleasant fragrance. Mrs Hien has been an age-old lotus and jasmine tea producer in the district,” a neighbour Nguyen Thi Thanh said.
Hien’s husband was a trader selling office stationary and had a reputation as an honest trader in Ha Noi during French rule. Though there were ups and downs, the customs and traditions of the Trang An people still pervades her home.
“My mother-in-law wears neat and clean clothes wherever she is,” said her daughter-in-law Hoang Thi Chuyen.
“She told me that one becomes beautiful not because one is dressed in silks and satins, but because one is neat and clean. Clad in neat clothes is a way to show respect to yourself,” Chuyen said remembering her mother-in-law’s advice.
“My mother only likes modest colours like black and brown. In her dresser there are ancient long dresses that she often wears to wedding parties or death anniversaries of relatives,” Chuyen said proudly.
In addition to the way they dress, one can easily catch a trait of the ancient capital city residents through the daily meals of Hien’s family.
When lunch is served for Hien, there is a plate of boiled cabbage, a bowl of soup, a slide of fried egg, and a bowl of rice. Everything is small and neatly arranged on the dining table.
According to writer and journalist Nguyen Ngoc Tien, there are not many Hanoians like Hien at present.
“In the modern era, Hanoians are not interested in that way of life. They think these traits are complex so they have let them go gradually,” he said.
“Anyhow, these traits can be said to be a little complex, but they are particular traits of Hanoians. It is a part of their culture,” he added.
Changing a habit is quite difficult but not impossible. It, however, depends a lot on whether one is able to understand one’s behaviour, and wants to correct oneself.
As Mai Anh suggested, codes of practice are needed to compare and contrast expected and unexpected behaviour, so that people can base their responses on them and bring into play the appropriate conduct.
This is also the project’s aim, while relying on each individual’s awareness or cognition to adjust inappropriate habits after comparing them with the codes of conduct, though achieving that goal is not a piece of cake.
“It is impossible to achieve what the project wants as soon as the Ha Noi People’s Committee will consider and approve it in 2015. Positive results can only be achieved after ten years or more, but we need to start now,” said Hanh.