‘Tireless wayfarer’ Dr Chuong

Photo: Van Bay and Ba Han

Vietnam Heritage, July-August 2011 -- Doctor-artist Duong Cam Chuong is 101. At the age of eight or nine, when learning Chinese from his grandfather, he was chosen, noticed for his facility to write characters, which his classmates would trace. At ten, he drew a French soldier in his World War I uniform, and many people thought he had a gift for painting.
Being good at mathematics and drawing, he planned to study architecture. Unfortunately, he had to go to medical school because there was no university architecture course then.
Because of his interest in painting, though, he audited classes at the Indochina Advanced School of Fine Arts (École supérieure des beaux arts de l'Indochine) and because of his love for writing he worked as a journalist. He graduated in 1938 and worked as a surgeon at Lalung Monnaire Hospital, in Saigon, (Cho Ray Hospital now). He remembers performing a dozen operations a day during World War II.
He retired in 1968, settled in France, obtained a Master of Public Health in the United State and took painting lessons. He said, ‘It’s good to take lessons when you are old. That is the time you know what you should learn and why you learn.’
Though he is a member of the Society of French Artists (Société des Artistes Français),  has had over 20 exhibitions in Paris and won many awards, he has always said he is ‘a doctor and an amateur painter.’
He travelled in Asia, Europe, America and Africa painting landscapes and people. He says the most beautiful place is his home country. 
A street corner, thatched roof, wall, village pond, pine forest or beach may appear in the paintings.
Trinh Cong Son, the famous songwriter, wrote of Dr Chuong, ‘With a mood of excited buoyancy of an ageless man, he is really a tireless wayfarer.’ 

  -Do Hong Ngoc
The article first appeared in Vietnamese on www.dohongngoc.com

‘Love in its broad sense’

By Khanh Linh

On Oct. 23, 2010, when Doctor Chuong turned 100, he looked as if he might have been in his eighties, and was witty and life-loving. He was asked his secret of longevity and about his two careers.
‘You should do very regularly what you think is good for you. For example, if you think doing exercise from 15 to 20 minutes a day is good, you should do it again and again. If you do so and experience no more changes, it is good. If you feel some changes, this means that you are getting better or weaker. In the past 60 or 70 years, I have done exercise gently but regularly.
‘You have to train your mind also. You should pay full attention to not only what you do but also what you need not or must not do if it may cause harm for your health. I think sleep is a kind of food for your mind because the more you sleep the better your health is. I usually sleep from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and wake up only once. Paying full attention to your mind helps you sleep well. People can’t sleep well because they think too much. When I go to bed, I simply sleep, and only focus on one thing that you may neglect in your waking hours, the breath. To sleep well you need only breathe well, and think of nothing else.
‘I was lucky enough to retire early, at the age of 60 . . . I think retirement is a very important issue. Retirees usually have a lot of free time and it is harmful to have nothing to do then. Many feel sad and lonely. Those who lie on their backs, gazing at the ceiling will die soon. They should find something useful to do.
‘In my opinion, our life should have three things: good health, something to do, and love − the love in its broad sense, that is, we should have a psychological and spiritual aspect in our life . . .’
‘I think human life has two parts: one with culture and one with nature. Living with culture means accepting regulatory rules, or conventions . . . Falling in love is natural, whereas husband and wife should live according to rules and convention, such as marriage, or divorce. I live with nature when making paintings. I do what I like without causing harm to anybody, and I do not do it for a living. By living with both parts, I feel everything I do is useful and interesting . . .
‘We are affected by a lot of things: education in our family and society, or the political situation, among other things. It is the life with culture, we must follow it. I think the most wonderful thing in life is to be allowed to choose your own way. The happiest person is the one “going alone on his/her chosen way”. To me, it is absoluteness.
‘I have loved painting since my childhood . . . I started painting at five. People then didn’t think making paintings could help a young person live well, so I should pursue a general education. I was forced to do so, influenced by education given by my parents. But the more I learned [about medicine], the more I felt interested. And I liked it because it was so useful. When a person breaks his arm, I can mend it and find my job effective. This profession is intellectual, and very flexible too.
‘. . . I love art and I try to perform an operation in an artful way.’
‘I lived in France for 40 years and was influenced by French painting. My paintings follow impressionism. Not many artists of this school in Vietnam now. Most of them make symbolist paintings. Their paintings tend to make viewers feel confused. To me, it’s difficult to make such paintings. I must see what I am drawing.’
‘ . . . I never draw according to imagination although what I draw may be different from what I see. My painting is usually small and I can take it with me in my suitcase. I can make a painting quickly, and never take more than three hours. I draw whenever I feel some aspiration and seldom make any changes to the painting after bringing it home. Sometimes it rains after I have just worked for fifteen or twenty minutes and I have to stop and leave the painting unfinished without adding anything to it at home, because my feelings at that time are real, while at home, they are not.’
‘I usually paint landscape but there are always human beings in my paintings. I may paint a forest and there may be a car left there. I do not fly too high and I always walk on the earth.’
‘I felt very happy because when I left for France I didn’t know how to paint. When I came back for the first time I found landscape in Vietnam very beautiful. I visited Vietnam for only two months a year but I went from north to south and make a lot of paintings. Now I have lived in Vietnam for three or four years and sometimes pay a visit to France. I’m going to live in Vietnam for good.
‘My shoulders have ached for two years and I have been unable to paint. They are aging. I used to read everyday, write letters or poems . . . I write down my thoughts and write letters to my relatives.
‘. . . Friends of my generations have all gone, and now I keep in contact with children and grandchildren of my friends, and I know each generation has its own way of life. I also know that all generations are important in this universe and I must find sympathy. I usually think the Vietnamese culture is based on family, and the family comprises many generations. Old men are helpful because they help take care of grandchildren and we must love them. My family is very large. My children and grandchildren live everywhere. At my age, I take other responsibility. I stop supporting my children and grandchildren. And we old men look at them with a lot of meditation.’
‘I think I have walked along a path that has been polluted very much. Everything I say, write or do has been done hastily. What I considered as right then may be wrong now. This is the time for me to think about past events, and clear the path I have polluted so much.’
‘Thinking about the past is a very important thing to do, to examine myself. It’s about time I repented. It is also deliverance.’

Do Hong Ngoc
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