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Village in a rocky place



What appears to be a laundry cum washroom around a well at Lộc Yên

Vietnam Heritage, September-October 2011 -- In Loc Yen Village, Tien Canh Commune, Tien Phuoc District, in the central province of Quang Nam, 100-plus-year-old houses rest against rocky mountains among terrace gardens and shady, stone paths.
The villagers are all farmers. Their mountain houses, paths, gardens, farms, hills and mountains are all in harmony.
The path cutting through the village is relatively even but other paths are full of bends and they go up and down like part of an old fort.
Artist Nguyen Thuong Hy, formerly manager of Quang Nam Province’s Relics and Attractions Management Centre, said, ‘During an expedition in Loc Yen with us in late 2010. Professor Hoang Dao Kinh [a famous conservation architect in Vietnam, see ‘Restoration as a danger to heritage’, page 6] said the old village of Loc Yen was an artistically excellent configuration . . . the arrangements of generations of the villagers were in harmony with natural ones.’
Loc Yen is no older than neighbouring villages but what makes it stand out is that it still has nine old houses.
 The Loc Yen Village chief, Mr Dang Sanh, said that since the American war ended, in 1975, nobody had sold a house and in times of financial difficulty they had tried to keep their houses in good condition.
Mr Nguyen Dinh Huynh, 85, said the old houses in Loc Yen were mainly of jackfruit wood. Loc Yen Village was more than 200 years old and its oldest houses almost 150 years old. Jackfruit trees were grown in large numbers in gardens.
The house of Mr Nguyen Dinh Suu and his brother is perhaps the village’s oldest. It is near the foot of a mountain and famous for its giant columns with elaborate carvings. It is big, of strong wood and the carvings are beautiful, making it appealing to visitors. Mr Tran Anh Hao, owner of an old house in the village, said the Suus’ house was like a museum storing great skills of the carpenters.
Mr Suu said his father had had difficulty refusing to sell his house to Ngo Dinh Diem [a minister in Emperor Bao Dai’s government and later president of South Vietnam] in 1939 and the then chief of Quang Tin Province, Mr Than Ninh, had come to his father’s house in 1960 to ask to buy it for the province for a temple, offering a million dongs or a new-styled house in the country or in the town. His father had said the house had been handed down in the family and so selling would be against moral principles.
Mr Nguyen Dinh Man’s house is L-shaped and 200 square metres, large enough for cows and buffaloes to enter to help thresh rice by trampling. This kind of house is almost extinct in central Vietnam.
To prevent fires, several old houses in Loc Yen have separate kitchens and earth ceilings under the thatched roofs. Over time, the villagers have stopped using earth ceilings, not replacing them when they replace thatch with tiles. Now only Mr Tran Cong Thiem’s house has an earth ceiling.
To make a ceiling, Mr Thiem’s grandfather used a layer of board and put a layer of clay on it. The walls were made of wattle and daub, 15 cm thick to increase fire-resistance.
There are also beautiful stone paths in Loc Yen. Mr Suu said the village was surrounded by rocky land and residents of the past had had to break rock and remove it in order to farm. The rock had been used for paths and retaining walls.
Plants of different kinds are grown along the paths and mosses and ferns grow on the stones in the shade of big trees.
Loc Yen villagers preserve almost all the rocky paths made when the village was formed. To avoid causing damage to the paths, Ms Tuyen and her younger brother built a garage away from their houses, and Mr Nguyen Dinh Hoan keeps his vehicle at a relative’s house.

By Huynh Van My
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