The gift of the bride

(No.3, Vol.6,Apr-May 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Photo: Hue Phong

A unique wooden structure built centuries ago now 
serves as a tourist attraction

Photo: Thi Tho

In 1776, Thanh Toan Village, on the outskirts of Hue, got a uniquely structured covered bridge and more than 200 years later, the bridge is a perfect hideaway for those who love green rural ambience.
Years before the construction of the wooden bridge, the entrance to the village was blocked by a small river. Commuters had used boats to cross the river for centuries. Tran Thi Dao, a native who got married to a feudal mandarin, donated the bridge, which has a tile-roofed cover, after a visit to her home village revealed the inconvenience of boating across the river.
Since then, the bridge has not only worked well for commuting, but has also given the village a unique charm mirroring the clean water flow. “The villagers adore her for her generousness and we have an altar for her right in the middle of the bridge,” says Nguyen Thi Diu, an elderly person living nearby.
For centuries, the bridge has been appraised as one of the most complicated structures of wooden spans in the country and it is said to be as beautiful as its sister, the Japanese-styled bridge in Hoi An old town. Its beauty has been featured in poems, painting and photographs for many generations.
During feudal times, when technology was less developed, the bridge stood as a big technical achievement; then, in mo-dern times, it represented dedicated wood carving patterns that today’s artisans could not duplicate.
Sitting quietly 5km east of Hue City’s centre, today Thanh Toan Bridge draws visitors from the city with its own particular charms. During hot summer days, Thanh Toan Bridge is predominantly used to provide shade for tired and hot villagers. The benches that line either side offer a perfect opportunity for napping, particularly for farmers after a hard day’s 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.

Nature and inspiration
It is hard to find a village that is not far from an urban centre like Hue City and at the same time, retains many of its rural features like green fields and waterways.
Locals in the village still live their simple lifestyle. Every day, they wander around nearby canals and paddy fields, catching frogs and snakes, which are brought into the village’s market in the early morning to sell. At the market, locals also bring their rice, vegetables, poultry and fish harvested locally to sell and, in return, they buy other necessities from traders coming from other regions.
Thanks to these features, the village becomes a site for a community activity that is called ‘rural market in festive days.’ It is held in every biennial Hue Festival, which will start April 30th. The festive days offer visitors joyful traditional games of bai choi, tug of war, and ‘hitting the pots with blindfolding eyes.’
During Tet holiday, the village is the only place around Hue that holds the game of bai choi, which is a combination of folklore singing and lottery picks organized for players sitting on high bamboo chairs. This helps to make the village a very interesting destination for Hue residents and visitors alike.
The village has colourful characters, such as a poet known as O Kinh, who is a lady who sells drinks and coffee, but who has become locally famous for her poems about the beauty of the bridge and her love for the village. Kinh can compose poems right in her everyday speaking and her introduction of the bridge and the village traditions has become interesting to visitors, especially those who communicate in Vietnamese.
“I don’t know where the ability [of poem making] comes from. Perhaps I gained it simply from the love for my home village conveyed in folksongs that my mom sang during my childhood,” she says.
Many villagers have the ability to operate the manual farming tools, but very few of them can sing folksongs as good as Kinh. Visitors can make a short visit before they reach the legendary bridge or right after leaving, buy Kinh a drink and enjoy unique truly sweet Hue folk songs.

Thanh Toan Museum
Thanh Thuy Chanh Village, Thuy Thanh Commune, Huong Thuy District,
Thua Thien Hue Province
( 5km from Trang Tien Bridge)
Open daily from 7am - 5pm

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