Traditional games held in Hanoi’s pedestrian streets

The newly opened pedestrian streets in Hanoi are attracting more citizens every weekend. From Friday nights until Sunday nights and on public holidays, vehicles are banned from entering a number of streets around Hoan Kiem Lake, which leaves a quiet atmosphere in which people can take a walk, and enjoy some interesting activities, including traditional games. VOV’s Thanh Ha reports.

(VOVworld) - Jump rope, tug of war, Mandarin Square capturing, bamboo jacks, stilt walking, etc. are familiar Vietnamese traditional games originating from villages, but quite hard to find in the streets nowadays. However, taking a walk in Hanoi’s pedestrian streets at the weekend, it’s easy to find many people enthusiastically engaged in games that remind them of the good old days of their childhood. Bich Ngoc, a citizen in Ba Dinh district told VOV about her feelings when she visited the calmer streets: “The walking streets were opened a while ago but it was not until today that I could take my children here. I started to walk from the Post Office to this traditional games area and I’m very interested. My friends also told me about this and today I’ve really enjoyed it. I played these games when I was very little and now I want my children to play them too in an open space like this to learn more about our traditional cultures.”
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People of all ages love playing Mandarin Square Capturing

Indeed, the children are very excited about the games that are actually older than they are. Anh Tu, a primary student eagerly explained the rules of Mandarin Square Capturing:“We draw a rectangle which is divided into ten squares with two semicircles at each end. Two players or two teams sit on two sides of the board. Each controls one side of the board. Each player places one big stone or ten small stones in the Mandarin Square as well as five small stones in each of the rice field squares. The game ends when all the pieces are captured. Whichever player has more pieces is the winner.”

In the other corner, Anh Tho, a fourth grader in Hanoi was obsessed with stilt walking and jump rope, even though she hadn’t seem to have mastered them yet: “I like jump ropes the best. The most difficult game is stilt walking. We use a pair of long poles with supports for the feet, on which a person may stand and so walk raised off the ground. It’s very hard to keep my balance, I still cannot get used to it yet”. Tho is a regular visitor of the folk games area. She expressed her excitement: “I really like playing traditional games, I usually ask my parents to take me here every weekend. I prefer traditional games to computer games.”

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Children eagerly engaged in jump rope

These folk games are held as a part of My Hanoi Club’s activities, which aim to preserve and broaden the cultural values of Vietnam. Le Viet Anh from the Managing Board of the club said: “We’ve been opening traditional space since the pedestrian streets were first established. We wanted to bring back the oldie ambiance of Hanoi that is hard to find nowadays. We would like the children now to have the same childhood as our grandparents’, parents’ and our childhood”. After a month, the club has received a great response from people. Viet Anh again: “People are very interested in this activity. Traditional games like these are very familiar to the adults so they are very happy to play them again; it feels like they can travel back to their childhood. The children are also very delighted when they are taught how to play these games by their parents and play with them. They even insist on staying to play the games all over again although it is very late at night. People from young to old are very supportive of these activities.”

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Stilt walking players

My Hanoi club consists of young members who are students from universities around Hanoi. They share a mutual interest in and love for traditional culture and want to preserve it. They find their own pleasure in holding these traditional games. Mai Anh, head of Media team, said:“Personally, I think this activity provides me with a playground to recall the games that were part of with my childhood. It also gives me knowledge not only about the games but also about culture, especially the culture and history of Hanoi”. Minh Anh also seems to be overjoyed to take part in these activities:“I’m very glad to be a member of My Hanoi club and participate in this traditional games playing program. After a busy week with school and work, I finally have a chance to put aside all my stress and relax my mind in playing and helping people play these games.”

The members’ high spirits and enthusiasm has spread to others, and attracts people of all ages and origins to join the games. Michele from France told VOV about his feelings the first time he saw the games: “I’ve played two games, the one with the little rocks and the one with the tennis ball and the sticks. Traditional games are very interesting. It’s so much different from what I know in Europe. It would be nice to learn a little bit more. I’m always interested in cultures and traditions so that’s always something I’m curious about when I travel. I think it’s very good that they are giving back the city to the pedestrians on the weekend. People are really enjoying it; it’s full at night and during the day. Everybody’s happy, getting together and playing and having fun. It’s so much better for Hanoi”.

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Traditional toys on sale to raise fund for monitoring folk games area

Van Thanh from Kham Thien Street talked to us while watching his grandson playing Mandarin Square Capturing: “I played these games when I was little, today I have a chance to show my grandson how to play them, it feels great. Not only young children can access to traditional culture, but old people like us also have a chance to recall our memories. If this activity is expanded not only in Hanoi but other localities, it will be very good. Young people will also learn to embrace the culture”. Indeed, My Hanoi club wants to establish traditional playgrounds in other parts of Hanoi. Viet Anh again: “We want to expand this model to other places around Hanoi. We will definitely do it when we have opportunities. We hope people will support us to build this traditional space in more places”.

With the busy pace of modern life, young people like Viet Anh and Mai Anh from My Hanoi club are still passionate about devoting their time and efforts to preserving and promoting Vietnamese traditional cultural values. To them, folk games are not simply entertaining activities or sports, but the whole world of the cultural and spiritual beauty of Vietnam. Mai Anh again: “Computer games or smart phones, and tablets are very popular among young people nowadays. They have become necessary for people’s normal lives. However, I think sometimes the spiritual values are more appreciated than material ones. I and other members of My Hanoi club want to preserve these spiritual values through developing and expanding folk games in public places, so that they will not fade away.”