For generations, residents of Hang Chai Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter have performed in a Lion Dance troupe. Hai Anh reports on this spe cial tradition.

Hang-Chai-street-s-Dragon-Dance-TroupeA small lane leads to Hang Cot Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. At first, it was nameless. Later, during French colonial times, it was known as Ngo Ngang Lane. Early in the 20th century, vendors selling new and used bottles congregated in this lane. As a result, the little street became known as “Hang Chai”, which translates as ‘Bottle Shop” Street.

This narrow street offers an interesting view of life in Hanoi. Many old houses are packed tightly together. The residents arc families who have lived in Hanoi for generations. I met an old woman in the street who said: “Living in one of these old streets we are very cramped but happy to have so much life shining around us.”

Nguyen Van Truong, now 65, grew up on Hang Chai Street. He told me about the Mua Lan lion dance group – a source of pride for residents of this street. Mr. Truong is the leader of the Mua Lan group. “When I was young, my father led me to love Mua Lan,” said Mr. Truong. “I usually oversaw the team’s performances in the city for the Mid-autumn Festival. Since then, I never stopped.”

The Mua Lan group has 20 to 25 members of all ages and both genders. Key dancers, with seven or eight years of experience, include Mr. Tung, who plays “Tho Dia” – a clownish character who wears a colorful costume and a mask – and Mr. Son, who eats fire when playing the character “Kiem Lua”. The youngest member is Truong Minh, who at only five years old is already a talented drummer. Female team member Nguyen Thuy Van said: “When I was seven years old, I fell in love with Mua Lan. Now, as a mother of two lovely children, I still run whenever I am called to perform.”

Lion dancing is a thread that runs through these people’s lives. While their daily activities vary, at a performance, they all come together with a single mission. Mr. Tung has a giant’s body but a friendly smile. “Our Mua Lan group was built over many generations,” he said. “We were born and raised to love lion dancing. It is as simple as the daily sunrise.”

Hanoi-Old-QuarterIn the modern world, it is surprising to learn that residents of Hang Chai are keeping this old tradition alive. The team members feel that they are part of an extended family. Young members call the team’s leader, Mr. Truong, “Father”. Mr. Truong feels a great sense of duty towards each member of his team.

Walk along Hang Chai Street and Hanoi’s past is palpable. It is nice to know that some corners of the city are keeping the old traditions alive. In 2010, Hanoi – Thang Long was celebrating the 1,000th anniversary of its founding. So long as streets like Hang Chai can be saved, Hanoi will retain its unique cultural identity.

Source: Heritage – Vietnam Airlines Inflight Magazine

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