Thang is a modest Hai-phongese guy who looks like a student in his selfie portraits. I came across a photo of a well-decorated board on his Instagram. The information at the left corner of the board told me that it is located in residential group number 26, Vinh Niem ward, Le Chan district, Hai Phong. Subsequently, I left a message to learn more about it. It turned out that the chalk drawings on the board in the photo was also done by himself. Wow, he could be the youngest board-decorator in Vietnam so far. And the following interview came out.
First of all, please let HanoiMinitrue’s readers know something about yourself.
Hi, I’m Nguyễn Văn Thắng, 25 years old. I was born and raised in Hai Phong. At present, I work at a hotel in the city center. I am interested in many things. In fact, I like anything I don’t distaste for. I usually spend my free time on reading historical – cultural books. Sometimes I read Chinese romances. And I also like posting randomly on social media.
There is a prejudice that the people who decorate the notice boards in residential areas must be someone not too tech-savvy, a middle-age or senior retiree for example. Meanwhile, you are really young and use social networks like Instagram and Facebook frequently. What do you think about this?
I also acknowledge this because in my memory, there are also the uncles or grandpas writing and decorating the boards. In my ward, I guess I’m the only person who is younger-than-50 doing this task. In other localities, there would be someone like me, I suppose. I think those uncles and grandpas have a lot of interesting idea in composing and decorating. Because they don’t use social media so much, their ideas are more unique and creative, sometimes very imaginative. The youths might be influenced by online templates or trends. Both the olds and youths have their own strengths. Eventually, it’s all about how to use them appropriately (to have nice boards).
The board in the photo you posted on Instagram was to celebrate Lunar New Year of the Rooster 2017. That was the first time you did your decorating task, wasn’t it?
I began earlier, in 2016. It was the Independence Day (September 2) holiday when I had graduated from a university in Hanoi and returned to Hai Phong. At that time, in my (residential group) area, there were only two boards for me to decorate. By the time of Lunar New Year 2017, there were three more.
Before September 2016, had those boards been decorated during holidays? If so, do you know who had? If not, what or who motivated you to begin?
Truly, I hadn’t been paying attention to the neighborhood for a long time. So I have no idea about this circumstance.
What is the specific time you sketch the first chalk stroke on a board? I guess that it could be right after the Kitchen God Festival (the 23rd day of the last lunar month).
In the Solar New Year holiday, I would write the line “Happy New Year” in both Vietnamese and English. Then, I would start to decorate more sophisticated details on the weekend right before Kitchen God Festival. It would take me about two days to finish all the boards. There are five boards but I still have to go to work on those days so I would make the most of my time.
Any difficulties? Do you have to prepare some design on paper before using the chalk pastel? How about fixing during your decoration process?
I did have a sketch of few samples before working with the chalk and boards. However, when I really started, some out-of-sight or slippery point on the boards’ surface might prevent me from completing my original ideas. It’s not easy to make the chalk stay stable on the boards. Sometimes I had to press the chalk and re-draw several times. Every time I made a mistake, I had to wipe that section (of the board), wait for it to dry totally, and then re-draw. In any case, I must get the decoration done before Lunar New Year’s Eve. Not to mention my full-finished work on the board might be erased accidentally or intentionally. This might waste more time of mine. What a bad luck! (Haha)
Were there anybody staying by your side to support you during the decoration process? How did people in your area and your loved ones react to your finished work?
It took me a whole morning (or afternoon) to complete a board. Therefore, I mostly did it alone. Once in a while, I had my younger sibling to accompany and help me in some final garnish. My neighbors could approach to chat with me. They might not have a hand in my decoration but I felt happy. At least, it’s not so lonely. The other people might think I’m only an employee from the ward’s committee. Some even got confused like “what the hell is this foolish guy doing at the head of our alley?”. Well, it’s their personal thought. Some finds it interesting, some finds it useless. Of course, we could never please everyone…
On the contrary, there are a secondary school and a high school nearby so many students also came to take photos and check in. Although I know they did that just due to curiosity or leisure, or they just want to say “Tet is coming” in a different way, I still consider it awesome joy.
After the Lunar New Year holiday of 2017, do you carry on the decoration anymore? If so, do you have more experience to make it better? If not, why?
I have done in a few other occasions afterward, when I had time and the local leader (communist party committee secretary) asked me to do. Anyway I have gained good experiences. Five boards, this one needs this way, the other requires that style. How to wipe the boards or use the chalk effectively? Even how to easily revert when the kids erase the board? I believe everyone would have some tricks and tips after once or twice. Unhappily, this Tet holiday, I have had morning shifts at work and family problems at home so I didn’t decorate any. For this reason, the boards in my neighborhood were left blank this Tet. And I’m also upset of this.
Are there many boards that are chalk-drawn during the holidays in Hai Phong? Besides this kind of decoration, what do people in Hai Phong like to use to brighten their residential areas?
Actually, I’m not really sure because most of the boards are in the alleys. At the street frontages, they will print big propaganda paintings. In addition to flags and boards, my neighborhood also likes to decorate with lanterns, flashing lights, LED lights etc. During two weeks around the Tet holiday, the streets are always lighted up all night long. There are more colorful flowers. And the pictures on the doors of many houses are also very beautiful.
You have studied at a university in Hanoi. Have you ever noticed the decorative chalk drawings on the boards in Hanoi before? If so, what situation did you pay attention to? If you haven’t noticed, are you surprised knowing the existence of the boards that were featured on HanoiMinitrue?
I used to rent accommodation near the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. There’s a board right opposite my hostel. However, I have seen it frequently covered by classified leaflets and blocked by some garbage cart. During Tet holidays, they would add a simple line “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese. As a result, I hardly had any impression about such boards during my years in Hanoi. Then, when I looked at HanoiMinitrue collection, I was really surprised. The boards were not too sparkling or unique but … very refined, broad-minded, particular. Maybe if I continue to decorate the boards until my old age, I also achieve that level. (Haha)