87 Ma May
87 Ma May, Ha Noi
In our Lonely Planet book was a walking tour map, off we went. After the Lake Pagoda we found 87 Ma May, a traditional house. We paid out thirty one and a half pence and in we went.
As we have come to expect in these old houses, there was a shop at the front beyond the pay desk, but this used to be just so, and at least the stuff on sale was bright and colourful – expensive though, so we went beyond to the back of the house.
Our pamphlet showed us what the street looked like when the house was built and a diagram of the house before restoration.
The pamphlet said: Ma May Street, once located on the bank of the Red River, was a very lively commercial harbor. It consisted of two small streets: Hang May and Hang Ma. Hang May, located near the pier, specialized in the selling of rattan and bamboo products, Hang Ma, close to Hang Bac Street, sold votive papers.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the two streets were combined into Ma May Street.
In the French time, the street was called Quan Co Den which means Black Flags Street. The traditional occupations (rattan and votive papers) disappeared. In this street were many local and foreign businessmen gathering to carry out their trading business, who than settled down here together. From 1999, the street changed a lot and became one of the more interesting streets of Hanoi.
The house was built at the end of the 19th century. Shopkeepers’ families lived there successfully until 1945, when a family bought it to sell herbal medicine.
In 1954, the government requisitioned the house and five families settled down there until 1999. These people had various occupations: grocer, tailor, state employee, martial arts teacher.
A diagram of the house layout showing spatial organisation.
This house is typical of the traditional architecture in the Old Quarter: it has a narrow facade and a succession of buildings and courtyards, hence the popular reference as a “tube-house”. The shop is located in the first building overlooking the street. It is closed at night by removable wooden panels. On the second floor are the living-room and ancestors’ altar, the most sacred place for the family. The second building is dedicated to the living area. The kitchen and bathroom are located at the far end of the house. The two courtyards allows a good ventilation and natural light in the house.
The house has been restored within the cooperation agreement between Hanoi and Toulouse (France) cities and was inaugurated on the 27th of October 1999. The structure elements in a good shape as well as the traditional succession of buildings and courtyards have been preserved. The modifications made by the former residents – partition of the inner space, split of the shop front in two parts, new three floors building at the back of the plot of land – were suppressed to give back the house its original shape.
It was the first restoration of this kind in the Old Quarter. Since then, the house helps to promote at local and international levels the cooperation projects, and more specifically to present Vietnamese architecture and building techniques (facade, inner house organization). It was recognized as Vietnamese National Heritage in 2004.
Beyond the shop was the first courtyard, a stone pond complete with koi and then an open sitting room.
Loved the twin tables against the wall, old typewriter, telephone and ink wells.
Behind the sitting room was what was called on the pamphlet a ‘back shop’ but it is very much laid out to be a dining room with a lovely wall dresser filled with china serving plates and ornaments.
Quite homely in its own fashion.
We stepped over a flood protection board and out into a smaller courtyard. The kitchen dresser stood against the kitchen and in this room was a really old dresser, old packing case and hat box on top.
The kitchen and beyond another small space was another oven with access to a well. (Beyond this was a modern toilet with an old fragrance......)
The Legend of Cong and Tao: In each Vietnamese family, the kitchen is not only the place where they cook meals every day but also a very important place in spiritual term. Customarily, the stove tripod is called To, a deity who is assigned by God to take care of the family. Before the family performs a ritual, they have to report to Tao first, so he knows what they are going to do and then the ritual is performed.
Tao is also called Tao Quan or Tho Cong, the deity who takes care of every activity of the host family and prevents the intrusion of evils into the family. Therefore, according to folk beliefs, this deity is related to the family’s fortune.
According to folk beliefs, Tao consists of three people, two men and a woman. In some places, Tao is known as the king of the kitchen. Legend has it that a man called Trong Cao marries a woman called Thi Nhi. They have lived with each other a long time but do not have children, so they become saddened and do not get along with each other. One day, Trong Cao beats his wife. Thi Nhi gets angry so she leaves home and meets Pham Lang, who she marries.
Trong Cao is regretful. He quits his job and looks for his wife everywhere. He becomes a beggar for his day-to-day survival. One day he goes to a home and begs for food. The hostess gives him rice. Trong Cao recognizes Thi Nhi, and she also recognizes him. They feel regretful. They begin to talk to each other. Afraid that Pham Lang returns home and sees Trong Cao, Thi Nhi tells Trong Cao to hide in a pile of straw in the garden while she tries to find a way to explain things to Pham Lang.
Trong Cao is so tired he falls asleep in the pile of straw. At that time, Pham Lang arrives home and remembers he does not have ash for his paddy field. He sets fire to the straw. Seeing that, Thi Nhi gets so emotional she jumps into the fire. Three of them, two men and a woman, die in the fire. Appreciating their loyalty and love, God announces them to Tao Quan. Pham Lang becomes Tho Cong, who takes care of the kitchen chores. Trong Cao becomes Tho Dia, who takes care of household chores. Thi Nhi becomes Tho Ky, who takes care of food shopping.
Traditionally, on the afternoon of the 22nd day of the twelfth lunar month, families perform rituals to see Tao Quan off, so the next day they go to heaven to read his reports on everything about the host family. They come back to the family at noon on the 30th day of the twelfth lunar month to continue work for the new year.
Offerings on the Tho Cong altar consists of a hat, shoes, ancestral tablets, a sugar cane (to be used as a walking stick), and a live carp. After the ritual is finished, the fish will be released into a river and will turn into a dragon which flies Tho Cong to the heaven.
Quite wrung out after reading the legend in the kitchen, I find Bear posing by a hat and coat stand, trigger finger aloft..... Such diddy people here you know. I race to the steep, narrow stairs.
The ancestral altar.
The Ancestral Altar: Began with a four line verse. “Only trees with roots can grow green. Only when water has its source are there large seas and deep rivers . Where are people originated from? Because of their ancestors, they were born.”
If one forgets to worship his or her ancestors, he or she forgets his or her origin. Therefore, Vietnamese families, whether they are in lowland or mountainous areas, in the city or the countryside, and whether they are rich or poor, choose the most solemn place in their houses to worship their ancestors. The altar is the bridge between living people and the spiritual world and is a token of gratitude to forefathers.
The ancestral altar consists of ancestral tablets, familial records or portraits of deceased grandparents or parents; incense and offerings are also placed here. For a person who has just passed away, there must be a separate altar for him or her. After twenty seven months, his or her tablet or photo is placed on the common altar.
The Vietnamese believe that each person has his or her soul. Death only takes away the body, but the soul stays forever in the other world. The deceased still has an invisible connection with their living relatives and subsequent generations. Souls can intervene in lives in a magical way. The altar is the place where ancestors are invited back to the home and witness their respect and prayers. During death commemorations, holidays and important events of the family, there are rituals dedicated to ancestors; the ritual performer prays in front of the altar. Ancestral worshipping is a factor which brings family members together.
Bear liked the dresser to the left of the altar and happily had a nose in the cupboards. I enjoyed the ornaments on the altar, the shortbread biscuits in big tins were a bit of a surprise..... and then we headed along the balcony to the bedrooms.
Looking toward the bedrooms.
In through the door, (bit of damp to be sorted and a lick of paint needed) a tiny bedroom with a very uncomfortable looking, heavy wooden single bed. Lovely ceiling though.
Behind us, I’m sure I’m getting a thing for Chinese furniture.
Sitting on the bed must have been nice to look out through the doors.
In the double bedroom a very ornate, but equally uncomfortable looking bed, with very hard sausages for pillows. A pretty glass-fronted bedside cabinet though, inlaid with mother of pearl.
To the far end of the room I really did like the display shelf.
We stepped out into the garden where Bear announced that he had found the BBQ. Only him. We thought the bedroom windows looked a bit austere.
Lots of planters and quite a lot of damp.
We did like the bonsai that had been taken over. Back down the length of the house, in through the doors, back to the ancestral altar room.
The chaps on the dresser where Bear had rummaged were pleased to see us........
Starting to have a thing about lanterns. Back down the stairs showing how close the street is at the bottom.
ALL IN ALL LOVED SOME OF THE FURNITURE