An old, historic tower stands desolate and neglected in the central province of Nghe An, and its crumbling state suggests it might soon be lost to posterity.
The tower is located between the My Ly elementary school in Yen Hoa Village and an area where local residents are piling up said in order to build houses.
No villager knows when the 30-meter-high tower was built or what its real name is. They all know of some "mysterious stories" related to it.
Shaped like a pen with its nib reaching out into the sky, the tower, which is around 8-10 meters wide at its base, was once called "Xang To" after the previous name of village.
In 1992, when the village, which belongs to My Ly commune, Ky Son Town, got the name "Yen Hoa," the tower's name changed as well.
Vi Thi Quyen, 90, a villager, told Tuoi Tre: "When I was born, the tower was there. Even my dad and his dad told me that it had was already there when they were still little kids".
"It used to stand in the middle of a thick jungle, surrounded by many huge trees," she recalled.
These days, electric wires chaotically hang from a branch of some tree coming out from one of tower's crevices. The tower's faÃ§ade has all but peeled off, showing layers of red bricks inside. There are at least 20 holes all over the tower, giving it an even gloomier look.
Explaining the holes, Kha Ngoc Minh, chairman of the My Ly People Committee, said: "People carved up the tower to get at bronze Buddha statues hidden inside. They believe that if there are decorations outside, there will definitely be such statues placed inside."
But stories about unexplained things happening to people who dare to damage the tower have spread, and there is some fear about damaging it further.
The My Ly People Committee's office now has two bronze Buddha statues believed to have been taken from the tower around 40 years ago.
Then, an official from Do Luong Town came to the village and visited the tower. He dug at two spots in the tower to steal two statues, Minh said.
A short time later, somebody in his family got into trouble, making him think it was some kind of punishment for stealing the statues, so he gave them to his friend. That man hid the statues, but later on, some problem also happened to him and finally, he had his wife bring the two statues back to My Ly commune.
The statues are hollow and around 12 centimeters tall.
The second story that Minh narrated is about the "eye" of the tower, which had been shot at with an AK rifle by another official.
This "eye" was actually a glass ball with the size of a chicken's egg, placed on the top of the tower. A few months after it was shot at, both the eyes of the official went blind without a clear reason.
Minh also said that before it was destroyed, the "eye" used to light up a whole area with a "fancy light".
In yet another story narrated by Minh, two young men in the village dared to steal two Buddha statues, which had been put back at in the tower by the previous thief.
A short time later, both died in two different accidents. One was burnt as he was engaged in a slash and burn operation to clear land for farming, and the other drowned while trading wood in a boat.
Minh then spoke of Chu Van Quan, former chairman of the My Ly People Committee, also a renowned shaman in the region whom people have always approached for help.
Quan once said that those whoever has the audacity to steal the Buddha statues would never be able to escape unexpected accidents. Therefore, for a few years now, no one has dared touch the statues although the tower has no guard, he said.
People in all twelve villages of My Ly commune consider the tower as well as the Buddha statues a sacred treasure.
These days, on the foundation of a temple which used to stand next to the tower but now has all but collapsed, residents have erected a simple cement altar with a bronze Buddha statue and a censer, where they burn incense and pray for good crops every year during the Lunar New Year holiday and other traditional holidays.
A forgotten tower
In the past, My Ly commune used to have a "community" of towers, Minh said. Apart from this one in Yen Hoa village, there were three other, smaller towers in Xieng Tren, Xieng Tam and Hoa Ly villages.
But these three have collapsed and their last vestiges gone. The last one standing, Yen Hoa, has been leaning for a few years after a heavy storm damaged its base.
"We can afford to consolidate the tower's foot, but so far we have not received permission from the higher authorities even though we have asked several times," Minh said.
"If the tower collapses, I will feel guilty with all of the villagers," he added.
Vi Thi Thoan, who teaches at the My Ly 2 nursery school, said she is always proud that her village has such an "ancient and beautiful" tower, and that it would be a great pity if the tower collapsed.
"Now that the tower is leaning, I do not dare to allow my pupils to play around it any more".
Talking about the origin of the tower, Nguyen Van Thanh head of the heritage management bureau of the Nghe An Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said it can be a product of the Hinayana Buddhism culture which migrated from Thailand and Laos to Vietnam in the 7th century.
Hinayana Buddhism had two kinds of towers, one for temples and the other for tombs. The one in My Ly commune is of the first kind.
Thanh said that this tower has not yet been ranked on any list because Nghe An has so many heritages to rank. At the moment, there are only 200 out of 1,395 that have been listed. The tower, therefore, has been placed under the direct control of My Ly authorities.
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