Old village finds its place and loses its way

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Entrance to Cuu Village in Van Tu Commune, Phu Xuyen District, Hanoi

It is an old village that has literally risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes, but is now in danger of being consumed by unbridled urbanization.

Cuu Village in Van Tu Commune of the suburban district of Phu Xuyen is one of the oldest "modern" villages in Hanoi.

Unlike the famous Duong Lam Village, which is a typical traditional village, Cuu Village boasted a more luxurious veneer because its buildings are a combination of French style and Vietnamese features.

The "Village of villas," as local residents call it, owes its relative modernity to a fire that happened nearly 100 years ago.

Village elders say it was a low-lying farming area where people could only grow their crops once a year and as a result were not very well off.

In 1921, a careless family caused a fire that burned down all the villagers' bamboo houses and plunged them deeper into poverty. Several households moved to Hanoi to find a way to earn a living.

Several years later, people from Cuu Village had become famous for making western-style clothing. Hands that once tilled farms became very skillful in making suits and dresses for the French and the aristocracy of Indochina (comprising Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam).

These households succeeded in recovering from the original misfortune and became wealthier over time. They set up famous tailoring shops in Hanoi -  Duc Loi, Phuc Hung and Phuc My.

With increasing wealth, former residents of Cuu Village began to adopt western lifestyles. They opened more shops in big cities, sent their children to French schools and also returned to their birthplace [Cuu Village] to build villas that showcased their success.

The previously poor village of Cuu became home to many modern villas built between 1930 and 1945.

Road leading to the old village

But the villas did not trigger a reverse migration. Residents continued to move to the city, or other places and even emigrated to western countries. The modern houses in the village were sold to those who stayed in the village or just left desolate.

Cuu Village is now a place with quiet, sad streets on which moss covers most building.

New style

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, a new architectural style came into being that was particular to Indochina a mix of the old French and traditional Vietnamese styles.

The structures in Cuu Village were built with lots of architectural innovations in line with Vietnamese culture and notions of beauty.

The Vietnamese features could be seen in houses constructed of ironwood with curved roofs. Dragons, kylins, tortoises and phoenixes were carved at the ends of the beams. The gardens typically had pines, bamboo trees, daisies and other typical flora.

Each house had a specially designed gate. There were idiomatic phrases or parallel sentences carved on them.

The architectural features had more than aesthetic purposes. They also aimed at highlighting the cultural spirit of the village.

The gate at the village entrance was big and built to look like a giant open book.

In the past, the village was a close-knit community.  The village school was a place where residents met to socialize and strengthen communal bonds.

The village is still peaceful and quiet at a time internet cafés and karaoke parlors can be found in most villages in the country. It is a place with great potential for tourism growth because there are no signs of commercialization.

With the once famed tailoring profession close to extinction, visitors to Cuu Village now are mainly arts students and journalists. The village seems to have been forgotten although it is just 40 kilometers or so away from Hanoi.

However, real estate developers are casting covetous eyes on the properties in the old villages. If concerned people do not step out soon, the village will be consigned to memories of bygone days.

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