Village works hard to remain in the past

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Seven years after Duong Lam Village was recognized as a national heritage site, its authorities say they have not slackened efforts to preserve its centuries-old houses and relics.

Pham Hung Son, head of Duong Lam Ancient Village Preservation Committee, said they are considering a plan to build a 10- hectare relocation center for part of the village's nearly 10,000 residents.

"We want to protect the space and the communal feeling of this ancient village," Son said on the sidelines of a conference in Son Tay Town discussing ways to promote Duong Lam's tourism potential.

Located about 50km west of Hanoi, Duong Lam is considered one of the oldest villages in Vietnam with a history that is said to date back more 1,200 years.

Most of the village's traditional features have survived the ravages of war-time, and many of its shrines, communal halls, streets and trees give the place an authenticity that is probably unmatched elsewhere.

So far, ten of the ancient houses have received national recognition and nearly 1,000 traditional houses await more preservation efforts.

However, recent visitors have found traditional houses being replaced by the typical three-to-four storey matchbox houses found throughout the country, especially in urban and semi-urban areas.

Shimada Toshio, head of Architectural History at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Japan, said it's important that the village continues preserving its space and communal feelings rather than focusing on protecting each house.

Since 2003, Toshio and other Japanese experts and volunteers have been visiting the village and advising local residents and authorities about preserving the village's unique characterisitics.

In 2006, they put together a report titled "Hamlet survey report, Duong Lam Village" which presented part of the results of cooperative efforts by the Vietnamese and Japanese governments to conserve cultural heritages in Vietnam.

Toshio said it was important to maintain traditional architectural features. Residents should also be discouraged from over-using modern construction materials while renovating their homes, he said.

Tomoda Hiromichi, another expert in heritage management from Showa University, said efforts should also be put into reviving the intangible cultural values of the village, which include maintaining the traditional festivals, folk games, traditional clothes and dishes.

Many long-term residents have taken to the conservation efforts with enthusiasm. Ten generations of 54-year-old Ha Nguyen Huyen's family have resided in the village.

Huyen used to earn a living by selling peanut sauce. Now, the family frequently hosts groups of visitors who bring in additional income that helps the family repair and maintain their traditional house.

"We know we have a mission to protect these houses and we will not make the same mistake of losing these treasures like many other parts of the country," he said.

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