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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Đông Hồ prints depict a number of animals found around farms such as the carp, buffalo, frog, toad, duck but by far the most popular animal is the chicken, the pig comes second. Prints used as good luck charms are commonly called tranh gà lơn which means pictures of chicken and pigs. This goes to show their importance in people’s cultural lives, and the wealth of hopes and meanings embedded into their images.

A flock of chicken is an allusion to fertility, to having a big family with lots of children and grandchildren. Story goes that the print above, Gà thư hùng (the name of a local breed of chicken), was designed by the woodcut master Đám Giác as a wedding present for the local official Chánh Hoàn’s daughter in 1915. Beside the image, in Nôm – the old Vietnamese writing system using Chinese characters, he engraved the phrase lắm con nhiều cháu giống lông giống cánh (children and grandchildren in flocks, sharing the same feathers, the same wings). The image consists of a full family of rooster, hen, and chicks in the composition of a swirl, with their male and female energy complimenting each other like the yin and yang, creating perfect harmony.

Likewise, prints of a family of pigs carries the same wishes, the wish for a flourishing and prosperous family.

an older design of the same image, the circles on their body is the symbol of yin and yang, of harmony:

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Tranh Đông Hồ – traditional woodcuts from Dong Ho village, Bac Ninh province, has been around for hundreds of years, and was most popular during the 17th and 18th century. People commonly refer to them as tranh tết as they’re often produced and sold around Tết (lunar new year) as decorations as well a charm to bring good luck. In recent years they’ve suffered from lost of interest and consequently economical difficulties. What was once a whole village’s craft, passed down through the generations, has now dwindled to a few households. The rest of the village has now turned to making hàng mã (offerings for the dead) as it is more profitable. There are only 2 woodcut masters alive who know how to make these woodcuts in the traditional style, Nguyễn Hữu Sam and Nguyễn Đăng Chế.

Tranh Đông Hồ obtain their subjects from from village life and folklore, they often depict farm animals, sometimes with human and other times by themselves. In some cases, the animals even take on the activities of human beings (such as in Đám cưới chuột – Mouse wedding, Thầy đồ cóc – the frog mandarin). Animals motifs work as allusions and metaphors. They provide rich insight into the relationship between human and animal, and the extent of respect given to animals that goes beyond seeing them merely as food.

There are 4 main themes in Đông Hồ woodprints.

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Colombian scientists have recently succeeded in training rats to sniff out land mines.

and in India there’s the Karni Mata temple that worships rats at Deshnoke, Rajasthan.

In Vietnam, we have Trần Quang Thiều, dubbed vua diệt chuột – king of exterminating rats, from BÌnh Vong village, Thường Tín province, North of Vietnam. Originally a farmer, Trần Quang Thiều invented his own mousetraps in order to kill off rats attacking his rice fields. He’d also carefully studied the behavior pattern of different rats in the area and learned where they like to hid and how they choose their routes and succeeded in placing the traps at their most vulnerable spots. Among 43 types of rats in Vietnam, 32 types succumber to his traps. In 2000 he started traveling around the area to help people, openly sharing his trapping methods and mousetrap designs. By 2006 he opened his company, exterminating rats from not just rice fields but factories, hotels, schools, big buildings, etc. They’ve killed over 10 million rats.

I read about phone apps used to identify people infected with highly infectious disease such as flu in the neighborhood last year but apparently apps produced to collect data and track the spread of diseases have been developed since 2006. These apps, according to the BBC were first developed for field workers to send data on outbreaks and drug administration to a central database, providing real time data and enabling health officials to make more informed decisions.

By 2009, with the outbreak of swine flu H1N1 there are a hoard of mobile apps for the general populace to use. There’s Outbreaks Near Me developed by HealthMapAccording to USA Today it works like a GPS, displaying locations on maps with more information from news coverage or user submitted updates, and aims at “giving people real time alerts” and “not to increase fear.” Other apps include Mobile World Disaster, Swine Flu News Tracker, Influenza A Tracker, etc.

There’s FluPhone developed by Cambridge University Computer Lab which monitors the way infectious disease spread. Using bluetooth, by anonymously recording interactions between volunteers in the study the app record the number of people each “infected subject” meet during an imaginary epidemic. The data provide some insight into our network structure which is useful in the study of the spread of disease.

Here’s a screenshot of HealthMap’s data on Vietnam. Unfortunately, there’s not much information. Apps like this require a large number of users to become useful, and it seems it will be a while to go before it has any impact in the developing world.

Last year I had the chance to visit some Vietnamese artists of the older generation. Many of them aside from training in the classical style, were also trained to design propaganda posters and at some point or another were employed by the state to produce propagandas. Some had famous pieces that were circulated throughout the countries.

Most of the propagandas geared towards war efforts and were very militaristic, what caught my eyes were the colorful pieces promoting farming and agriculture designed by the artist dual Minh Phương and Dương Anh. I’ll try to dig up a few photographs I took of their works.

For now, here’s a few I pulled from the internet. There’s no specific date on the posters but judging on the style, they were probably produced before 1975.

Develop poultry farming


Good rice, fat pigs, chicken in flocks. Contribute to building a prosperous village


Strong fat buffalos and cows, better productivity

Our sea is rich and beautiful. Promote fishing in Vietnam.