Childhood Memories in the Pedestrian Precincts

O an quan (mandarin's squares), tug of war, rope skipping, and other folk games that have faded in from memories of people in today's modern life have been recreated and displayed at the centre of the pedestrian precincts surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

I went for a walk along Dinh Tien Hoang Street on a Sunday morning and had a little surprise. Without the traffic, the peaceful vibe seems to be elevated. The area in front of Ngoc Son Temple is used to perform folk games, which attract people from all age groups.

The most spacious area is devoted to play “o an quan”. More than 20 rectangles of “o an quan” are drawn on the street. The two sides of a game are often the parents and their children. The rules of the traditional game still apply, but here the game is not about winning or losing but it is an opportunity for parents to teach their kids how to play and let them feel how their parents experienced childhood.

It can be easily noticed that there are youngsters wearing cards saying “My Hanoi” in the playing area. They organise tug of war and then lead the cheering. They instruct children to make “to he” (toy figurine made from glutinous rice powder). They also give guidance to foreigners who want to participate in the intriguing games.

The playground for folk games is situated on Dinh Tien Hoang Street,
in front of Ngoc Son Temple and is managed by members of “MyHanoi” club.

The playground attracts many people from all age groups on the weekends.

Rectangles of “o an quan” are drawn on the street.

Mother guides her daughter how to play “o an quan”.

A member of “MyHanoi” instruct foreigners on how to play “o an quan”.

Children are interested in the club’s papier-mâché masks.

Old people instruct their grandkids on how to choose “to he”.

A professional stilt walker tries Vietnamese stilts.

The joy of children when playing with their parents.

A foreigner in street tug of war.

Folk games bring joy to children.

The area is full of laughter from children.

Mai Anh, a student of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and a member of “MyHanoi”, said “We are extremely busy playing and each of us is in charge of something. But everyone is happy and enthusiastic as we all love Hanoi so much, especially its beauty which is increasingly retreating from daily life and can only exist in people’s memories.”

Mai Anh acknowledged that since the pedestrian precincts were introduced on September 1, 2016, the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem District has allocated a nice place for them to make a playground. It might seem simple but actually it is not easy to organise and maintain regular activities. Most of the budget for organisation is donated from the club members. They also sell traditional toys in a corner of the area to get additional funds for organising folk games.

To organise and maintain activities during weekends, over 50 members of “MyHanoi” are divided into small groups to guide and cheer participants. Besides regular folk games, the club also organises extra activities during holidays, for example drum beating and lantern walking during Mid-Autumn Festival. “Despite several difficulties, we are really happy that what we have done receives much support from others,” said Mai Anh.

Now when going for a walk in the pedestrian precincts on weekends, adults and children can enjoy themselves on a playground with numerous folk games. Exposing children to traditional games and toys, as well as the past childhood of their ancestors is also done to preserve the intangible cultural heritage and encourage national identity that is latent in children’s souls, which is the goal MyHanoi is aiming at.

A map of the pedestrian precincts around Hoan Kiem Lake.
By Viet Cuong