A rare literary and botanical gem recently came into our possession. It’s a 1990 collaboration between the World Health Organization and the Institute of Materia Medica, Hanoi. It’s 400 pages, in English, and contains a wealth of information about Medicinal Plants in Viet Nam.

 

Part One gives a general introduction to the research that has been undertaken on medicinal plants including the drying, processing and storing of these plants. As pointed out, around 2,000 plant species have been identified and more than 1,000 folk remedy prescriptions compiled.

 

Part Two presents an alphabetized list of the 200 most common flowering species of wild and cultivated medicinal plants, including introduced species. Each plant has a full-page, hand-painted colour plate that is headed by the plant’s scientific name. Leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds and root structures are highlighted. Its accompanying page gives common Vietnamese and English names, and information including a concise plant description, its flowering period, its distribution, parts used for medicinal purposes, the chemical composition of those parts, and their therapeutic uses.

 

The book will appeal to amateur and professional botanists and to medical professionals who want to extend their knowledge about folk or alternative remedies.

 

Art Deco-Ed Hanoi

 

Long-time expat, English teacher and historian, Linda Mazur has spent years investigating an architectural phenomenon that is distinctly Hanoian and that is increasingly under threat.

 

Linda became infatuated with buildings designed by Vietnamese architects from 1933 to 1944 which were inspired by overseas art-deco trends and had features that facilitated comfortable living in Hanoi’s hottest and coldest months.

 

Such buildings were made possible by the availability of concrete from Vietnam’s first cement factory near Hai Phong and feature elegant, sleek lines that differentiate them from the popular colonial French buildings that preceded them.

 

Examples of this Art Deco-International Modern architecture can be discovered in parts of Ba Dinh and Hoan Kiem but Linda, rather than give an exhausting overview, has honed in on a fascinating group of houses in the streets surrounding Thien Quang Lake.

 

Even better, she gives us a fascinating portrait of the people who built and lived in those houses. These were rich Vietnamese who took advantage of cheap land sales around the lake after it was reclaimed from the swamp.

 

Linda has provided a well-researched, excellently illustrated, and warmly written small volume that adds a valuable insight into a period of Hanoi’s story that is sparsely documented.

 

Hidden Houses in Hanoi and the Stories They Tell provides a map that locates these houses in the streets around the lake, and information so that they can be recognised in spite of recent incidental or architectural bastardisation.

 

Megacity

 

Vivacious French geographer Sylvie Fanchette, under the auspices of the Centre Population et Development-Universite Paris Descartes has edited chapters by 17 professional architects, city planners, historians and fellow geographers from Vietnam and France. Ha Noi — a Metropolis in the Making investigates the proposed development of Hanoi into a regional megacity.

 

Starting from Hanoi’s beginning as a small regional town surrounded by rural agricultural craft and food-supplying villages, the book leads on to 2008 when Hanoi expanded to include some surrounding provinces, and a master plan was established by the government to guide the city’s expansion up to 2030.

 

Problems hindering the plan’s implementation include the fact that greater Hanoi is being built on a flood plain that is supposed to drain water away from the core urban area. Apparently, developers who buy land for development often ignore this.

 

And when villages and farmlands are subsumed by the city’s rapid growth, thousands of rural livelihoods are jeopardized due to loss of means of food production. Furthermore, monetary compensation to villagers is much less than the free market value.

 

While the middle classes will enjoy living in places with grand names like Splendora or Gloriosa, the majority of the population — the low-paid working class — may have to relocate to high-rises on city perimeters that soon become urban slums. This pattern is common to nearly all Southeast Asian megacities.

 

Outside of privileged gated areas, the lack of green and recreational spaces affects quality of life — as it already does in today’s Hanoi — where parks and usable pedestrian and cycle ways are inadequate.

 

Of course a lung searing horror-scape could emerge if public transportation comes too late into the equation.

 

Craft Villages

 

Fanchette’s first collaborative book about Hanoi, Discovering Craft Villages, was originally published in 2010 and has now been revised.

 

Craft villages within 20km of central Hanoi were documented by the authors, and easy itineraries are set out for tourists to follow on day trips exploring wicker weaving, silk weaving, paper making, furniture and lacquer production, and ceramic centres.

 

Six years later some of the villages have been enveloped or made extinct. Some have industrialised production — often with severe polluting effects. These often employ poorly educated locals or rural migrants in hazardous conditions, on low wages without a social security safety net.

 

Fanchette’s hope is that cultural tourism may help remaining craft centres continue with keeping traditional skills alive.

 

Truong is an avid reader and runs Bookworm (44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi). For more information on go to bookwormhanoi.com

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