FEATURE: Elderly artist jazzes up Hanoi alleyway

Bach Lien

HANOI (Viet Nam News/ANN) - For the last 10 years Cao Chi Thinh has worked to liven up the area around his home. The murals he has created are an attempt to teach valuable lessons, and have a bit of fun.

If you live in Hanoi, you may already be familiar with the city’s dirty public walls, which are often covered with graffiti and scraps of advertisements, tainting the face of the capital.

There is, however, a unique alley in Hanoi where you can admire walls decorated with colourful scenes and pleasant murals.

Even more interesting is that these paintings were created by an old citizen over the last ten years, with a modest pension and a lot of passion.

The unique location is Ao Dai Alley, just off Dien Co Street (in Bac Tu Liem District), and the 94-year-old amateur artist is named Cao Chi Thinh.

Over the last 10 years, despite the difficulties of old age, he has worked tirelessly to brighten up the alley with his murals.

Thinh’s neighbours say that he suffers from heart disease and spends much of his time at the hospital, shying away from the media spotlight. However, the people who know him are keen to emphasise his cheerful personality.

“We all appreciate him a lot as he is very kind. He offered us vegetables grown in his garden and a collection of poetry he wrote… But his main passion is painting.

Whenever he was unable to paint, his health became worse,” said Trinh Thi Thu, a woman who lives in the alley.

“At the beginning, he painted on a wall of his house. After we saw the beautiful mural, we invited him to paint on our walls too,” she recalls.

The small alley, only 300 metres in length, is home to dozens of Thinh’s pieces, created over the last decade. A stroll along the alley will take you past all of the murals, covering a range of themes; from supporting environmental protection, to encouraging family planning, or inspiring young children to work hard.

In one corner, you can read a poem about President Ho Chi Minh that Thinh composed himself, accompanied by a painting of flowers. Next to this, you can see the late President’s slogan "Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom” that Thinh meticulously painted on the wall.

In another corner is a bright painting of children playing folk games and flying kites with their parents. A little further are images of children growing trees, and household objects as well as domestic animals.

As a great admirer of President Ho, Thinh also decorated his home with portraits of the late President hung on the walls alongside more traditional landscape paintings.

Tran Thi Mai, another woman living in the alley said, “He is old but very industrious. Even on sunny days, he kept painting, wearing a shirt, standing on a chair, until he was bathed in sweat.”

For a more beautiful alley

The paintings have embellished the walls and the alley.

“Previously, this alley looked very untidy. The most of the house walls were old and dirty. Thanks to his paintings, the walls are much more beautiful. Not only children but older people like me enjoy looking at his works,” Mai added.

Pham Quang Hung, head of living quarter number 2 of Duc Thang Ward said, “Thinh is not a professional artist (he worked as a doorkeeper at the Ministry of Home Trade), so when we watched the first paintings take shape, we were very surprised. They were very beautiful. We love them as they convey very meaningful messages. We are also touched by his kindness, and he spent his pension on paints and brushes to paint on the walls”.

The name of Ao Dai (Long Pond) Alley was also dreamt up by Thinh.

“Previously, this alley didn’t have a name. At the end of it, there was a pond. So Thinh used to call it the "Alley of Long Pond" as a joke. The name grew on us, so eventually the inhabitants chose it as the official name,” Hung said.

Ho Thi Minh Tam, president of the club of aged people in Duc Thang Ward said, “The poems and the paintings he made are very meaningful to the community, so we are very touched by his enthusiasm and kindness.”

Recently, the Youth Association of DuC Thang Ward hung baskets of flowers along the walls.

Children in the alley can enjoy the playground with its new see-saw that he created some years ago. The playground was also decorated with his colourful paintings.

“My grandfather does all of this because of his passion, not because of the compliments from his neighbours. He used to tell me that he hopes his paintings can help teach children to live a useful life when they grow up”, said Lan Anh, one of Thinh’s granddaughters, who lives next door.