Old man time

Published: 06/12/2008 05:00



VietNamNet Bridge - One Vietnamese clock repairer has heard the ticks and tocks of nearly every major clock ever installed in Hanoi.

VietNamNet Bridge - One Vietnamese clock repairer has heard the ticks and tocks of nearly every major clock ever installed in Hanoi.

At the end of Hang Phen street I can hear the melodious sound of multiple chiming clocks. I don’t have to check the number of the house to know that this must be Dao Van Du’s shop. Du is a clock repairer and after 56 years in the business, countless accolades and awards, he can be considered as a master of the trade. When I arrive he is hunched over a desk, tinkering with a tiny watch, not much bigger than a thumb nail.

The 71-year old clock repairer has twice travelled to Switzerland where he joined the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP), an internationally recognised professional qualification in the maintenance and care of fine-quality watches. He also trained with some of the world’s most prestigious clock and watch makers, such as Rado, Omega and Longines. With some pride he informs me that he has more certificates in clock and watch studies than anyone else in Asia.

“When I was 13-14 years old, I began learning how to repair clocks and watches from my father, who was a well known clock repairer in Hanoi,” says Du. After graduating from university with a degree in teaching, he decided to take on his father’s job. “I love each detail of clocks and watches.

I eat, sleep and work with them!” says Du while still concentrating on the broken watch. In 1960, when the State opened Vietnam’s first state-owned clock repair workshop, Du immediately applied for a job. During the war with the US, Du helped devise a timer for mines and bombs, which were used in battle. He also repaired and maintained coded clocks for military planes and large artillery.

After the war, in 1975, he started to train hundreds of apprentices. But the country was in severe economic difficulty and a watch was something of a luxury item. As a result most of the trainees who managed to get work were well-connected as the job was considered to be a decent earner in those days. “A clock repairer’s’ monthly salary could feed a family of four,” he recalls.

Du participated in the installation of some the capital city’s most prominent clocks seen at Hanoi’s General Post Office and markets such as Hang Da, Dong Xuan and Long Bien. After a decade or so, all of the clocks at the city’s markets were in a state of disrepair and were uninstalled. But the clock at Hanoi’s GPO, which was a gift from the Chinese government, still remains.

It was installed at the post office as in the 1970s that was the highest building in the city and, of course, it overlooks Hoan Kiem lake, the spiritual focal point of Hanoi. In 1978 on September2, Vietnam’s National Day, the clock chimed for the first time. Ever since, it has been carefully monitored.

“Over the past 30 years, the clock has been operating smoothly, even though most of its equipment is old, while new equipment is nowhere to be found,” says Pham Ngoc Hoang, an electrician from the post office. The clock is checked twice daily. The sound of the clock still reverberates on the hour of every hour, but in recent years its sound has been drowned out by the din of the passing traffic. Pham Van Hung, a retired cadre, recalls when the city was filled with less cars and motorbikes.

“We could hear the sound of the clock from quite far away. It was part of our life and its sound was shared by all Hanoi people,” he says. “But on the eve of the New Lunar Year my family still gathers to try and hear its sound.” “Its sound is not like that of fireworks, drums or bells. But it gives me an indescribable feeling,” says 55-year-old Nguyen Kim Thu, who lives on Hang Khay street near the post office.

“For me, no sound can be as sacred as that sound.” Tran Manh Dung, Thu’s husband, will always recall what day he first he heard the clock. “It was also the day our first son was born,” he says. “I remember when everyone lived in poverty [during the subsidised period] and had to celebrate Tet with just rice, tea and pork distributed by the state,” adds Thu. “On New Year’s Eve people walked around the lake and after we heard the clock strike 12 a blast of fireworks would welcome in the New Year.”

(Source: Timeout)

Update from: http://english.vietnamnet.vn//profiles/2008/12/817312/

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