With more than ten thousand old items, most of which are books about Hanoi collected by lawyer Ta Thu Phong for many years, the library has long become a familiar destination for researchers and those who are keen on learning about Hanoi.

Free library with interesting books. Photo: Bao Thu/Hanoi Times

An unique store 

Old books with worn spines, and newspaper pages that have turned yellow over time these are what book lovers often see when they come to lawyer Ta Thu Phong's library in Ngoc Thuy Street, Long Bien District, Hanoi.

For over a decade, this place has housed more than ten thousand rare documents in various fields, the large chunk of them are vintage, historically valuable books and newspapers about Hanoi, including those written by French authors like ‘Industries in Hanoi’ or ‘Merchants of Hanoi’.

In addition, readers coming here can find momentous news in newspapers published in the 1930s, such as information about the building of Co Ngu Road (today’s Thanh Nien Road); the renovation of Quan Chuong City Gate, among uncountable others.

For lawyer Phong, collecting medieval books and newspapers has become an elaborate hobby for many years. Finding senior Hanoians to buy books and taking long trips to ‘hunt’ for vintage newspapers have cost him a lot of time and money, but that doesn’t stop the lawyer from collecting these antiques.

Ta Thu Phong, owner of the library, author of the book titled “Hanoi: Old Streets and Old Stories”.

As Ta Thu Phong recalled, he once searched everywhere for an issue of ‘Thieu Nien’ or Teenager newspaper that his father had bought him when he was younger. It took him four years to get his hands on the publication that had befriended his childhood. In the search for it, Phong found numerous old newspapers, so he started collecting them since then.

Phong is infatuated with artworks in spring and Tet newspapers. He said that in the past, newspaper front pages and illustrations were really beautiful. In the 1930s, famous painters like Nguyen Gia Tri, To Ngoc Van or Bui Xuan Phai all made drawings for newspapers.

Nguyen Thu Hanh, a frequent visitor to this library, was touched when she witnessed the owner persistently compiling old books and newspapers about Hanoi through different periods, carefully arranging and maintaining them.

“The vintage newspapers provide researchers with information and knowledge about the multiple cultural layers of the thousand-year-old land. The library has contributed to making the people born and raised in Hanoi understand and love the city more,” said Hanh.

By the time, many readers who love studying Hanoi have come here in search of books and it has become a rendezvous for people with great love for the capital city.

From collecting books to writing

Ta Thu Phong has spent years collecting these old books.

After years of collecting books and newspapers, Ta Thu Phong has fallen in love with Hanoi. Yellowed pages imbued with love for the capital gradually get him immersed in study and writing. His brainchild, the book “Hanoi: Old Streets and Old Stories”, consists of 39 compiled essays on the milestones of Hanoi City in the mid-20th century and earlier.

According to experts, this is an elaborate, comprehensive, and reliable compilation. The author draws on a relatively large volume of documents concerning Hanoi over the periods - mainly from the archives and libraries set up by French colonialists, processes them carefully, and collates them.

Moreover, the book also tells several anecdotes about famous Vietnamese characters in the society at that time, such as businessman Bach Thai Buoi in ‘The Story of Mr. Ky Buoi' or courtesan Vu Thi Nghia in “Ms. Doc Sao - Li Shishi of Hanoi City”.

Phong revealed that his book not only describes Hanoi’s bright and dark sides, vividly depicts a sacred land with genteel people, but also provides a lot of valuable information not contained in all books about Hanoi.

Part of Phong's library where many good books about Hanoi can be found.

The works describe the customs and ways of thinking and doing things in a transition period from feudalism through colonialism to post-war socialism with vivid examples.

According to the owner, the library gets crowded with readers, most of whom are researchers and collectors on weekends. This very special place offers countless stories revolving around Hanoi’s historic landmarks and upheavals through different periods, as well as the culture and lifestyle of generations of Hanoians.

“Many hobbies are elaborate. The preservation of books and newspapers is an important matter for collectors. But for me, all those difficulties vanish when I get to share valuable knowledge from the collected books and newspapers with others, who also love books and love Hanoi,” said Ta Thu Phong.

Source: Hanoi Times