Vietnam calligraphers help welcome Year of the Snake

Thousands of people visited Hanoi's Temple of Literature on Sunday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, seeking to buy hand-drawn traditional calligraphy as part of the holiday celebrations.

Lunar New Year calligraphers in Vietnam sell hand-painted characters, often done by special request, to passing homeowners who believe the uplifting words will help bring them good luck in the Year of the Snake.

With huge, sweeping brush strokes, bespectacled calligraphy professor Cung Khae Luoc early Sunday painted the character for "Peace" in glossy black ink onto traditional Vietnamese paper made from bamboo and tree bark.

Luoc, a calligrapher who specialises in Vietnam's ancient Chu Nom script -- a pictorial language similar to Chinese which is almost obsolete in modern Vietnam -- told AFP he was doing a brisk trade on the first day of the Year of the Snake.

Chu Nom was used for centuries in Vietnam, but both it and Chinese script have been replaced for about the past 100 years by the Roman alphabet. But Luoc said traditional characters are still treasured.

"In the spring, after a hard winter, people need to prepare for the New Year," Luoc said, as dozens of people lined up to commission a Chu Nom piece of calligraphy from him.

"Buying ancient Vietnamese calligraphy, which encapsulates their past experiences and hopes for the year ahead, is a key ritual in people's lives."

The calligraphers sit and paint side-by-side for more than 100 metres along the tree-shaded temple wall where their finished works hang.

Their numbers have grown markedly since the Lunar New Year calligraphy tradition was restored 15 or 20 years ago.

They set up in early February and will stay for about one month, through the first days of the new year.

Known locally as Tet, the Lunar New Year is Vietnam's most important annual festival. This year the country has a nine-day public holiday for the festivities.

The respect for Chinese-style calligraphy contrasts with the wariness with which Vietnamese in general regard their giant neighbour, which occupied Vietnam for about 1,000 years.