Greater familiarity

Much has been done by the Sri Lankan Embassy to introduce the country more broadly among Vietnamese citizens.

By Le Diem on June 06,2018 09:21 AM

Greater familiarity

Photos: Embassy of Sri Lanka

Colourful sarees, the sophisticated art of batik, glittering jewellery, majestic elephants, huge whales, and delicious tea and cuisine - the first ‘Sri Lanka in Hanoi: A Cultural Fiesta’ brought a breath of fresh air to Hanoi’s early summer, with hundreds of people coming to discover the beauty of Sri Lanka and its rich culture and history. It was one of a series of events the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Vietnam will hold to introduce the country and enhance culture exchanges between the two countries.

Greater familiarity

Sri Lanka Cultural Fiesta: A colourful portrait

When H.E. Ambassador Hasanthi Dissanayake came to Vietnam in 2015 she noticed that Sri Lanka was still largely unknown among many Vietnamese, though the country supported Vietnam during its difficult time following the end of the American War. Her father, who worked for a government corporation, visited Hanoi in 1972 when the Americans were bombing the city and many others dared not come. Vietnam therefore has a special connection to her, and she feels that bringing the two peoples together is an important mission.

After a lot of preparations with local people and the Sri Lankan community in Vietnam, ‘Sri Lanka in Hanoi: A Cultural Fiesta’ was held for the first time by the Embassy in April, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the country’s independence and 48 years of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, under a cooperative effort with the Vietnam Women’s Museum and the Hanoi Small and Medium Enterprises Association. The opening ceremony was a special event, with the presence of Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Karu Jayasuriya, who was on an official visit to Vietnam, Ambassador of Vietnam to Sri Lanka, H.E. Pham Thi Bich Ngoc, and leaders from several associations and enterprises in Vietnam.

Greater familiarity

Those in attendance had the chance to view a collection of Sri Lankan paintings depicting the country’s temple art and modern art, paintings with a Sri Lankan theme from sketches by Sri Lankan artist Vasantha Perera and famous Vietnamese artist Van Duong Thanh, photographs from international award-winning Sri Lankan photographer Ravi Ranasinghe, photographs depicting bilateral relations, a photo exhibition on Sri Lanka both by Vietnamese and foreigners living in Vietnam who have travelled to the country, and screenings of Sri Lankan documentaries.

The event also featured Sri Lankan food and beverages, saree draping, handicrafts and handloom-made items and crafts, batik, gems, and jewellery, etc. Highlighting bilateral cooperation were products from small and medium-sized enterprises in Vietnam, including crafts from disabled female entrepreneur Nguyen Thi Thu Thuong.

The travel book ‘Sunrise on the Sahara’, which has a chapter on Sri Lanka and was written by Vietnamese author Di Li, was also launched at the event. Other countries covered include Morocco, Spain, Portugal and Japan. Di Li paid a four-day visit to Sri Lanka this year, which was facilitated by the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Vietnam with the assistance of Sri Lanka’s Delux Vacation Ltd.

One of the visitors at the event, Kim Loan, a 30-year-old office worker, said it was the first time she has seen the beautiful landscapes and art of Sri Lanka or the country’s fine jewellery, which she greatly admired. She plans to do some research on the country and perhaps visit shortly.

Impressive pieces

While ‘Sri Lanka in Hanoi: A Cultural Fiesta’ was the first complete picture of Sri Lanka presented in Vietnam, some of its ‘pieces’ had actually been introduced previously.

An event promoting famous Ceylon cinnamon and Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka was organised by the Embassy last year with support from Dilmah Tea in Vietnam. A brief introduction to the 150-year history of Sri Lanka’s tea industry was presented by Ambassador Dissanayake.

Guests appreciated the presentations and especially the one on cinnamon, as it highlighted the differences between Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Numerous questions were asked about how to obtain Ceylon cinnamon and what reliable brands there are. Samples of Ceylon cinnamon together with Dilmah Tea packs were provided to all guests.

Sri Lankan food and beverages have also been introduced at other events around Vietnam. The Hoi An International Food Festival in 2016 and 2017 featured Sri Lankan chefs and support from the Embassy, which invited Master Chef Pabilis Silva to visit Hoi An and then Hanoi in 2016, where an exclusive dinner was served at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel. Chef Silva is considered an ambassador of authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. He has identified 42 natural food additives in Sri Lankan cuisine and written over 13 books on the country’s food and food culture. Typical Sri Lankan food was available at the Hoi An International Food Festival, such as a ‘waraka’ drink, with a glass laced with salt and pepper, a festive salad called ‘dolosmahe saladaya’, cream of ‘gotukola’ soup, and a chicken chutty roast prepared with mango chutney.

The Embassy also joined in the ‘Traditional Costumes from Different Countries’ event at the Culture Exchange Centre in Hanoi on Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day, where charming colourful traditional costumes from Sri Lanka and other countries such as Russia, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and India were featured.

Traditional and contemporary Sri Lankan dance was performed by members of the Vinyasa Academy of Fine Arts’ Youth Dance Ensemble in Hanoi in 2016, organised by the Embassy in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Hanoi People’s Committee. The Ensemble was in Vietnam to attend the Hue International Festival. Ambassador Dissanayake introduced Sri Lanka at the performance, its multi-ethnic and multi religious culture that boasts colourful festivities all year round, and the origins of the country’s dance and performance art. ‘Cultural diplomacy is not only for promoting understanding among people, which is essential for peace, it is also a precursor to economic diplomacy,’ she said.

Traditional and contemporary Sri Lankan dance was performed by members of the Vinyasa Academy of Fine Arts’ Youth Dance Ensemble in Hanoi

Traditional and contemporary Sri Lankan dance was performed by members of the Vinyasa Academy of Fine Arts’ Youth Dance Ensemble in Hanoi

Most in the audience were excited by every drum beat and felt the dances were beautiful and impressive. A video of Sri Lanka also showed how beautiful the country is and the event truly was a nice way to introduce Sri Lanka to Vietnamese people.

Sri Lankan music will again be promoted in Hanoi this year, on 23 June at the Sri Lanka - Vietnam Friendship Concert at the Vietnam National Academy of Music, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence and 48 years of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. The main musicians are internationally-renowned Sri Lankan pianist Rohan De Silva, soprano Tharanga Goonathileke, and composer and conductor Lalanath De Silva. They will be supported by Vietnam’s Sun Symphony Orchestra and Vietnamese tenor Tuan Anh, a lecturer at the Vietnam National Academy of Music.

Together with events to introduce Sri Lanka in Vietnam, the Sri Lanka Sports Club (SSC), an association formed by the Sri Lankan community in and around HCMC, also organises the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April every year.

This year’s celebrations commenced with the singing of the National Anthem in both the Sinhala and Tamil languages, followed by the invoking of blessings of the God Ganesha. Thereafter, all children were invited to pay obeisance to their parents by giving sheaves of betel leaves, in accordance with Sri Lankan tradition. This was followed by an animation video created by a Sri Lankan graphic artist depicting Sri Lankan New Year traditions and their meaning.

SSC has regularly held activities over the last decade to bring people together, mainly through sports and culture, and works closely with the Embassy. This year it added new features in celebrating the New Year, so that children could better understand and appreciate New Year traditions.

Among the Embassy’s other activities, women have been paid particular attention. ‘I’m a woman, so I care about women,’ Ambassador Dissanayake said. ‘I have a good impression of Vietnamese women and work well with them. They are very hard working.’

Greater familiarity

Moving to Vietnam with her daughter, Ambassador Dissanayake has had to take care of her after a day at the office, as her husband stayed in Sri Lanka because of his job. She therefore better understands Vietnamese women, who usually take care of everything in the family.

The Embassy celebrated Vietnamese Women’s Day on October 20 last year at the Ambassador’s residence, inviting some 50 Vietnamese women who have excelled in fields such as politics, economics, academics and research, science and technology, media, and the arts.

Ambassador Dissanayake highlighted the importance of women participation in the economy in regard to achieving national targets for sustainable economic development and the need to share the burden of balancing work and family, which is very much relevant to both Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

More events for women have been organised this year, focusing on fashion. The ‘Sri Lanka Fashion with Friends Week’ was held in May, with the presence of Dhamique Amarasekara, a well-known Sri Lankan fashion designer who used colourful Sri Lankan handloom fabric and jewellery to make a charming ao dai (the Vietnamese traditional dress). The ‘models’ on the catwalk were friends and friends of friends, not professional models, including female ambassadors and other diplomats, spouses of ambassadors, and female Vietnamese leaders of famous local brands such as Huong Jewellery, Wild Rice Restaurant, and Cosiana Restaurant, as well as a renowned lawyer from Investpro, among others. ‘Fashion is for everyone, not just models,’ Ambassador Dissanayake said. ‘So, my idea was to bring fashion in all shapes and ages so that everyone can show off their beauty.’

Not only promoting Sri Lanka’s culture, Ambassador Dissanayake has also given a helping hand to charity in Vietnam. She initiated a special fundraising concert to support the Hy Vong (Hope) Choir, made up of students from the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for blind children and led by Mr Ton That Triem, which was held by the Friends of Vietnam Heritage (FVH) and the Embassy. For more than a decade Ton That Triem and his wife, soprano Nguyen Xuan Thanh, have taught students at the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School to sing folk songs from Vietnam and elsewhere.

Explaining the idea for the event, Ambassador Dissanayake said that it is probably due to her Sri Lankan cultural background, where giving donations and volunteering is part and parcel of the culture. Sri Lankan culture, enriched by religious diversity, values the concept of donations and sharing. Sri Lanka is in fifth place in the World’s Giving Index (and donations are not made to avoid tax!), given the principles of the four major religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity - which all talk about the good of giving and the giving up of things.

With her term finishing this year, Ambassador Dissanayake said she is happy about her time in Vietnam and feels she has fulfilled her duty and helped Sri Lanka become more widely known in the country.

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