Children flock to Hai Duong reading garden hinh anh 1Floating library: Children enjoy reading books on a floating library in the garden. (Photo: VNA)
Hanoi (VNA) - Most children in the modern age spend much of their spare time playing games on smart phones or tablets. Reading for pleasure and knowledge seems to have become a habit of the past.

But things are changing in one Vietnamese city. Children in Viet Hoa ward in Hai Duong city some 50 kilometres east of Hanoi, now frequently visit a tranquil garden during vacations or time off.

The garden, known as Chi Cac, is a place where they can indulge themselves in the hobby of reading books - either under the shade of trees or on a "floating library". Everything is free of charge.

“There are many kinds of books,” said 12-year-old Le Duy Hung. “I visit the garden whenever I have free time. I enjoy the space of reading in Chi Cac garden very much.”

The garden is the brainchild of 61-year-old Pham Van Xuan, a retired soldier and a book-lover.

Xuan’s love for books began in his childhood and was inherited from his parents. His father set up a family library that contained many precious books, a custom the boy is passing on as he continues to read and collect books.

He came up with the idea of setting up a reading garden at his home when he realised that the reading culture was under threat from the increasing development of information technology.

“At first, I planned to create a space for elderly people so that they could get together and read books. I had also noticed that fewer and fewer of them were maintaining their old hobby of reading,” Xuan said.

“However, as more young people learned about my garden, they also began to visit, especially during the summer holidays. My garden serves them as well,”

The establishment of the Chi Cac reading garden began early this year with an investment of about 300 million VND (13,200 USD) from Xuan’s own pocket.

Nearly all the area of the garden around his house, covering 1,600 sq.m, has been converted into a green space just for reading books. Xuan has planted many trees not only for shade, but also to freshen the atmosphere.

Under each tree he has placed a bench so that readers can enjoy their hobby with nature.

The highlight of the garden is the "floating library" built on a pond in the middle of Xuan’s garden. Covering a total area of about 30sq.m, the library houses more than 1,500 books divided into categories just as in any normal library.

There is also a collection of popular daily newspapers that elderly citizens find highly appealing.

Open from 8am to 5pm every day, Chi Cac attracts many visitors, especially the young and the retired. Readers can either read books on the spot or borrow them and take them home.

During the recent summer holidays, the garden was visited by hundreds of children a day.

“Some of them are absorbed in reading so much that sometimes I have to remind them to go home to study,” Xuan said.

Sometimes the library welcomes special guests, Xuan’s friends from nearby districts who come to enjoy tea and discuss good books together.

The Chi Cac reading garden is actually the third time that the veteran has opened a library, but it is the first one he has opened to the public.

“The idea of opening a library first came to me in 1976 when I was still in the army and saw that there were many recyclable war materials. I suggested selling these discarded materials to establish a small library of about 400 books for the soldiers. There were not many means of entertainment like today and reading seemed to be the only source of fun for us,” he recalls.

“The second library was mainly for family use and opened in the 1990s. However, over time, many books became worn out or even were lost, so I found I could not maintain both libraries.

Xuan’s determination to open his third library has received tremendous support from his family and friends. The books in the library have kept increasing as more and more people have learned about the project and donated books.

The Chi Cac reading garden has also become a trusted address for the provincial library which often seeks advice on updating its own collection using Xuan’s broad knowledge and thorough selections.

“To develop the reading garden both in terms of book quantity and quality, I will continue to call for donations from my acquaintances,” Xuan said.

In several months, his library will enrich its collection with 500 new books thanks to an exchange programme between Xuan and Hai Duong province’s library.

“I also plan to discuss with principals in schools within the province on organising field trips for students to the Chi Cac reading garden, which will help them to broaden their knowledge and relax after hard study,” the library owner adds.

He also says he wishes to attract more local children to the garden by opening robotics and free English classes in the near future, if his budget will bear it.

“If we want to encourage reading again, we should cultivate it among children,” he added.-VNA