Week 10: Curse of the Oil Sellers

This week on #VNmyth: The narrowing of Tô Lịch river or the curse of Lallo… Mr. And Mrs. Dầu.

I. The story:

During the Lý’s dynasty, there was a massive landslide on the ancient rivers of Tô Lịch, Nhị Hà. Some folktales attributed this accident to Cao Biền, or Gao Pian in Mandarin, an official in the Tang dynasty in charge of controlling Giao Chỉ, the then dominated Vietnam. Rumors had it that Gao was a renowned Fengshui master and had gone to seal the Fengshui of Vietnam as per the Tang emperor orders, making Đại Việt a colony forever.

How much truth was in this hypothesis? No one was sure. But one thing was certain: after the landslide, the emperor suffered from a severe eyes-sore. He couldn’t work properly, and it was horrible for his image–as the end of the year was drawing near and many official events demanded the emperor’s appearance.

The situation was dire and worsen when no royal doctor or herbalist was capable of curing the emperor. Before long, he even resorted to the help of witch doctors, shamans, and prayers, to no avail.

One day, a famous Fengshui master/fortune-teller went to meet the emperor. He said that:

“The landslide created a Fengshui formation called ‘Thuỷ Phương Càn Tuất’ (seriously, even I don’t know what it is. Think of it as bibbidi bobbidi boo), which pierced your eyes. So unless you seal this away, your eyes won’t get better anytime soon.”

The emperor asked:


The fortune-teller had no answer.

The emperor ordered his officials to build a ritual site at a river crossroad where three rivers: Tô Lịch, Thiên Phù, and Cái met and waited for a fortune-telling dream. The two officials dreamt of a god, who said:

“At the break of dawn on the 30th of December (based on the Lunar Calendar), order your men to wait at the harbor. You must capture whoever got there first, drown them in the river, and gave them godhood, then the formation would be sealed.”

Đoạn sông Tô Lịch bị lấp (màu đỏ) kéo dài từ Chợ Gạo đến chợ Bưởi bây giờ. Dòng hiện tại (màu xanh) bắt nguồn từ Nghĩa Đô (quận Cầu Giấy) chảy xuôi xuống phía nam, đổ ra sông Nhuệ. Đồ họa: Tiến Thành.
The map of the Rivers today (Bưởi market is approximately where the suppose crossroad was; Thiên Phù River had long been dead; the red line denote the parts of the river paved over during development, the blue line denote the current river canal).

They immediately reported this dream back to the emperor.

Some officials thought this action was too cruel/inhumane, so they tried to stop the emperor, but he was determined.

“At the end of the day, the emperor’s eyes were worth way more than some mere commoners’ lives.”

Argued the emperor and his compilers / yes men.

On that faithful morning, an old couple was the first to come to the harbor. They were Mr. & Mrs. Dầu, oil vendors. They planned to cross the river early to go in the city and deliver some lamp oils to pagodas, as the demand would be sky-rocketed during the Lunar New Year.

The emperor’s men approached them, pretended to be friendly, and asked what they wanted their kids to offer them as their offering once they passed away. Mr. Dầu said:

“Beef and sticky rice.”

Mrs. Dầu wanted the same things but added the desert of bánh rán mật, a deep-fried rice cake with green bean paste filling and honey glazed (pictures below).

Well, you get it, the bastards drown them both, ignoring their pleas to be spared. After they were murdered, their corpses were swallowed by the river and never surfaced. Once a shrine was dedicated for them, the emperor’s eyes were healed.

Yet, unbeknown to the cruel emperor, he just doomed his entire family lineage with that murder.

After some time, a man went mad, spitting out all insults toward the emperor like a machine gun. Scarier, his face was so distorted that each half was making a different expression, and two voices came out of his mouth. Some of them were:

“We are Mr. and Mrs. Dầu. You are all damn bastards with no heart nor soul. You take innocent lives as you please. You think being emperor was big, eh? We will curse you. Your family will end with no successor. We will narrow both Tô Lịch and Thiên Phù rivers as the sign. Once it begins, it can’t be stopped!!”

After that, it was just crazed laughter.

That scared the hell outta the emperor. He offered them the meal they want every year. Yet, the curse was already set firm.

The Lý’s dynasty ended with an empress – the only empress in Vietnamese history – Lý Chiêu Hoàng, whose throne was inherited by her husband – Trần Cảnh – the first emperor of Trần’s dynasty. All family branches died off, except those who changed their family name to Nguyễn.

The Tô Lịch and Thiên Phù rivers were narrowed to their nowadays canal-like state.

Đồng Nai: Cưa bom, hai người chết

II. My comments:

_ Moral of the story: don’t mess with people, especially the good guys. You don’t want to face a gentle soul’s wrath. Or worse, a gentle soul’s curses.

_ Tô Lịch river is a sewage canal in present days, and its odor was famous all around Hà Nội.

_ There was an incident during the early 2000s regarding the river. It started with an article named “Artifacts of Tô Lịch’s river.” I vaguely remember unexplained deaths, excavation sites, and unrest in society back then, but at the time, I was too young to notice or even care about that. I’m in my early twenties btw.

_ The part where the face distorted into two expressions might be my grandma’s unique addition to the story, as she was a bit of an author herself and would randomly sprinkle horror elements in her bedtime story (yeah, great job, grandma). I decided to keep it because… it’s cool. But I’ll address it here to make things clear.

_ The whole “the corpse of drowned people didn’t float” is a trope used a lot in Vietnamese/Asian stories as a sign of unrest and horror (so basically, Penny Wise is doing us a favor). Losing one’s corpse to the water and thus being denied a proper burial was one of the fears that might still exist in rural areas even today. There is a particular type of ghost associated with this fear – Ma Da (who makes short appearances in chapter 7-8 of the Half-Dead Series’ Book 1).

_ Petition for a raise. Give me my damn raise monkey or I go on strike (Petition denied, I’m already on strike!).

_ The image separating sections is bomb sawing, an actual illegal act in Vietnam. I used this because the act of killing innocent people it’s just as suicidal as doing this type of stuff (yes, they bang the bomb as hard as they can with a hammer and saw, transport them by strapping them behind their moped).

As per usual, if you like what you see, like and share. See you next week!

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