Vietnam Heritage, March 2011 — On top of the Hanoi Post Office, near Hoan Kiem Lake, is a four-faced clock that was given to Hanoi by the Chinese Government and installed in 1978. It strikes at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
The clock is powered by the electricity grid, except when there is a blackout. It has a 1.35 metre-long hour-hand and a 1.65 metre-long minute-hand. It has eight loudspeakers with a total 240W to broadcast the strikes.
The clock operating room is on the ground floor of the post office. Ms Le Thi Yen, one of the first operators, said there used to be hundreds of other smaller clocks in other rooms of the building and in some public places around the city. They were wired to the big clock and showed the same time. The operating team had to take care of all the clocks and deal with breakdowns. No small clocks are connected to the big one any more, as people can easily obtain their own.
‘In the past, all six operating unit members were women. We had to try to fix all the problems. I even tried to find materials to repair the . . . glass of the big clock,’ Ms Yen said.
Nowadays the operating unit is made up of only two members, as it needs no more.
Mr Kieu Hong Van, who had been working there for ten years, said, ‘We have only adjusted the clock a few times, due to power cuts or when the clock is too “excited” and goes too fast, like it did at the flower festival in late 2010.’ I understand that the latter event occurred after the battery [to take over during blackouts] had just been charged. The four sides of the clock ran very fast. Fortunately, it was in the evening and the operators shut off the lights in the clock. Van said he had been on duty every New Year’s Eve at the post office over the past several years in case there was a problem.
Ms Yen said, ‘The clock looks simple but there is only one such clock in the world. When it was installed, the expert said there was just one similar one in Beijing. But I went to Beijing and couldn’t find it, so I believe the clock at Hanoi Post Office is the only one. There might be some similar ones at provincial post offices but they used this clock as a model.’
On Tết eve, people go to the lake to celebrate and watch midnight approach on the big clock. the New Year. They look at the clock to watch every minute pass. It has been the same for 32 years. After the first five seconds of the final minute of the old year, the song Ca Ngợi Hồ Chủ Tịch (Sing praise to President Ho) composed by Luu Huu Phuoc is played. Fireworks are set off and Party and State officials read Tết wishes to the people.            

By Dang Ha Phuong