In summertime, groups of children often play with tops along Hanoi’s streets and alleys. Their enthusiasm and happy laughter attract an audience, old and young, and remind older viewers of their younger days.
The folk pastime of top spinning still charms city children despite the popularity of modern games such as bowling, skateboarding, billiards and video games.
In the countryside, most children make their own tops out of guava, jackfruit, or longan wood. Sometimes they fashion tops from buffalo horn, though there tops are rare because horns are harder to obtain and more difficult to shape. City children frequently use wood scraps left from making furniture to fashion their tops. To Tich Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is famous for trading tops. A top has three parts: the head, body and nail. The head is shaped into a cylinder. The body is a sphere; the string is wound around its upper part. The nail must be accurately fixed into the bottom point of the top. Children in the countryside make strings from dry maize leaves; Hanoi children often use parachute string or cord.
The simplest way to spin a top is to “drop” it. The player uses his or her ring finger and little finger to press the cord or string against the nail at the knot. He or she holds the top firmly with the thumb and two remaining fingers so that its nail points upwards. Then he or she “drops” the top in three rapid steps: first, pushing the top forward while turning the wrist to point the nail downwards, then releasing the top; and rapidly pulling the string.
Once the top is spinning, players can use the string to move the top in the desired direction. When the top wavers, the player runs the string against the nail and pulls powerfully in the direction the top is turning. This keeps the top spinning longer.
Although tops are among the simplest of toys, excited children spinning tops create one of Hanoi’s most vivid and boisterous games.