in Music & Arts

From Tò He to Tamagotchi: Local Designer Brings Our Childhood Toys to Stamps

For Vietnamese kids today, when it comes to games, there’s a possibility that their childhood is entirely confined to the digital world. From phone applications like Temple Run and Pokemon GO to blockbuster releases on the Nintendo Switch, making your own entertainment is much less of a concern for modern children.

in Culture

Meet 90-Year-Old Huỳnh Văn Ba, the Father of Hội An's Foldable Lanterns

In his 90s, Huỳnh Văn Ba’s hair has turned completely silver, but when he was telling me stories about lanterns, his voice and eyes sparkled with a particularly lively hope. Thanks to Ba’s invention — collapsible lanterns — Hội An’s distinctive souvenir can easily follow the footsteps of international tourists to all corners of the globe.

in Culture

In Hà Nội, a Martial Arts Master Preserves the Century-Old Tradition of Dragon Dancing

In Vietnam, during festive occasions such as Tết Nguyên Đán (Lunar New Year), mesmerizing dragon dance performances serve to eloquently spell the people's aspiration for fortune, abundance, and propitiousness. A glimpse into the art of dragon dancing The dragon has been a symbol of great cultural and spiritual significance in Vietnam since ancient times. Standing at the forefront of the Four Divine Creatures (Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, Phoenix), the dragon embodies strength, authority, opulence, and good fortune. Consequently, there is a prevailing belief among elders that the Year of the Dragon, denoted as "Năm Thìn," will usher in a period of substantial prosperity. The dragon also represents ancestral roots due to the folklore of Kinh Vietnamese being descendants of a dragon king and a fairy princess. The dragon, synonymous with strength and prosperity, has been a defining symbol in Vietnamese culture throughout history. Given its sacred status, dragon imageries have appeared across different art forms, from architecture, painting, and sculpture to folk theatrics like dragon dances. These vibrant performances take place during festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and other celebrations, symbolizing the collective desire for prosperity. Tracing its roots back to China, dragon dancing has since sprawled across much of Asia. Ancient Hà Nội, known as Thăng Long, is considered the first place in Vietnam where the art took off. Research suggests that dragon dancing in Thăng Long dates back to the 10th century during the Lý Dynasty. Over time, it fused with traditional martial arts and folk dances to become a unique form of art embedded in Vietnamese culture. With its enduring legacy, dragon dance continues to be a popular activity in community events from northern to southern Vietnam. Dragon dance continues to be a popular activity in community events from northern to southern Vietnam. Among various forms, fabric dragon dancing prevails. In the South, this variation is believed to have first emerged within the Chinese community around 1944-1945, when Hokkien businessman Trần Bội, owner of Trung Nam soap company, started a troupe comprising his factory workers in Sa Đéc. Another source, however, suggests that the first fabric dragon troupe appeared a few years earlier at Ông Temple in Phan Thiết, where remnants of a revered dragon head remain. After the war, the practice suffered a subdued period until 1987, when the former Hokkien troupe regrouped, establishing its base at Ông Bổn Temple in District 5. Since then, dragon dancing performances have continued to embellish local celebrations. Preserving Thăng Long's Dragon Dance Tradition In Hà Nội, particularly in localities such as Chương Mỹ, Thanh Trì, or Sơn Tây, the age-old practice is still cherished by locals. The resounding drums and graceful dragon movements remain a staple during Tết festivities. In its modern iteration, Hà Nội's dragon dancing stays true to its traditional roots while adapting to evolving contemporary tastes, with more than 30 styles developed. Master Bùi Viết Tưởng Crafting His Troupe's Costume. In Chương Mỹ, Hà Nội, a young martial arts master dedicates his career to championing the tradition of lion and dragon dancing. As the year of the dragon approaches, amidst busy preparations, Bùi Viết Tưởng and his apprentices find themselves working overtime to meet the surging demand for dragon displays in Hà Nội and neighboring regions. In the biting cold of January, Tưởng's workshop hums with activity, its presence a rare bastion for lion and dragon heads crafting in the capital. Having started his martial arts training at a young age, Master Bui Viet Tuong later focused on studying the intricate art of lion and dragon dancing. He returned to his hometown to establish a martial arts school and form the Tưởng Nghĩa Đường troupe, hoping to pass on this tradition to future generations of his community. The making of a dragon costume. At the workshop, the master and his apprentices diligently cut, sew, and adorn their creations with intense focus. "The dragon-making process involves multiple stages, demanding artisans to be truly patient, meticulous, and appreciative of traditional beauty to spend hours each day decorating every detail, adjusting each part until the dragon takes shape," Tưởng candidly says. Dragon costumes vary in size and color based on the routine, thus allowing for appropriate creativity and variations as needed. Each fabric dragon costume consists of three parts: head, body, and tail, all attached to bamboo legs. Dragons often sport vibrant colors like red - symbolizing luck, and gold, which represents prosperity. Each dragon head requires 5 to 6 days to complete, while the body and other parts take up to 10 days. The dragon head is a combination of bamboo, straw, fabric, and decal paper. After being mounted, the dragon head is intricately decorated. Tưởng notes that the material used for the dragon head must be able to withstand all the weather changes through the seasons of the North. Each paint stroke is emphasized to evoke the majestic spirit of this revered creature. The dragon body is crafted from fabric, with scales printed thermally or raised with decal paper. The number of scales can reach thousands, creating a sparkly effect. In addition to crafting dragons, rigorous training sessions at the club are held well before the Giáp Thìn Lunar New Year. As Tết looms near, the training at the club becomes increasingly rigorous. Artists performing dragon dance should be experienced in martial arts. "Dragon dance is a highly artistic form of performance art. It requires artists to skillfully create movements that accurately depict the majestic and powerful aura of the dragon. Therefore, a seamless blend of fluidity and decisiveness is essential for a dragon dancer. In addition to performance skills, a background in martial arts is crucial," shares Tưởng who draws from his 15 years of experience in both martial arts training and dragon dance. "Anyone looking to engage in dragon dance must undergo a tedious process. Good physical health is a prerequisite to meet the demands of constantly changing movements. Flexible reflexes and resilience are equally important qualities. Hence, those with a martial arts background, adept in various stances and techniques, will quickly adapt to this art form," he explains. Good coordination determines the success of a dragon dance performance. The ability to coordinate within the team also determines the success of a dragon dance performance. "How well the team harmonizes to create continuous transformations, maintaining a tight connection among members, is something I always emphasize to my students." The number of members in a dance troupe varies depending on the size of the dragon. For Tưởng Nghĩa Đường, a typical performance involves 9 members. Each member plays a crucial role, although the positions at the head, number 5, and tail are the most physically demanding. As the one controlling the dragon's head, Đỗ Văn Tới explains, "To make the dragon move gracefully and execute visually appealing movements, the leader must practice sharpness and agility. Precise movements enable other members to follow suit. Additionally, this position is pivotal in handling any unexpected situations during the performance." Đỗ Văn Tới, the dragon head bearer. With each Tet celebration and the arrival of spring, rhythmic drumbeats echo through community gatherings. Against the backdrop of village courtyards, majestic dragons coil and sway, a testament to the enduring power of this traditional art form. Dragon dance performances evoke not just fond childhood memories but also the people's aspirations for luck, success, and the ambition to rise resiliently. As long as the younger generations embrace this cultural legacy, its enduring charm remains steadfast.

Khôi Phạm

in Culture

On Delving Into Vietnam's Eras of Tết Firecrackers via My Family History

Is it a valid reverie or just mere misguided nostalgia to feel a sense of yearning for lives you’ve never lived?

in Culture

Xông Đất and the Art of Not Letting Randos Into Your Home on Mùng Một

Tết permeates all areas of life this time of the year, from TV programs to online memes and highly detailed charts, tables, and infographics that guide people to participate in a popular new year activity called xông đất.

in Culture

In the Year of the Dragon, Confessions of a Supposedly 'Auspicious' Dragon Baby

During high school, I learned that babies born in years of the dragon were thought to be “fortunate” and thus, highly sought-after.

Paul Christiansen

in Music & Arts

On Warmly Welcoming the Whimsy of Wonky Tết Zodiac Statues

Every Tết arrives accompanied by netizens sharing collections of poorly constructed statues of the year’s zodiac animal. Viewing the online collections with colleagues is one of my favorite holiday traditions.

in Culture

When Lịch Bloc Is Gone, What Will Vietnam Use to Keep Discarded Fish Bones?

I have never bought a lịch bloc, or tear-off calendar, for personal use, because every new year, I'm bound to be gifted a brand-new one. In Vietnam, a calendar is often something one purchases as a present for others.

Back Arts & Culture

in Culture

[Photos] Floods Bring Seasonal Specialties To The Mekong Delta

While few Saigonese smile at the sight of flooded streets, their Mekong Delta brethren welcome high waters with open arms.

in Culture

[Video] BMX: Saigon Style

The age of the fixie may have dawned on Saigon but another bicycle fad is becoming increasingly popular in the city – BMX.

in Culture

[Video] A Vietnamese Critique Of Social Networking

The Phở Team, which brought us "What does the Phở Say?" and "Differences Between Hanoi vs Sai Gon" is back with a new video critiquing the social network experience.

in Music & Arts

Vietnamese Photographer Wins Award At International Competition

Vietnamese photographer, Ly Hoang Long, was selected as the top photographer from the Asia-Pacific region at the recent CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year competition.

in Music & Arts

Morning News Roundup: Vietnam To Resume Horse Racing On New Track

Vietnam to resume horse racing on new track [Thanh Nien] Company builds road without permission in Ha Long Bay’s peripheral areas [Tuoi Tre] Young man creates street library in Danang [DTI]

in Music & Arts

[Photos] Event Rewind: Saigoneer Photo Walk With Adam Robert Young

Last Sunday, Adam Robert Young led the October Saigoneer photo walk, taking a group of participants around a bustling local market in District 2.

in Music & Arts

Saigon Artbook 1 Year Anniversary Fundraiser

After 4 successful releases of the Saigon Artbook, the team is launching a special 1 year anniversary edition at an open fundraising event at 3A Station on Thursday, October 23 from 5pm – 11pm.

in Music & Arts

Wednesday Jameson Jam: Acoustic Open Mic @ Saigon Outcast

From the organizer: Candlelight, cool breeze, and acoustic music, the perfect way to ease into the weekend!

in Music & Arts

Epic Drone Video Shows Vietnam’s Beauty From Great Heights

If you ever needed proof that Vietnam and drones are a natural fit, look no further than this video made by Duong Dang Dop.

in Culture

85-Year-Old Saigon Man Bootstraps His Way Across Vietnam

Nguyễn Văn Ngọc, an 91-year-old man from Ward 26 in Bình Thạnh District is known among his neighbors as a shoe repairman and part-time fortuneteller. Little do they know that at the ripe old age of 85...

in Music & Arts

American DJ Lil Jon To Headline The HCMC Prisma Run In November

Kelly Clarkson isn’t the only American star on their way to Vietnam later this year. American DJ, Lil Jon, will be headlining the November 22 Prisma Run in District 2, greeting runners at the finish l...

in Arts & Culture

2 Year Anniversary Of Last Call Bar @ Last Call

From the organizer: Ladies and gentelmen's, early birds and sun chasers, cocktails lovers and just lovers, LAST CALL bar is going to be happy to see on this special day, day of 2 years since the ...

in Arts & Culture

[Video] Saigon Artbook Anniversary Party Teaser

It’s been a year since the first edition of the Saigon Artbook was launched at La Brasserie. 12 artists and 4 editions later, the team has planned a special anniversary party at 3A Station on October ...

in Music & Arts

Kelly Clarkson To Play Miss Vietnam 2014 Finale

Kelly Clarkson, winner of American Idol 2002 and performer of formulaic pop ballads, will make her way to Vietnam in December to entertain crowds at this year’s Miss Vietnam pageant finale in Phu Quoc...

in Music & Arts

Saigoneer Presents: Photo Walk With Adam Robert Young

The Saigoneer Photo Walk is back!

in Film & TV

[Video] Short Film “16:30” - A Day In The Life Of A Saigon’s Child Lottery Ticket Sellers

16:30 is a 17-minute short film by Vietnamese director Tran Dung Thanh Huy which made an appearence at the Cannes film festival in 2013. The film tells the story of a group of young Saigon boys who se...

in Culture

[Photos] The White Prince Of Saigon

No one loves white more than this Saigon man.

in Culture

[Photos] Vietnam Celebrates The 60th Anniversary Of Hanoi’s Liberation

On October 10, 1954, French troops folded up their flags and withdrew from their colonial capitol. As they left, Vietnamese communist forces entered the city, official ending 67 years of French occupa...

in Music & Arts

Optimist Club 100 - 2 Year Anniversary

Optimists! We made it to no.100 [and it's also our 2nd anniversary!

in Film & TV

October Movies At Saigon’s Alternative Film Venues

With Halloween coming up soon, expect some horror and gothic films at Saigon’s alternative film venues this month. Alongside titles that pay homage to the much-loved remembrance of the dead, these pro...