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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Saigon’s Non-War Museums

I remember that exciting day in my childhood when I was taken to a museum for the first time. It was the War Remnants Museum, and my excitement quickly gave way to horror for having seen its exhibits ...

Brian Letwin

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[Video] Vintage Film Used to Capture Hanoi’s Bicycle Culture

It may not be quite as vintage as this old family home movie from the early 50s, but this 2 minute 32 second super 8 film, (no, not that Super 8 film) from illustrator, artist and cartoonist Oslo...

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A Brief History Of The Áo Dài

Every country has its national attire. China’s has the cheongsam, Japan the kimono, Korea the hanbok, America denim and Vietnam has its áo dài. Like the country from which it originated, the áo dài ha...

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[Photos] “Cemetery” For Tanks, Planes And Pretty Much Everything Else In Bac Ninh

In the village of Quan Do, Bac Ninh Province lies a massive cemetery of old military and civilian equipment. 

Brian Letwin

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Ask For Permission, Not For Forgiveness: Saigon’s Graffiti Artists Learning From Seoul Counterparts

Graffiti art is becoming an increasingly popular art form in Asia, planting solid roots in many large cities in the region over the past few years. While at its core, graffiti art is anti-establishmen...

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September Movies At Saigon’s Alternative Film Venues

This September, our local, alternative film-venues are sharing their love for the silver screen through their own selection of both new titles and films that you will not find in mainstream cinemas ar...

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An Interview With 2 Vietnamese Dog Thieves

Dog theft has become a major issue over the years in Vietnam, especially as the country develops and people form deeper bonds with their pets. Any local dog owner lives with the knowledge that there a...

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The Little-Known Hero’s Tomb Next To Bà Chiểu Market

Located at the intersection of two bustling streets in Bình Thạnh District – Phan Đình Phùng and Đinh Tiên Hoàng – and a few steps from the crowded Bà Chiểu market, is a temple dating back to the city...

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Vietnamese Model To Hold International Fashion Show On Eiffel Tower

Vietnamese model, Jessica Minh Anh, has clearly found her niche - organizing fashion shows at some of the world’s most iconic locations.

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An Ode To Saigon’s Rain Showers

Despite the inconveniences that unpredictable rain showers bring to Saigon, they are an essential part of the city’s character.

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[Video] Viet Teens Use Mosquito Larva As Inspiration For Amazingly Awkward Dance

Well, not much to say about this video other than: prepare yourself for 4 minutes of wonderful, jaw-dropping awkwardness.

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[Photos] Honda Chalys That Have Undergone Extreme Makeovers

Though they’re becoming increasingly rare on Vietnam’s roads, Honda Chalys remain a favorite for local mechanics who out their own spin on the diminutive motorbikes.

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What’s So Special About Vietnamese Sơn Mài (Lacquer Painting)?

Sơn mài, or traditional Vietnamese lacquer painting, is not only unique in its fusion of local and French techniques, but also challenging due to the level of complexity and detail needed to create it...

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Dan Nguyen and 3A: Organizing the Artifacts of Trauma

Vietnamese American artist and music composer, Dan Nguyen has left yet another mark on the South East Asian art scene; this time, at the rapidly growing 3A Alternative Art Area.

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[Video] Saigon Hustlers

For many in Saigon, life is a hustle. From street vendors to motorbike ice delivery boys, everyone is trying to eek out a living. This video, made by Luke Penders, does a great job of capturing those ...

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3 Thrilling Vietnamese Games To Play During The Month Of Ghosts

Small trays of colorful cakes are popular offerings for superstitious Buddhists during the Month of Ghosts. But Vietnamese children have a number of other ways to make contact with spirits, including ...

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Photographer Spotlight: An Interview With Cuong Do Manh

This is a continuation of our series that presents some of the most influential and prolific Vietnamese photographers. Whether photojournalism or fine art photography, their work investigates Vietname...

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Sidewalk DJ Becomes A Hit In Saigon

The motorbike karaoke singers and Michael Jackson impersonators have run into some stiff competition in the form of sexy sidewalk DJs, reports Zing.

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[Photos] Event Rewind: Saigoneer Photo Walk With Quinn Ryan Mattingly

Last Sunday, photographer, Quinn Ryan Mattingly led the first monthly Saigoneer photo walk where participants traveled along Thái Văn Lung, Lê Thánh Tôn, Tôn Đức Thắng, and Lý Tự Trọng Streets to capt...

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Masters Of Recycling: Saigon Technicians Turn Old Computer Screens Into TV Sets

If you needed anymore proof that Vietnamese are the masters of recycling and reuse, here it is. At District 10’s Nhật Tảo Market, technicians spend their day stripping down old computer monitors to cr...