in Film & TV

'Madame Pirate,' Film Project Based on Asia's Greatest Female Pirate, Sets Sail Again

Zheng Yi Zao “started as a prostitute, resisted the authority of the Qing emperor, kicked everyone’s bottom, and then got away with it... also she has been ignored by history,” explains Vietnam-based filmmaker and photographer Morgan Ommer for why Taiwan was interested in funding a two-part film that tells the story of the leader of the world's largest pirate fleet. 

in Film & TV

Hanoi Director's Debut 'Cu Li Never Cries' Wins Best 1st Feature at Berlin Film Festival

After Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell won the Camera D’or award at Cannes last year, this year, another independent film fro...

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.

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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

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?

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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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Report: Number of Rich Saigonese set to Triple by 2023

According to global real estate company, Knight Frank, the number of ultra-rich Saigonese is set to triple over the next 10 years, reports Shanghai Daily.

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Green Drinks - Air Conditioning - the Case for Re-Engineering for a Greener World

From the organizer: Green Drinks is back in town. Join us to meet Xavier Pinchart to explore why classical air conditioning is a total nonsense when faced to energetic challenges.

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Interview With the Organizers of the 'Neighbors' Gay Party

Neighbors is a monthly event, a Facebook community, and a group of volunteers. It is where Saigon’s gay community gathers to connect and expand business networks, furthers careers, and stay current wi...

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Neighbors Gay Networking Party @ OMG!

From the organizer: Neighbors is a monthly gay event, Facebook community, and group of volunteers. It is where Saigon’s gay community gathers to connect and expand business networks, furthers caree...

in Music & Arts

Saigon Artist Spotlight: Jack Clayton

Jack Clayton is an artist from East London who has spent the last four years travelling. His inspiration for his art work is drawn from his experiences around the world and a representation of his env...

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Saigon Sound: Daedelus

We caught up with Daedelus after he played to an enthusiastic crowd in Saigon in January. Surprisingly, there was a stark difference between his studio work, as stated earlier in his interview wi...

in Culture

[Video] Mesmerizing Saigon Tilt Shift Time Lapse

We sure love our Saigon time lapse videos. For a frenetic city like ours, these cinematic pieces are able capture its energy, perhaps more than any other medium. We recently stumbled upon this video, ...

in Music & Arts

The Story Behind the Melting Pot Festival

Last weekend, the Melting Pot successfully celebrated its 4th event as well as its 1st anniversary with art exhibitions and a line-up of musicians and DJs, proving that there is a Saigonese’s experime...

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Slideshow: 11 of the First Color Pictures Ever Taken in Vietnam

From 1914 - 1917 Leon Busy (1874-1950), a French officer serving in Indochina, was assigned by the Albert Kahn Museum in France to capture the lives of the people in northern Vietnam.

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Vietnam’s Big Casino Plans Hinge on Locals Being Allowed to Gamble

While Saigon and Hanoi are home to a number of casinos, it is illegal for Vietnamese to roll the dice in their country. Plans for large-scale casinos have been in the works for years but until locals ...

Brian Letwin

in Music & Arts

Culture on 3 Wheels: Artsy 7-Story Tricycle Making its Way Around Hanoi

There are few things that surprise us in Vietnam these days – a gaggle of geese draped from a motorbike, electricity workers on precarious ladders, hell, even a volcanoes sprouting from the streets. B...

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Video: Watch Prince William ‘Speak’ Vietnamese

Last week, Prince Charles and Prince William recorded a video with the BBC to encourage an end to the illegal wildlife trade. In an effort to spread the message to the world, the pair translated the s...

in Music & Arts

Saigon Soul - Pool Parties

Looking to cool off from the Saigon heat while relaxing and listening to some chill tunes? Then check out the weekly Saigon Soul pool party held at the rooftop pool of the New World Hotel, every satur...

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Press Roundup: McDonald's Opens in Saigon

Since just about every major news agency has covered last Saturday’s McDonalds Saigon launch, we thought that, rather than rehashing the same story, we’d make a roundup of articles from the forei...

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Artist Spotlight: Kristopher Kotcher

A child's imagination is pure, unpretentious, unique and unconcerned with other people's judgements or views. As we get older most of us tend to loose these qualities, often because there is an untold...

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Infographic: The Most Popular Vietnamese Surnames

As Australia knows firsthand, the Nguyen surname is the most common among Vietnamese. But how does it stack up against others like Trấn, Lê and Phạm? One Vietnam put together a nifty infographic ...

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Artist Spotlight: Yanneth Albornoz

There are very few people that you encounter accidentally in your lifetime with whom you can strike a spontaneous four hour conversation as if you have known each other for a very long time. Usually w...

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Artist Spotlight: Landon Nguyen

18-year-old Saigon native, Landon Nguyen is an aspiring artist living in California. Though he has been a creative-type all his life, it wasn’t till he moved to the US that he realized his artistic po...

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Tết Tây

Western New Year passed us by, towing an old sensation in its wake. It was a strange celebration, or if not completely strange then slightly out of joint. The Ball was stationary, and around its would...

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Audio: Vietnam's Reggae Revelation

It may be played on repeat in tourist bars across Vietnam (and much of SE Asia) but reggae music has yet get traction in the local market. Hanoi-based journalist, Marianne Brown recently tal...