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.

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

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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.

Back Arts & Culture

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Saigoneer Podcast: Riding on a Motorbike With Someone; Karaoke or Nightclub?

A new Saigoneer Podcast episode is out now!

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What If Disney Fairy Tales Took Place in Vietnam? A Local Illustrator Wonders.

Cinderella, Snow White and The Little Mermaid are all iconic animated characters whose imagery has left a strong impression on generations of children. What if these stories, popularized by Disney car...

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Praying for Good Weather, Bac Giang-Style

My friends said that they were going to a festival which happens every four years, and that it would be great for photographs. I knew nothing more.

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Our Memories of Vietnam, Transformed Into Lego Creations by Collector Hoàng Đặng

Đặng Huy Hoàng is a Hanoi-based industrial designer. He loves building custom scenes with Lego, and has created many Vietnam-themed model sets on his social media accounts.

in Music & Arts

In 'Hà Nội Bị Say Cà Phê,' a Tribute to the House Dancers of Lenin Park

Although house dance has its origin in nightclubs, the members of House Dance Hanoi (HDH) community don’t necessarily need to go to clubs to dance.

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Saigoneer Podcast: The Bitexco Tower Opens; Street Names v. Food Names

Another new Saigoneer Podcast episode is available for your listening pleasure. 

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Meet Little Peanut, the Star of Hanoi's Experimental Puppetry Performances

Last year, on a fine autumn day, I was lucky to witness Little Peanut taking her first steps in the attic-cum-rehearsal-studio of the Hanoi based experimental theater group Mắt Trần Ensemble.

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Saigoneer Podcast: The Value of Bike Baskets; Should Saigon Go Under- or Above-Ground?

A new Saigoneer Podcast episode is out now!

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The Mud-Tastic Fun of An Giang's Cattle Race Festival

Every year when the 8th lunar month comes around, people from different walks of life gather in the land of Seven Mountains (Bay Nui) to immerse themselves in the jubilant atmosphere of the bare,...

in Quãng 8

Pain, Hazard Clique's 'Big Brother,' on the Trio's Formation and Friendship

If you consider yourself acquainted with the local rap and hip-hop scene, you probably have Pain aka Đại Ca P on your listening radar. As one part of the creative trio Hazard Clique, this charismatic ...

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How to Make a Bamboo Basket Boat, as Demonstrated by Phú Yên Artisans

As part of the sweltering south-central coast, Phu Yen Province has cultivated strong roots in the arts of gathering and rearing seafood.

in Literature

Literary Journal Áo Trắng Ceases Operations Today After 31 Years

Once a home for aspiring young writers to take their very first steps on their journey towards literary finesse, Áo Trắng will now close its doors for good.

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Saigoneer Podcast: The Demise of the Saigon Tax Center; Old v. New Photos of Vietnam

It's time for the second season of the podcast!

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How a Hanoi Collective Found Audio-Visual Beauty in Bamboo and Red River Soil

Traditional music in Vietnam is a complex fabric woven of many threads. Some strands extend hundreds of kilometers across the country and others reach across borders and oceans to nearby neighbors.

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The Artist Making a Miniature Saigon Out of Lego Blocks

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The Timeless Beauty of Vietnamese Women in Mai Trung Thứ’s Legacy

Mai Trung Thứ, who lived from 1906 to 1980, was a remarkable Vietnamese artist who graduated from the Indochina Fine Arts College.

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Film Adaptation of Mạc Can's 'Tấm Ván Phóng Dao' Wins Award at Busan Project Market

If Wood Could Cry, It Would Cry Blood was awarded the ArteKino International Award as part of the 2021 Busan International Film Festival. 

Michael Tatarski

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Nocturnal Animals Music Livestream Series Unites Artists for Pandemic Relief

While bars and nightclubs remain closed, a special monthly livestream series starting tomorrow will give those of us in Vietnam the chance to experience nightlife without leaving the house.

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From Germany to 'King of Rap' Runner-up: How Tuimi Becomes a Hip-Hop Breakout Star

Tuimi, a Vietnamese German singer and rapper, has become one of the most notable female voices in the local hip-hop scene and been making big waves since her return in 2019.

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Can Street Art Help Restore One of Hanoi's Poorest Communities?

Can street art lead to urban restoration? Or is it wilful gentrification? In February 2020, the Phuc Tan Public Art Project officially opened — the work on display offers engaging art and stirs up int...