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

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.

Back Arts & Culture

Paul Christiansen

in Loạt Soạt

Bảo Ninh's English-Language Return and the Magic of Mundane Moments

Of all 20th-century Vietnamese authors whose works were translated into English, none have received more high-profile attention than Bảo Ninh for his wartime novel Nỗi buồn chiến tranh (The ...

in Culture

At Phước Hải's Lễ Hội Nghinh Ông, Everything Every Whale All at Once

Phước Hải is a fishing township in the south of Vietnam, a short ride away from Vũng Tàu.

in Music & Arts

Bamboo Dance, Folk Tunes, and Fiery Guitar: The Spectable Behind Dzung's New Live EP

Following his critically acclaimed latest album "Dzanca," progressive metal guitarist Dzung is gearing up for the release of a special EP that chronicles his full live set at HOZO music festival takin...

in In Plain Sight

Go Through Centuries of Ceramic History at Hanoi's Bát Tràng Museum

The Pottery Museum in Làng Gốm Bát Tràng (Bát Tràng Ceramics Village) showcases the cultural heritage of the village through its exhibits of the works of past and present artisans.

Thi Nguyễn

in Music & Arts

The Facetious Gender Politics of Gỗ Lim, Hanoi's Feminist Post-Punk Quintet

In an example of cruel irony, October 20 is when we celebrate annual Vietnam Women's Day, and also the anniversary of the passing of Mai Nga (commonly known as Nga Nhí), the lead singer of Gỗ Lim — a ...

in In Plain Sight

The Unbearable Delight of Watching a Live Football Match at Hàng Đẫy Stadium

“The government sells it for VND100,000. Just give me VND150,000. Gate 3, right in the center.” 

Khôi Phạm

in Culture

What to See, Taste, and Do If You Have a Free Morning in Tân Định

There’s not much you’ll need to do to persuade me to drive, walk, crawl, scuttle or skate along the Nhiêu Lộc-Thị Nghè Canal — I adore its shaded, tree-lined pavements that much.

in Culture

I Grew up Among Ducks in the Mekong Delta. They Always Remind Me of Home.

On a recent ritual walk around my suburb, I was held up by the sight of a middle-aged man with his “fur kid.” I introduced myself and when he heard the word “Vietnam,” his eyes lit up and with a smile...

Khôi Phạm

in Culture

What to See, Taste, and Do If You Have 3 Hours to Kill in Chợ Lớn

One of my favorite parts about being in a new city is dropping by any random neighborhood and just walking around until my feet get sore. Walking affords me the leisurely pace and multi-dimensional fr...

in Culture

Giang Brothers Hits Milan Streets for Sleek Fashion Shoot After Setting New World Record

After establishing another Guinness record in Milan, Vietnam’s acrobats extraordinaires, the Giang Brothers, collaborated with local photographer Quỷ Cốc Tử to produce a mesmerizing fashion shoot that...

in Culture

A Day in the Life of Phùng Hưng, a D5 Street With Two Personalities

Nestled in the historic Chợ Lớn section of District 5, Phùng Hưng Street runs from the canal along Võ Văn Kiệt through to Hồng Bàng. Within its length, the street has two distinct personalities.

in Quãng 8

On Táo's Transformation From Rapper to Curator of Good Taste

"The artist can’t reflect the truths of life if they don’t live, can they?"

in Music & Arts

The Ethereal Fever Dream Inside MV 'Dung Họa' by Hanoi Indie Duo Limebócx

After years in production, Hanoi indie duo Limebócx’s long-awaited music video for ‘Dung Họa’ was finally released this month, a much-needed treat for fans who have waited years for new music from the...

in Culture

Local Studio's Animated Short Gives Adorable Crash Course on Vietnam's Spiritualism

Putting up offerings on the altar, burning votive money, and lighting incense: these are just some rituals that every Vietnamese is probably familiar with during Tết or even on special occasions. A lo...

Khôi Phạm

in Literature

From Architecture to Folklore: 5 Indie Book Projects for Vietnamese Culture Buffs

In our years of writing about Vietnam, Saigoneer has had the pleasure to meet many passionate, inquisitive individuals whose creative and academic projects inspired us to appreciate the many facets of...

in Music & Arts

On Its 12th Birthday, a Brief History of Hanoi Rock City, a Bastion of the Indie Spirit

Hanoi Rock City (HRC) is even more than a household name for the youth of Hanoi, especially anyone who’s fond of the “Rock n Roll” culture. Twelve years after its founding, HRC has become a special cu...

in Music & Arts

New Board Game Set Puts an Aesthetic Feline Touch on Bầu Cua Tôm Cá

In two weeks’ time, we can temporarily put down our laptops, shut away documents, and set up holiday auto-replies to slip into a bánh chưng-induced coma for a week.

in Music & Arts

Vietnamese Historical Gay Romance Wins Bronze at Japan International Manga Award

A gay-themed comic from Vietnam recently won a bronze award at the Japan International Manga Award.

in Arts & Culture

Saigoneer's Favorite Original Photography of 2022

If our Saigoneer moments in 2021 were marred by catastrophes and heart-breaking departures, 2022 has been a year of rediscovery and picking ourselves up.

in Arts & Culture

Khô Mực Studio Releases Surreal Calendar Featuring Art From 12 Local Artists

For the 2023 calendar, 'Robots vs. Flowers,' twelve young Vietnamese artists were each given a month and tasked with creating an image responding to the question: "Can technology and nature survive to...