Sunday, November 29, 2015


Puppet Center, and Leanna and Hollis
at the Laodong Center theatre where we
attended the Water Puppet performance.

Over the last few days we have had multiple experiences, days and evenings of fun.  In this blog we will speak of going to the world famous Water Puppet Show in downtown Ho Chi Minh City at the Laodong (Trade Union) Cultural Center and then a restaurant for banh xeo.
First a little explanation, the Laodong Cultural Center is a multipurpose facility provided by the VGCL (Vietnam General Confederation of Labor) for cultural activities in downtown HCMC including theatre, dance lessons, sports and who knows what all.  Among the activities is the Water Puppet Show. No, the puppets are not made out of water but they and puppeteers perform in the water.  The themes of the performance ranged from the opening act of Raising the Festival Flag to the concluding Dance of the Holy Animals (tortoise, phoenix and fish) where the performing puppets portrayed the animals swimming and dancing, chasing each other.  Now this puppet show dates back to 11th Century and here are some more titles: Dragon Dance, On a Buffalo with a Flute, Unicorns play with ball and Fairy Dance.  Of course dragons and buffalo are both an important part of the Vietnam historical culture (VN is shaped like a dragon on the map).  And the buffalo besides being a friend of the family that owns it is also a very hardworking member who still contributes to the farming of Vietnam (compared to tractors they contribute nourishment to the plants through deposits -- manure) as plow pullers, cart power, grazing unwanted weeds, etc.).  On a previous trip to VN an acquaintance explained that after 5000 years or more of living with and around humans, buffalo will not hurt a human -- they just don't do it.  Probably accidents happen but no intentional act of malice by a buffalo. We have the one picture of a puppet outside the theatre but we never shot during the performance in respect for the performers and audience members.  Others did shoot pictures so maybe in the future we can provide a picture or two from inside the performance.  The music was a live performance by six musicians who used "traditional" instruments flute, guitar/s, drums and sang with their playing.  It was GREAT!  The puppets are beautiful.  The skills of the puppeteers in manipulating from long poles under water is impressive.  Lots of history, folk tales and humor. 

Leanna and Thao in front of Lao dong Center
Leanna and our friend Thao posed below the sign for the Nguoi Lao dong.  While we waited for the performance we walked around and saw people practicing martial arts, dancing to rap music, and a class of workers learning ball room moves in other parts of the Cultural Center.  WORKING FOLKS, making use of their union owned and operated center both day and evening into the night we understand.  Folks look upon their union movement as a people's organization that is involved not in just collective bargaining but in the community social life, seems like a good idea to me.  On the Wednesday night of the Puppet show much of the audience was tourists and out of town Vietnamese as might be expected since folks have to work.

The grill with the chefs cooking the banh xeo and other
scrumptious dishes.
After the Puppet show we took a taxi over to a different part of downtown where we walked up a small alley to what Thao and her man friend told us is a "locals" favorite banh xeo restaurant full of happy families, hipsters but very few tourist types eating dinner together and drinking beer. Our friends and guides Thao and her boyfriend Kenny ordered for our table and we really ate a lot of banh xeo pancakes.  Now the VN pancake is different than ours, it is fried egg pancake, often with shrimp, cooked on a frying pan on an old style charcoal grill, very thin and served with two or three (at least) different types of greens, bean sprouts and dipping sauces and hot peppers.  You pick up large green leafs, place it in your hand then a piece of banh xeo, and then other greens and vegetable such as mint, basil and perhaps lettuce leaves  You roll the whole thing up, dip in the sauces and enjoy!
Kenny, Thao and Leanna outside
the Theatre.
  (As I am writing this on 30 November it is 97 degrees outside and 55% humidity, a warm late autumn day.)  The four of us ate two large banh xeos with shrimp and popped the lid on some "Saigon" bia (beer) to wash down our dinner.  Then it was time to take a taxi home to our dorm room and get some rest for the following day.
Ball room dancers practicing for Saturday Night Fever

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