One of the "must-see" list for Ho Chi Minh City includes the art form called Water Puppetry. Some comments say
"Not watching a performance of water puppetry means not visiting Vietnam yet".
" Watching the Vietnamese Water Puppetry is also the best way to discover the history, and traditional culture of the Vietnamese people"
I was really intrigued by this art and wouldn't miss it for anything - even if we have to get lost - not once, not twice but thrice (haha). The funny thing was that we were already in the right place (The Labor Cultural Palace HCMC at 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D.1) when we decided to ask for direction and guy pointed us to right direction but didn't trust him so we asked another guy who pointed us to the opposite direction. But well, oh well, glad we still made it to the show - missing only four scenes.
As we entered the theater, I was surprised that we are not actually going to sit on the edge of the pond (as I expected), but watched the puppet on the stage the same way we watch a concert at the Araneta Coliseum. The opening stage is a pond of water framed by a golden pagoda. There are platforms to the right and left of the stage for the musicians. The central stage is filled with muddy water (to look more like the ponds and so that the poles and mechanics can be hidden), and the puppeteers stand in the waist-deep water and the surface of the water serves as the stage. The puppeteers stand waist-deep in the water manipulating the puppets and making them move about and even dance on the surface of the water. A rattan curtain hides them, but they can see the stage and the audience through the bamboo slats.
The puppets advance and retreat in the water with the wave sound while the music is provided by the musicians and that goes along with the show. The drum beats more and more quickly as the show is about to begin. There is a drummer and gong and chants and songs to help animate the story, and the percussion instruments accompany the gestures to keep up the rhythm of a performance. The music also often introduces the theme of the play.
Scenes from the Golden Water Puppet Theater Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam
March 19, 2010, at 6:30pm / Entrance Fee: 80,000 vnd (Php 192)
Scenes in water puppetry are very short, usually lasting between one and seven minutes. Each recreates a certain activity or aspect of life in a traditional way that is very relevant to the Vietnamese. Human gestures and the actions of animals are readily adapted to water puppetry.
-Water Puppet Show
1. Raising of the Festival Flags (we missed)
2. The narrator: Teu (we missed)
3. Dance of the Dragons: (we missed)
4. Bamboo Flute Player on a Buffalo - (we missed)
5. Agriculture (Farming) - The puppets depicted various activities crucial to agricultural life such as tilling the soil, planting rice and irrigating the fields by bucket. Eighty percent of Vietnamese live in rural areas.
6. Catching Frogs to supplement their diet and to sell in city markets; they are considered a succulent dish.
7. Rearing Ducks and Catching Foxes - in the major deltas of the country rice fields and ponds provide a natural habitat for ducks, but their tenders must be ever vigilant of the sneaking foxes.
8. Fishing - This is an important part of the Vietnamese diet and plentiful because of the long coastline, rivers, ponds and lakes. Both children and adults catch fish with all manner of baskets, nets and rods.
9. The Scholar's Triumphant Return: Exams were held every three years in the capital to select mandarins. Graduates were appointed to all levels of bureaucracy. The graduates then made a triumphant return to their respective native villages with fine clothing, honor guards, trumpets, flags, carriages and offerings.
10. Lion Dance: On the water, the puppets recreate the joyful lion dance which men perform throughout the country for the Summer Festival
11. Phoenix Dance: The courtship of a male and female phoenix is a depiction of the ritual in which the soulmates meet. They symbolize noble love and fidelity.
12. King Le Loi and the Turtle or the Legend of the Restored Sword Lake: Le Loi led a ten-year uprising (1418-1427) to regain independence from China. Le Loi was greatly helped by a magic sword given to him by a turtle. After he became king in 1428, one day when boating on a lake in the capital, a giant turtle surfaced and asked for the sword back and the king then named the lake Hoan Kim (Restored Sword). "The lengthy sword has helped me before, it defeated tens of thousands of invaders. Now in peace, the magic sword is returned to its owner, and this lake shall be remembered as Hoan Kiem."
13. Children playing in water: Water is life sustaining in Vietnam as well as a great place to play.
14. Boat Racing - "Oye! Oye! Oye! The boat races begin and the competition is mighty.
15. Unicorns Play with a Ball: Two unicorns toss a ball back and forth, bringing to mind the rhythmic strengthening exercises of the martial arts.
16. Fairy Dance - King Lac Long Quan married Au Co in 2800 BC and they had 100 sons. After a time he told her "I came from the dragon and your ancestors were the fairies, it would not be possible for us to last forever together. Why don't you take 50 of our sons up to the mountains while I take the other 50 down to the sea? Lac Long Quan established the eldest son as the king of the new realm and the new King named himself Hung Vuong, and began the first Vietnamese dynasty.
17. Dance of Four Magical Animals: The guardians of Vietnamese temples who have the most magical powers (the dragon, the unicorn, the turtle and the phoenix) perform a closing dance.
No performance is complete without firecrackers which add to the excitement.