It's already mid-October and the weather outside is very unusual.
In fact, the dry season has started and it still looks like the rainy season. It rains every day, the sky is cloudy… this is how the climate changes clearly here.
We also had a typhoon through the Philippines that reached northern and central Viet Nam.
Such weather discourages a bit from walking in the parks, but it is perfect to visit a certain place.
Let's follow this typhoon and visit Ha Noi in the north of Vietnam.
Usually, when we go to Sapa or Ha Long Bay, we spend one or two days in the capital of Viet Nam. This, of course, does not preclude selecting Ha Noi as the destination of a separate expedition. I can assure you that there is plenty to see.
I would also be right if I assume that, like most tourists, you choose a hotel in the Old Quarter, from where tourist offices take tourists and travel outside the city.
One of the attractions that accompanies an overnight stay in Ha Noi is a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, which I wrote about in the article presenting you the story of the turtle and the holy sword.
When we walk around the lake twice, you will meet interesting buildings whose neon lights inform us that they house a Puppet Theater ...
The seemingly unremarkable buildings hide an unusual attraction.
This is one of the oldest traditions of northern Vietnam - the performance of a puppet theater, or in this case rather of a puppet on the water.
We have two such theaters around the lake. They lie almost on opposite banks and it is easy to find them.
I invite you to the one where I have had the pleasure of hosting twice.
This theater is located right next to the Ngoc Son temple, so after the performance you can go to the Jade Island to visit the legendary turtle.
Tickets are purchased for performances taking place in an hourly interval, every 70 minutes in total. The cost of the ticket depends on the chosen seat. The closer to the stage, the more expensive it is. Nevertheless, the price is still very attractive. If you only buy a ticket for a show, the average cost will be 100,000 VND. If you want to film the performance, you have to pay another 100,000. Although, as I have observed, smartphones are in common use and nobody pays attention to it.
I can assure you that you will be able to observe this extraordinary spectacle from anywhere in the room.
The room is a bit like our cinemas from the seventies and eighties.
Wooden wall decorations, wooden, upholstered, folding chairs. Lamps and loudspeakers hanging from the ceiling and placed on the walls complete the picture of cinema-theater straight from the 70`.
Immediately upon entering, on the left-hand side, you will see a large swimming pool with traditional Vietnamese-style decorations placed on it. This is the arena of our show.
You can see flags related to Buddhism and some bamboo decorations.
Right after the entrance, on the left and on the right, you can see the platforms with folk instruments and microphones raised above the surface of the water.
When all the guests are seated, the doors are closed, heavy velor curtains will cut us off from the noise coming from the street, the light dims and musicians dressed in regional costumes appear. They take places on both platforms, make the first sounds and the show begins, which will last about 55 minutes.
Water puppetry (Múa rối nước, Literally meaning: "Making dolls dance on the water") is a tradition that dates back to the 11th century and originated in villages in the Red River Delta area of northern Viet Nam. Today's Vietnamese water doll is a unique variation of the ancient Asian doll tradition.
All dolls and decorations are made of wood and carefully varnished.
The shows are held in a swimming pool with waist-high water.
Performances are held today in one of three venues - on the traditional ponds in the villages where the stage was created, on portable tanks built for traveling performers, or in a specialized building where the pool stage was built. As a rule, such a swimming pool has an area of 4 square meters, although in the case of our theater it is about 12 square meters.
A long bamboo pole supporting a doll is hidden under the water and used by puppeteers, usually hidden behind a screen, to control the puppets. In this way, the dolls seem to move over the water. When the rice fields were flooded with water, the villagers entertained each other with this form of art.
Depending on the plot and the type of story, up to 8 puppeteers stand behind a bamboo screen, decorated like a temple façade, and steer the puppets with long bamboo poles and a rope mechanism hidden under the water's surface. These dolls are not that small. They often weigh up to 15 kg. It requires strength and considerable skill to put such a large doll in motion.
As you already know, rice, the main ingredient of the Vietnamese diet, is usually grown in rice fields. So for centuries, the original water puppet festivals were literally held in the rice field, on which decorations, usually imitating a pagoda, were built to hide the waist-deep puppeteers standing in the water.
Water acts as a stage for dolls and is a symbol associated with the rice harvest. It also hides the lines that control the dolls and the puppeteer's movements. What's more, it improves the musical and vocal acoustics and provides the effect of flickering lighting.
A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music.
Instrumentation includes vocals, drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, Đàn bầu (monochord), gongs and bamboo flutes. The clean, simple sounds of a bamboo flute usually accompany the appearance of royal figures on stage, while drums and cymbals can loudly announce the arrival of a fire-breathing dragon.
Chèo singers (an opera form originating in northern Viet Nam) sing songs that tell a story played by dolls. Interestingly, the musicians and puppets interact during the performance. Musicians can alert puppets in danger or encourage those who hesitate to act. The puppets appear on the water scene, coming from both sides of the stage or emerging from the water. Spotlights and colorful flags decorate the scene and create a festive atmosphere. The view is beautiful.
The subject of the performances strongly refers to Vietnamese folklore. It tells about everyday life in rural Viet Nam and summarizes Vietnamese folk tales that grandparents tell their grandchildren. Stories about the harvest, fishing and festivals are highlighted.
Legends and national history are also told in short skits. Many sketches, especially those about everyday life, often have a humorous twist. And he has one eulogist.
Chú Tễu ("chú" means uncle, man, boy or master in Vietnamese) is a recurring and most notable form of water puppetry. Tễu means "laughing" in Vietnamese. He is a jester who humorously comments on political and social realities, especially the corruption of officials. His appearance is a smiling boy who often only wears a simple loincloth, sometimes accompanied by a simple vest.
The charm of this performance is that the dolls look as if they move on the water by themselves. If we add to it the music and the story led by the narrator of the entire performance, as well as the play of lights and very colorful decorations, the artistic experience is incredible.
On the surface, the whole performance looks very… light. On the other hand, the effort that puppeteers make is enormous. As I mentioned, some of the dolls weigh up to 15 kg. In addition, the whole show is very "vital" - wooden figures of people and animals, flying dragons or butterflies move almost across the surface of the water, making extremely complicated movements. All dolls operate on the entire surface of this pool, emerging and submerging in the water, crossing their paths, etc. The people who control these dolls must be very well trained and physically strong.
A visit to the puppet theater is an ideal option for a late afternoon or evening, especially on a day when the weather does not allow you to walk or go to the attractive surroundings of Ha Noi, such as the "train`s street", about which I wrote in this article.
This moment in the puppet theater is truly a high-end cultural experience.
Each performance is always slightly different and is enthusiastically received by the audience.
The halls are usually full and sometimes you have to buy tickets in advance. So check in advance what the situation looks like in order not to be disappointed when you encounter a closed ticket office.
Stands selling souvenirs are also open before and after the performance.
You can buy miniatures of the doll characters that you watched during the show. Still beautifully made and fully functional. The prices are not particularly high.
For 150,000 VND, that is about 5 USD, you can buy a very nice souvenir - a character from a performance, an animal or decorations.
Thanks to this, on long winter evenings, you can prepare such a theater at home and return for a while to the memories of charming Viet Nam.