Sunday, November 29, 2009

A month in Vietnam under four minutes

Here's a four minute video montage of my trip to Vietnam. I'm hoping you'll find it a little more exciting than someone's home movie. Enjoy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Video Update: Mrs Hue sings

A short clip of Mrs Hue singing for us!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

List of things I will miss/never forget about Vietnam

Getting ready to say goodbye to Vietnam.  While I still have lots of photos and videos to upload and blogs to post,  I wanted to jot down a list of things I will miss/never forget about Vietnam – in no order of importance:

  1. I will miss paying 60 cents for a Banh Mi Sandwich.
  2. I will miss paying $1.50 for a bowl of Pho.
  3. I will miss having morning coffee with my dad and Cousin Duc.
  4. I will miss drinking Dalat Wine with my Cousin Duc into the wee hours of the night.
  5. I will miss meeting new relatives.
  6. I will never forget the glorious sunset dinner along the seashore at Mui Ne.
  7. I will never forget kayaking with my Dad on my birthday in Halong Bay.
  8. I will miss/never forget HALONG BAY
  9. I will never forget the moment my dad and cousin told me they made contact with Mrs Hue.
  10. I will miss/never forget Mrs Hue.
  11. I will never forget eating Pho with my cousin and his wife after a night of theatre in Saigon.
  12. I will never forget climbing to the top of the caves of Marble Mountain with a random girl from Barcelona and looking down on the city of Danang.  The view was sublime.
  13. I will miss my dad and I giggling like little kids in the rear seat of my cousin’s car.
  14. I will miss riding through the crowded Saigon streets on the back of a motorbike.
  15. I will never forget meeting and sharing stories with the nice ladies from Holland on our late night train ride to Hue.
  16. I will miss the food the food the food.
  17. I will miss my Aunt Mai’s cooking.
  18. I will never forget exploring Saigon on my own.
  19. I will miss the smiles.
  20. I will never forget seeing my parents act like teenagers.
  21. I will never forget hearing stories of my mom’s childhood.
  22. I will never forget the shivers I felt when our plane touched down in Saigon.
  23. I will never forget our cousins greeting us at the airport.
  24. I will never forget the insane poverty most Vietnamese live in, including many of my relatives.
  25. I will NOT miss our taxi driver getting into a shouting match with another driver and seeing him reach under the seat for…thankfully he put away whatever was under his seat.
  26. I will never forget visiting my Grandmother’s grave.
  27. I will never forget swimming in Halong Bay.
  28. I will NOT miss my Aunt Mai’s husband Thanh walking around the house shirtless.
  29. I will miss driving through the mountains of Dalat.
  30. I will never forget my dad and I touring central Vietnam by ourselves.
  31. I will miss our tour guide in central Vietnam.  My dad will miss him more.  They both talked nonstop for 48hrs.
  32. I will strangely kind of miss the gecko lizards crawling around every wall in Vietnam.
  33. I will never forget the tourists on our Mekong Delta tour being spellbound by my dad’s stories of Vietnam.
  34. I will never forget the War Remnants Museum.
  35. I will never forget the mooncake baking lesson.
  36. I will miss Larue Beer.
  37. I will miss 333 Beer.
  38. I will NOT miss the traffic in Saigon.  It is ten times worse than NY.   I swear.  Here, motorbikes rule the streets, not cars.
  39. I will miss the cookies at ABC Bakery.
  40. I will miss Vietnam Airlines.  Possibly the best airline I've ever flown.
  41. I will miss breezing through airport security in under 5 minutes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Servant of Saigon: Thoughts on watching my first play in Vietnam

Saw a play in Saigon tonight with my Cousin Duc and his wife Phoung.  It was called “O Sin” which means “The Servant.”   There are some interesting differences between the theatre I saw in Saigon tonight and theatre in America. 

As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I felt somewhat naked.  Why do my hands feels so empty?  Ah yes.  Programs.  Where’s my program?  How do I know who is in the cast?  Is there an intermission?  Most importantly, who’s the playwright?  No one received a program. 

In America, there is typically a live or prerecorded curtain speech, to give pertinent instructions to the audience and to let them know the show will start momentarily.  This eases the audience into theatre watching mode.   During this time cell phones get turned off (yeah right) and candy gets unwrapped (not really).  In Saigon, what sounds like an evacuation alarm sounds off and all house lights are killed.  I thought Saigon was falling again.  This combination of sight and sound jolts everyone into turning off their cell phones and unwrapping their candy.   A minute later, another evacuation alarm sounds off, lights come up on stage and the play begins.  Abrupt, but effective.

After the first scene ended, much to my surprise, I was able to follow the story.  During the blackout, an announcement was heard.  I asked my dad to translate.  He said the announcer was introducing the cast and telling us there’s an intermission.  Ah.  So much for needing programs.

At the end of the show, only some principal actors took their bows.  I asked about it afterwards and my cousin’s wife Phoung said the other actors probably went to work on another show.    She also said all the theatres in Saigon pay their actors.  Nice!

However, one thing will remain the same in theatre no matter what side of the globe you're on…the botched light cue.  When it happened, I felt a strange sense of comfort.

After the show we stopped at a restaurant to get some late night Pho.  My dad, cousin and his wife all reminisced about how used to go to the theatre together when they were younger.  Both Duc and Phoung hadn’t gone to see theatre in a long time, so they were both very happy to take me out to see a play.  I asked if either of them had ever acted before, and to my surprise, Phoung, during her first year in medical school, starred in a play about AIDS awareness and acceptance!  That’s one of two major coincidences regarding my play RED FLAMBOYANT that I’ve discovered since being here in Vietnam.  The other coincidence you’ll have to read here.

Phan Rang and the story of Tuyet

In my play RED FLAMBOYANT I write much about the Trung Sisters, two legendary heroines of Vietnam that fought to liberate the country from centuries of Chinese rule.  Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were their names. 

Every year a small seaside town in South Central Vietnam called Phan Rang, holds a parade in observance of the Trung Sisters.  The local high school is called upon to select the two prettiest girls to play the Sisters.  It is a high honor to be chosen, and equally high is the speculation on who would play each sister.  Of course, everyone knew who would play Trung Trac this particular year.  Nhung, was tall and beautiful and outspoken as well as the most popular girl in school.  She was a shoe in.  

Speculation on who would play the youngest sister, Trung Nhi, was less clear as there were so many young girls in the school that would fit the role.  One thing was for certain. It had to be the prettiest girl in the school.

Tuyet was a quiet, modest girl.  When asked by her schoolmates if she wanted to play Trung Nhi, she scoffed at the idea.  She said “My father would be so angry if I took time out of my chores and schoolwork to be in a parade.”

In the big bright gymnasium, schoolgirl whispers filled the room.  As predicted, Nhung was chosen to play Trung Trac.  But who would be chosen to play Trung Nhi?  As the parade director walked by each girl, their backs straightened and they beamed their best “pick me” smiles.  Tuyet held her head down and anchored her eyes straight to the floor.   She beamed her best “don’t pick me” frown.  Then she heard her name being called.   She cringed.  More whispers filled the gymnasium as she realized what fate had in store for her.  

Playing Trung Nhi in the annual Phan Rang parade was truly an honor, but for Tuyet, it was an honor that came with a few problems.  For one, she was a modest high school girl that tried very hard not to bring attention to herself.   So, playing one of the Trung sisters in an annual parade celebrating the Trung sisters is definitely the last thing one should do.  The other problem for Tuyet was each parade participant was expected to pose for pictures and each was responsible for paying the photographer.  Since Tuyet was one half of the Trung Sisters, she simply could not opt out of posing for photos, as this would surely anger Nhung.  Tuyet’s additional dilemna was she could not ask her father for the money as this would surely anger him, because everything angered him, she thought.  So, Tuyet decided not to tell her family about the parade.  Nhung agreed to pay for the photographer, but this would mean Nhung would keep all the photos.  Tuyet was willing to live with this.  In fact, the less evidence of this day, the better. 

It was the day of the parade.  Nhung and Tuyet made their entrance as Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, wearing bright colorful dresses and hats and wielding fake swords.  Since the parade committee was not able to locate any elephants in time, the Trung sisters rode in on horses instead.  This boded well for Tuyet, as horses would draw less attention to her than elephants.  As the parade came to an end, Tuyet drew a sigh of relief thinking this day was nearly over for her.  Then she heard her sister yelling from the crowd.   Now, if all Tuyet heard was “There’s Tuyet!” that would be one thing.  But appending “Father” to that sentence was the last thing Tuyet wanted to hear, and indeed, she heard “Father” in that sentence.

She didn’t want to look but of course she did.  She turned her head and saw her sister jumping up and down cheering for her.  Then she saw her father.  What was he doing?  He was jumping up and down cheering for her as well.  When she spoke to him afterwards, he said “You look beautiful.”

Now, if this story were to end here, it would probably be considered a nice story.  Maybe something a little better than ordinary, but less than extraordinary.  For me, what makes this an extraordinary story is that Tuyet is my mother.

All this time, I had no idea she played Trung Nhi when she was in high school.  It was only until I took this trip to Vietnam, about a year and a half after writing RED FLAMBOYANT, did my mother tell me this story.  Extraordinary.