Ever watched a puppet show from the middle of a rice paddy? Okay neither have we, but we were lucky enough to get tickets to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi.
Water puppetry has its origins in northern Vietnam over a thousand years ago. Puppets are carved out of wood and painted with bright colours to recreate characters from popular folk tales. When the rice paddies flooded, they became the stage from which villagers watched these performances.
Today’s shows are performed in a pool about four metres square. Several puppeteers stand behind a bamboo screen and use rods and strings to control the puppets. A traditional orchestra and singers accompany the performance, which includes several well-known Vietnamese folk tales.
The Hanoi performance was amazing. Not being able to understand the storyline makes you pay more attention to the music and the way the puppets are being manipulated.
It’s interesting to see the things that we are seeing borne out in a folk tale, such as a farmer plowing a field with a water buffalo, or a fisherman catching fish.
I had the same thought when we visited the Museum of Ethnology and saw weaving looms and flour mill exhibits that we had seen in action in the Hmong villages. You realize that museums and the arts tell the story of culture, but there is nothing like experiencing that culture first-hand.
Looking at my daughters during the performance and seeing the expression on their faces made me realize how much they are learning this year that they just couldn’t get from a book.