On arrival at the hotel in Hanoi, I wasn’t feeling too fresh, so I decided to skip the orientation walk and catch up on some emails, some sleep and I managed to call home and speak to my parents before they headed off on their own holidays.
We’d got tickets for Hanoi’s famous Water Puppet Show. We’d been given the option of $3 or £6 tickets, and I’d actually heard that the show was a bit rubbish, so I was all for saving a few dollars. In this part of the world, $3 could get you an entire meal! Or three beers… but in actual fact, I think we got the best seats in the house. The auditorium was one of those standard concertina seats which were higher at the back than the front, and we got the back row. I was sitting pretty much in the dead centre too, so I was winning on all levels.
The show was completely fascinating. To be honest, if you have a spare 45 minutes to an hour, are happy to go along with an open mind and the expectation to be disappointed, it was a truly incredible show! Granted, the choreography wasn’t anything to write home about, but one of the guys on the trip is an actor, and he was so impressed with the staging and the fact that the puppeteers were invisible throughout the whole performance. The rods were barely visible and some of the puppets were crossing in the water, yet continued to dance in perfect time. The lighting was great, the stage was dressed beautifully and the musicians were incredible. There was this girl using an instrument very similar to a Theremin, where she was using her hands and fingers but there were no strings. There was a sensor type thing at the end though, that served as some kind of whammy bar. The sound this instrument was making was truly stunning, not as eerie or electronic as a standard Theremin. (note: the day that I’m typing this up is apparently Clara Rockmore’s 105th birthday and she was the woman credited with being the first woman to play electronic music on the Theremin. Spooky… since I wrote my trip up as I was completing it, and am editing my first drafts as they are being posted online. For those of you who are a little confused, see here for my timelines.)
Anyway, the show that we watched was actually a series of 14 different stories out of over 400 ancient Vietnamese children’s stories. Highlights included the water-babies, who just appeared out of nowhere in particular and flailed about quite vicariously. Their limbs were really pushed to the point where I thought they might have flapped off completely.
The phoenix dance was really quite something to behold. There was a lonely phoenix, she was quite beautiful and meandered across the stage a couple times until a man-phoenix comes along to woo her. They twirled around a bit, flirting only the way that phoenix puppets can. They had this weird little motif where their necks would extend and retract in cannon, which looked strangely like sexual intercourse. Don’t ask me why birds necks going up and down made me feel like they were getting it on, but they definitely were because before you knew it, an egg popped out. The egg danced around a bit with its parents, but let’s face it, an egg can’t really dance eloquently. There’s not really that much an egg can do to look pretty in a sea of water, so it hatched pretty quick. Then Mummy-phoenix, Daddy-phoenix and Baby-phoenix did a cute little number for us. Weird does not begin to describe it. Seriously.
The Water Puppet Theatre is in the centre of Hanoi, which lies on the river, so after the show we walked along it for as long as we could and then navigated diagonally across a crazy- busy roundabout back to the hotel to meet with our newest recruit. All we knew, was that we had an extra dude joining us for the Laos/Thailand leg of the trip, that he was also from England and his full name. We only knew this because of the list of airline tickets and had to check our names were spelt correctly and exactly the same as in our passports, and his name appeared on that list. We’d become a really tight group, all of us together, as I’ve said before, no cliques, no bitchiness, no messing. We collectively hoped the new guy wasn’t going to be a douchebag. He wasn’t… and so, 17 became 18 and our journey continued, one last day in the capital of Vietnam and then, by plane, on to Laos.