It is all about costumes, make-up, movements, gongs, and drums. Traditional Vietnamese opera is truly larger than life and twice as loud.
Recently Brad Callihoo – an Iroquois photographer and documentary film maker – and I spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City. Our mission was to do some reconnaissance work for a philanthropic organization and identify non-profits in need of financial assistance. On our way to the market Brad noticed women dressed in traditional costumes being painted. He started to snap shots through the door.
A guy who had been sitting at a table with a crowd of coffee drinking men sauntered over and beckoned us. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and followed him down an alley with no idea of where we were headed.
Even before we got to the performance area I recognized the clanging gongs and the high pitch screeching that is the first-cousin-version of Chinese opera. Flashback: I knew I had been in the Middle Kingdom too long when I actually started to appreciate the genre.
And suddenly, there we were in the midst of some sort of celebration. A wedding? A birthday? A funeral? Nobody spoke any English so we never did find out. People were eating, chatting and watching the performance. Brad went to work and got some spectacular shots. I wandered around, took a few happy snaps and watched the crowd. An old lady graciously lent me a fan.
We were fortunate enough to be invited into a foreigner-free performance. But such is travel when you just sort of wander off and know that adventures await those who embrace them.