With the desire to preserve and promote the unique water puppet art of the nation, Hoang Huong Giang has implemented a bold project: building a miniature water puppet stage right in the heart of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Huong Giang (right) and water-puppetry artist Phan Thanh Liem:
Hoang Huong Giang was born to a family which has a deep passion for arts in Hanoi. Her grandfather is musician Hoang Giac, her uncle is poet Hoang Nhuan Cam, and her father is Hoang Nhuan Ky, a folklore researcher. Giang had worked as a flight attendant for many years. She often spent time after flights exploring other countries’ cuisine and folklore, and found out that many foreigners love Vietnamese water puppetry.
But Giang noticed the fact that there are long lines of foreign visitors waiting in front of the two biggest water puppet theatres in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City every night while small traditional puppet wards in the northern villages have gradually disappeared. This has made Giang wonder how to preserve this traditional art for the next generation and bring the water puppetry back to people’s spiritual life.
This young businesswoman always thinks about how to promote the folk art to foreigners and even to Vietnamese people. From her own experience, she has prepared a plan to bring the water puppet art into her Dau Homemade cuisine space, with a small but complete water puppet stage at 52 Le Lai, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Instead of inviting professional performers, Giang and her staff spent months studying from water-puppetry artist Phan Thanh Liem - a seventh-generation heir to the famous Phan family in the North and is also gave birth to the miniature water puppet stage. In fact Giang herself performs every day.
“In the early days, I went to each table to introduce guests. Foreign guests seemed to be surprised and excited while Vietnamese customers were quite shy. But after the first few shows, more and more Vietnamese people knew about our water puppet stage, especially families with children.” Giang said.
Not only performing, Giang and her partners also introduce stories and give instructions on how to control the puppets to the audience. The shows not only feature tradition tales, modern topics such as racing with traffic safety education content also make entertain and audiences. Giang then received many emails from teachers from many schools registering shows for their students.
For Giang, culture and cuisine are inseparable. As a member and regional director of cuisine for the Vietnam National Centre for Research, Conservation and Promotion of Culture, she has tried to build her own culinary space imbued with the traditional culture. Dau Homemade’s water puppet stage is not only fixed at 52 Le Lai but also regularly tours at other branches. Besides, a corner of the shop is decorated like a small gallery with works of famous artists such as Bui Xuan Phai, Tran Van Can, To Ngoc Van, etc.
Giang shared the reason why she wished to build a water puppet stage in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. “I am afraid that one day, our younger generation will have to ask foreigners about the traditional water puppetry. Why can Vietnamese people spend hundreds, even millions of VND for a music night but hesitate to spend thousands of dong to enjoy the traditional art which was recognised as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity? I understand that there must be another approach. Just looking behind the curtain every day, it really makes me happy when I see more Vietnamese coming to our small theatre.
It is also worth mentioning that Giang’s miniature water puppet theatre is also touring schools, hospitals, children’s centres to serve children there. Giang said she wanted to make “old stories” become more interesting in the eyes of children. Nhan Dan