The Water Puppet Show
Chi Kim Thai
         The exact time when water puppetry began in Vietnam is not known, but an early record of the art was found on a stone stele dating back to the 11th century eulogizing the merits of King Ly Nhan Tong. After a period of rapid development from the 11th to 14th centuries, the art of water puppetry escaped the confines of the royal palaces of the Le and Nguyen dynasties and began showing up at village festivals and ceremonies, thus jump-starting the development of Vietnam's traditional stage arts.

         Historians would have you believe that Vietnam's art of water puppetry, or Mua Roi Nuoc, was once also present in China. The truth to this is open to debate, but the fact remains that today this art cannot be found anywhere in the world but Vietnam.

         Weeks before my trip back to Vietnam, I conducted a thorough internet search of all the 'must do, must see' things in Saigon (a.k.a Ho Chi Minh City). Your typical control-taking person and planner, I had a detailed list of things that I wanted to do, places I wanted to see, people I wanted to visit, and things I wanted to eat. At the top of my 'To Do' list was the Vietnamese water puppet show.

         I remember the show beginning with the introduction of the Chu Teu (Little Teu), a tiny and comical wooden figure of a four year-old boy. The smiling Chu Teu announces the show with some merry bits of song and then vanishes.

         On the stage, the puppeteers themselves hid behind a long screen. The traditional Vietnamese band sat to the side of the stage and accompanied the show, while people singing and doing the puppets' voices sat next to the puppeteers. From behind the screen, the puppeteers manipulated the wooden puppets with bamboo rods while standing chest-deep in the water to enact dramatic scenes using the water's surface as a stage floor. The latter was about four to five meters long and three to four meters deep.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE MEN OF VIETNAM.
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