Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

Upon our arrival at the Elios Hotel in the Pham Ngu Lao area, I checked out pamphlets and advertisements for various tourist activities in the city. Among the pamphlets is one for the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater, the pre-eminent water puppet theater in Ho Chi Minh City, which outlandishly claims that you “haven’t really been to Vietnam until you’ve seen a water puppet show.” This 50-minute long show features marionette puppets in water.

The theater seating area

The theater seating area

The exact time when water puppetry (múa ri nước), began in Vietnam is not known.  However, the oldest record mentioning water puppetry is found on an inscription on a stone stele called Sùng Thiện Diên Linh, dating from 1121, which was found in Đọi Sơn Pagoda, Duy Tiên District, Hà Nam Province, about 50 kms. from Hanoi. It eulogized the merits of King Ly Nhan Tong and describes a scene: “A golden tortoise, with three mountains on its shell, was seen on the rippling surface of the water. It showed both its carapace and four legs… the cavern’s entrance opened and fairies in the play appeared…Flocks of precious birds and herds of animals sang and danced…”

The water stage

The water stage

From the 11th to 14th centuries, after a period of rapid development, 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 in the Red River Delta, thus jump-starting the development of the country’s traditional stage arts. This art form, unique to Northern Vietnam, was first displayed in Hanoi in 1958 and, in 1973, the first state-run puppetry troop was established to serve the public audience.  In 1984, as a result of normalized relations with the West, Vietnamese water puppetry was introduced to the world stage for the first time (in France).

Waiting for the show to start

Waiting for the show to start

During the early 1990s, the country’s three foremost companies, the National Puppet Theatre (Nhà hát Múa ri Trung Ương), the municipal Thăng Long Puppet Company (Nhà hát Múa ri Thăng Long) of Hanoi and the Hồ Chí Minh City Puppet Company (Đoàn Ngh thut Múa ri Thành Ph H Chí Minh) gained increased international attention. Today, the main venues in Vietnam are the Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi and the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater in Saigon.

Musicians and singers on the left

Musicians and singers on the left

Musicians and singers on the right

Musicians and singers on the right

After a short rest at our hotel and lunch at a nearby noodle house, Grace and I checked out a nearby travel agency where we booked ourselves for the last 7:45 PM show (other show times are 5 PM and 6:30 PM).  The regular admission per person at the ticket booth is US$7.50 and since the theater hosts three shows a day, obtaining tickets is not difficult. However, to facilitate things we paid the travel agent US$9.00 per person which included our taxi fare going there.

Uncle Teu

Uncle Teu – the master of ceremonies

We arrived at the theater, which is just a short distance from the Reunification Palace in the Labour Cultural House, half an hour before the start of the show.  The red velvet-covered auditorium seats around 200 visitors but, though we weren’t in the first few rows (which is definitely a splash zone), we were seated at the back rows which was quite far from the stage. Luckily, the theater wasn’t fully booked that night and, minutes before the start of the show, we were allowed to transfer to the middle row.

Water Puppet Show (19)

The show, with no intermission, was performed entirely in Vietnamese.  It is about the ancient origins of Vietnam and its rural upbringings, with a splash of the mythical goddesses, dragons and talking fish that go along with the traditional stories.

Water Puppet Show (132)

The orchestra of this modern theater consisted of professional musicians and singers, sitting in their traditional au dais, are set off to the left and right sides of the stage. They play traditional musical instruments like drums, clarinets, cymbals, Chinese guitars, bamboo flutes, zithers, two-stringed violins and, the most noteworthy instrument of them all, a monochord with a single string which can create wonderful tune. The singers not only accompany the orchestra but also converse with puppets, especially with the humorous and intelligent puppet Uncle Tễu which functions as the master of ceremonies. The show is split into around 12 acts, each telling a separate story.

Water Puppet Show (141)

As in other traditional Vietnamese performing arts such as chèo (popular opera), tung (classical opera) and ci lương (renovated opera), the program started with a boisterous music composition to attract attention and create a joyful atmosphere.  The colorful puppets danced and performed numerous interesting items on the shimmering water surface of the water stage in the theater, accompanied by animated music and singing. They even performed acrobatics, spectacular acts which cannot be done by modern robots. We saw no puppeteer, no machines, instruments or controlling strings and poles. By grandson Kyle was spellbound by the performance.

Water Puppet Show (146)

A lot of the scenes were easy to understand, even for non-Vietnamese speakers like me, but there were scenes that were quite hard to follow.  Sometimes, an entire act finished and I only had only a slight idea of what happened. I can understand why some people would dislike the show. However, this traditional but highly developed Vietnamese art form, handed down for nearly 1,000 years, is full of joy, lighting and colors, myriad charms and shocking surprises and is enjoyable to watch.  Watching it, we immediately experienced the boisterous and joyful atmosphere of a real folk festival. The jubilant and sweet puppets particularly enchanted us with their hilarious games. This is the power which can only be found in a water puppet.

The puppeteers

The puppeteers

Though we can watch the water puppet show on VCDs, DVDs, television programs or on YouTube, none of these can replace the real live performance in which we sat near a sparkling water surface. The handling of the water puppets was ingenious and the puppet’s voice actors are truly skilled and multi-talented.  Both contributed to a fascinating performance. Most shows do get pretty full so, to get the best seats in the house, show up early. To be less confused, read the pamphlet which is distributed outside the theater.  It briefly explains what each scene is about.

Grace, Kyle, Cheska and Jandy

Grace, Kyle, Cheska and Jandy

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St., Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Tel: +84 8 3930 2196(booking office) and (84) 0913874808.  Email: nhahatrongvang@gmail.com. Website: www.goldendragontheatre.com. Daytime performances are by special arrangement.

A Mind-Blowing Museum Experience

For her Christmas gift to us, my daughter Cheska gave all of us passes to the Mind Museum which she bought, at the discounted price of PhP450 each, from Deal Grocer.  As we were all busy during the holidays, Grace, Jandy, Cheska, Marve and I, with my 1 year old grandson Kyle, only availed of it right after the New Year.

The Mind Museum

The Mind Museum

This educational facility, the first world-class science museum in the Philippines, aims to foster the public understanding of science and art in a different light.  Formally opened on March 16, 2012 (after a Pre-Opening Ceremony that took place on December 15, 2011) and located on a 1.2 hectare lot within the 12,500 sq. m. J.Y. Campos Park, this PhP1,000,000,000 (US$ 23.5 million) museum was totally funded by private donations from corporations and individuals.

The 7 ft. high robot named KAL

The 7 ft. high robot named KAL

With Lor Calma & Partners as the building architect and Science Center Singapore as museum planning consultant, this museum has more than 250 hands-on, minds-on interactive exhibits, 90% of which were  designed and fabricated by Filipino designers, scientists and engineers to clearly and beautifully flesh out a science principle or fact in 5,000 sq. m. exhibition halls designed by master planner Jack Rouse Associates (recognized as among the top ten museum and theme park designers in the world).

The reception desk at lobby

The reception desk at lobby

The Mind Museum Store

The Mind Museum Store

This interesting, awe-inspiring building has a futuristic, space-age yet organic look based on cell growth and molecular structures.  Its innovative and sustainable design, mirroring the functionality of nature and contributing to more energy efficiency, features slanted exterior walls (to minimize sunlight entry), a specially curved roof (for more efficient rain collection) and strategic orientation (to utilize the shadows of adjacent buildings). The National Geographic Channel provided the required footages and stills for the exhibit.

The 1904 Richard Brasier Roadster

The 1904 Richard Brasier Roadster

We had 3 hours to interact and experience the science exhibits and we were allowed to take photos. Sony Philippines, itself a technology giant, enhanced the experience by providing top-of-the-line and state-of-the-art gadgets such as Bravia LCD television sets, touch screen VAIOs, and 3D Projector Systems. The rest of the exhibits are privately sponsored.

Aedi the welcoming robot

Aedi the welcoming robot

Beside the museum entrance is the 7 ft. tall KAL . Made with recycled vacuum cleaner parts, among other things, it is all about Environment Sustainability – how technology and  innovation (such as robotics) can be used to improve the quality of life.

The 10 Most Beautiful Experiments  Exhibit

The 10 Most Beautiful Experiments Exhibit

Within the lobby is a souvenir shop and a 9-horsepower, 2-cylinder 1904 Richard Brasier roadster, the first car to ever grace the Philippine roads.  It was brought into the country by the trading firm Estrella del Norte in 1904 and is on loan from Pilipinas Shell.

The Philippine Science Hall

The Philippine Science Hall

An anthropomorphic robot named Aedi (“idea” spelled backwards) welcomed us at the lobby and introduced us to the museum, informing us on what lies ahead.

The Atom Centerpiece

The Atom Centerpiece

Our first stop was the “Hall of 10 Most Beautiful Experiments,” a visual set of LCD displays of experiments based on acclaimed philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease’s book The Prism and the Pendulum: 10 Most Beautiful Experiments in Science.

Jandy tries out the Van de Graff Static Ball

Jandy tries out the Van de Graff Static Ball

At the center of the museum is the Hall of Philippine Science which showcases the passion for science of world-renowned Filipino scientists, both here and around the world, via digital photographs featuring their lives and achievements, and local scientific endeavors spanning local issues such as sustainable communities, rice culture, etc.. Interactive stations here spew out random facts and trivia questions.

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool

After this hall are five main galleries, Atom (has the most interactive exhibits), Earth, Life and Universe, stretching from left to right, at the ground floor, and Technology (the largest exhibit) at the second floor.

The gigantic Human Brain

The gigantic Human Brain

The Atom Gallery has exhibit pieces that show the strange world of the very small in terms of forces and particles. The Van de Graff static ball, where one can explore how electrostatic energy is generated and what effects it produces, is my favorite here.  When I touched the static ball, I experienced my hair standing on end.  Other interactive exhibits here include the Atom Centerpiece (a 3D visualization of the atom), Everything is Made Up of Atoms (a sculptural exhibit that shows the many levels of spaces inside a chocolate bar), Whirlpool (an enthralling exhibition of gravity and centripetal force), Carbon: Basis of All Life on Earth (a game area where guests can create their own allotropes), Periodic Table (learn about the 118 elements),  Electric Table: Magnets and Current, Energy Forms (convert kinetic energy to mechanical energy to electrical energy and then to heat), Newton’s Cradle (Isaac Newton‘s Third Law of Motion at work), Frequencies (see what a pitch looks like) and Shadow Box (leave your mark on the phosphorescent walls). 

Bernoulli's Principle at work

Bernoulli’s Principle at work

The Life Gallery provides us a deeper understanding of how life surrounds and inhabits us – from microbes to large animals and from DNA, cells to a giant, lit-up human brain model.  The latter, one of the largest exhibits in the entire museum, is a walk through exhibit where you can identify what brain part lights up when you sense, feel or think. Its other exhibits include The Human Story (a faithful replica of our prehistoric ancestors), Bernoulli’s Principle (the principle that explains how birds are able to fly), Whale Shark (a suspended life-size and life-like model of a whale shark, locally called a butanding), Small Worlds Within (a multi-media interactive program that will help guests learn more about cells) and the Web of Life.

The Butanding (Whale Shark)

The Butanding (Whale Shark)

The Human Story

The Human Story

The Earth Gallery tells of the story of the planet and our archipelago across the breadth of time. Stan, the most impressive towering exhibit in the museum, is the first permanent T-rex exhibit in the Philippines.  This life-sized replica of a tyrannosaurus rex skeleton was named after Stan Sacrison who, in 1987, discovered the most complete male T-rex in 1987 in Hell Creek Formation, South Dakota, USA. 

Stan the Tyrannosaurus Rex

Stan the Tyrannosaurus Rex

Nearby is an exhibit of petrified dinosaur bones and coprolite (dinosaur poop) while underneath the dinosaur is a fossil dig where visitors are allowed to dig, with pails and shovels, for their own fossils.  At its Nature’s Hourglass, a mini-theater that acts as a virtual time machine, we watched (with 3D glasses) a 12-min., fully animated 3D film, made by an all-Filipino crew, entitled “Birthplace,” that tells the story of Earth’s 4.6 billion year natural history and evolution.

The 3D movie "Birthplace" at Nature's Hourglass

The 3D movie “Birthplace” at Nature’s Hourglass

Other exhibits include Air (pass your hand over the sensor and watch a tornado form), Rock of  Ages/Mass Extinction (depicts the layering of the earth’s crust and illustrates the different geological ages and 2 of the 5 mass extinctions that have occurred over the span of earth’s history), Volcano (see how volcanoes erupt), Knowing Home: Floating Globe (watch a live feed that displays the current state of the planet earth), Spin Browser (watch plants grow or animals move in high speed or slow motion), Fungi: A One Billion Year Old Kingdom, and Beneficial or Harmful Bacteria.

Air

Air

On our way to the Universe Gallery, we passed through Tunnel Craft, a spinning, 2-way revolving tunnel, with moving imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope that simulated travel between outer space and earth but made us dizzy. 

Getting dizzy at Tunnel Craft

Getting dizzy at Tunnel Craft

The Universe Galley, which shows how we, with the tools we invent and innovate, are able to express our evolving humanity, features the mysterious vastness of the universe and holds clues as to where we came from and where we are going.  The centerpiece of this gallery is an unique, 8 m. diameter, 35-50-pax mini-planetarium that uses, instead of chairs, memory foam where visitors can lounge on to simulate literally lying on the ground and staring at the stars in the night sky.  Here, we watched films that discuss the other planets and starts, as well as debates, the existence of extraterrestrial life.  We also tried out pods where we could hear sounds from outer space.

The Space Shell - a mini planetarium

The Space Shell – a mini planetarium

Other exhibits here include Look at the Moon (an interactive wall display that shows the moon’s different phases, and includes other information about the moon’s cycle and path around the earth), The Lifetime of a Star (describes how stars are born and how they die), The Solar System, Dressed for Space (an astronaut suit) and Space Quest History (1990-2011).

Look at the Moon

Look at the Moon

Dressed for Space - an astronaut's suit

Dressed for Space – an astronaut’s suit

The Avenue of Life, the escalator to the second floor, was an exhibit in itself.  On the way up, we immersed ourselves in sights and sounds that showcased five of the Earth’s major habitats such as the temperate regions, polar environments, deserts and even the cold, sunless existence in the deep waters of hydrothermal vents.

The Avenue of Life escalator

The Avenue of Life escalator

The second floor, which houses mostly Technology exhibits, is divided into 5 sub-galleries – “Who We Are,” “How We Know,” “How Things Work,” “Here to There” and “How We Live.”  Here, we found a fun toilet display, an interactive presentation of an archaic Gutenberg printing press and a Timezone-like row of arcade consoles illustrating how video games (Pong, Pacman, etc.) changed through the years.

The Gutenberg Printing Press

The Gutenberg Printing Press

You would also enjoy the Laser Harp, the Night Vision Goggles Exhibit, MIMO (an in-house obstacle avoiding robot), Solar Bugs (shows how solar panels serve as power sources), Mathematics: Cars with Different Wheel Shapes, Mathematics: Elliptical Billiard Table (hit any of the two balls and it is sure to rebound and hit the other ball), The Malampaya Project (a representation of the discovery of 2.7 trillion cubic tons of natural gas near Palawan), Scents (check the scents in these spheres and see if you recall a specific memory because of it) and Beauty Symmetry: The Beauty is in the Phi of the Beholder (highlights the technologies that we come up with – in cosmetics, architecture, and art – to express the role of proportion in our lives).

MIMO

MIMO the in-house obstacle avoiding robot

The museum also has a 198-seat (with space for 2 wheel chairs) auditorium, 2 40-seat classrooms (Mind Pods), a 35-seat laboratory (Mind Lab) and an outdoor Science-in-the-Park where visitors can experience playful science through four-themed pockets: Music, Math, Living and Water.

The Malampaya Project

The Malampaya Project

All in all, we found ourselves thoroughly enjoying relearning about the human brain, solar system, and evolution in ways that we never did in grade school. Anyone, no matter how old, educated or well-read, even indifferent adults, will discover reasons to view, try out and marvel at the exhibits.

Cross section of a toilet

Cross section of a toilet

Mind Museum: J.Y. Campos Park, 3rd Ave., Bonifacio Global City, 1634 Taguig City. Tel: +632 909-MIND (6463).  E-mail: inquiry@themindmuseum.org and tickets.themindmuseum.org.  Website: TheMindMuseum.Org. Facebook: The Mind Museum. Twitter: @themindmuseum.

The Technology Exhibit Hall

The Technology Exhibit Hall 

The Universe Gallery

The Universe Gallery

Ticket Prices (with 3 hr. limit): adults (PhP600); children and private school students up to college (PhP450);  and public school students (up to college) and teachers with valid school ID (PhP150). Senior Citizen rebate will be given at the gate upon presentation of ID. Children 2 ft. and below are free.  Ticket time slots are 9 AM to 12 noon; 12 noon to 3 PM; 3 PM to 6 PM; and 6 PM to 9 PM.  An all day pass costs PhP750.

New Year’s Countdown at Manila Hotel

Last New Year, my family and I tried tried something new and different, spending the start of the year outside the country, firecracker-free in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a first for all of us.  We just watched the fireworks at the Petronas Towers.  This year, we still had the same mindset, opting again to spend it outside our home (but not outside the country), this time a New Year’s countdown at the prestigious Manila Hotel for an incomparable evening of feast and festivities in a manner worthy of the country’s oldest bastion of hospitality.

Manila  Hotel – the Grande Dame of Manila

The Manila Hotel was opened for the first time to the public on July 4, 1912.  The original US$700,000 hotel, also the country’s first air-conditioned building, was designed in the California Missionary-style by American architect William E. Parsons in 1910.  At the time, this magnificent, white, green-tile-roofed edifice had 149 spacious, high-ceiling rooms. Its fifth floor penthouse, designed by Arch. Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of painter Juan Luna), was, from 1935 to 1941, the home of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (its first chairman of the board), his wife Jean and son Arthur.

The hotel’s beautiful lobby

The hotel played host to author Ernest Hemingway (who said “Its a good story if it’s like Manila Hotel”), actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Edward (Prince of Wales), playwright Claire Boothe Luceand, during the Japanese Occupation,  Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.  During the liberation of Manila, it was severely damaged by room-to-room fighting.  Reopened on July 4, 1946, it hosted author James A. Michener; actors Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Tyrone Power and Burgess Meredith; U.S. Secretary John Foster Dulles; Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, the Rockefeller brothers, Publisher Henry R. Luce, rock star Michael Jackson; U.S. Vice-Pres. Richard M. Nixon, U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson, the Beatles and other notable personalities.

The lobby dressed up for the New Year countdown

In 1977, the hotel underwent a US$30,000,000 renovation with an 18-storey tower designed by the late National Artist Architect Leandro V. Locsin built behind the old building.  The lavish interiors were done by American Patricia and Dale Keller and the renovated hotel reopened on October 6, 1977.

The Sunset Suite

We made our own grand entrance at the hotel’s main lobby on the afternoon of the 31st of December.  The 125 ft. (38 m.) long by 25 ft. (7.6 m) wide main lobby, lined with white Doric columns, was designed, not only for making grand entrances, but for sitting as well, its furniture carved with Philippine mahogany.  The lobby floors were made with Philippine marble while the ceiling is lined with chandeliers made of brass, crystal and seashells. Traditional Filipino art also adorns its walls.

Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s Dessert Station

The hotel that day was 90% booked for the countdown, with a long queue at the check-in counter, and it took some time before we finally checked into our fourth floor Sunset Suite, one of 570  traditionally decorated and elegantly furnished rooms that reflect the hotel’s storied past blended with the conveniences of a modern luxury hotel. Our suite had 2 bedrooms, a dining area and a living area.  Amenities here include individually controlled central air conditioning, remote-control TV with cable channels, minibars, separate bath and toilet with extension phone, and secure in-room safes.

Grace, Cheska, the author and Jandy at Cafe Ilang-Ilang

Once settled in, we then went down for our crossover buffet dinner (6 PM to 9 PM) which extends through all the hotel’s celebrated food and beverage outlets: Cafe Ilang-Ilang, Champagne Room, Mabuhay Palace (an impeccable Chinese restaurant), Tap Room Bar and Lobby Lounge.  That night, it was not a choice of which restaurant to go to, but, rather, which restaurant to visit first.  We chose the famous Cafe Ilang-Ilang which was recently renovated and launched as a 3-period meal buffet restaurant. It opens to the newly renovated Pool and Garden areas and boasts of 9 live cooking stations.

The Tap Room Bar

Here, we faced a stunning and wide array of Filipino and international (Korean, Japanese, Indian, etc.) cuisine, tried-and-true dishes prepared by Filipino and foreign chefs, all backed by years of professional experience in acclaimed restaurants around the world.  To fully enjoy the cafe’s  stellar main courses, we ate small portions of everything.

The countdown begins …..

After our filling buffet dinner, we moved on to the Tap Room Bar for dessert and brewed coffee. We capped our evening with the New Year’s Countdown at the Lobby where, prior to bidding farewell to 2011 and counting the seconds to 2012, we enjoyed live entertainment, with music and dancing provided by the Filipinas Band.

The Filipinas Band
Manila Hotel: 1 Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila: Tel: 527-0011. Fax: 527-0022-24 & 527-1124.  Domestic Toll Free: 1-800-9-1888-0011.  Email: sales@manila-hotel.com.ph and reservations@manila-hotel.com.ph.  Website: www.manilahotel.com.ph.