Vietnam: Week 2

May 8th, 2011

In the morning Hieu picked me up, and we went to the zoo where there was a small gathering of orphans from the Smile Project. The people who are taking care of them are obviously doing a great job. The kids were well-behaved and looked like they were having a fun day, despite whatever mishaps led them into the orphan’s life. When we got there, they were playing some games, then they sat on the ground in single-file lines and watched quietly and attentively as I played. When I was done they sang a song for me.

Orphans, the zoo, saxophones!

Afterward, Hieu showed me the Vietnamese history museum which is right next to the zoo. It concentrated mostly on the more ancient history, with statues of Buddha etc. While I was there, I was approached by another student doing a survey on the effectiveness of the museum. Vietnamese students seem to love surveys, and for some reason, I find this very amusing.

May 9th, 2011

I spent much of the day getting intimate with the air-conditioner and drinking cold water. I hadn’t really taken any time to slow down and rest a little since getting off of those wretched three days of traveling. (You may recall that I went from NYC to Qatar to Bangkok to Saigon which isn’t the most efficient route, but made sense in my situation for a variety of mundane reasons which I’ll spare you.)

In the early evening, I met Minh, a Vietnamese-American, who moved here, after being born and raised in the US. He’s a violinist, and will be joining me for another performance for orphans later in the week, so we just got together to plan/rehearse.

May 10th, 2011

Caught a flight to Hanoi today. As I was planning this operation in Vietnam I built up many wonderfully helpful contacts in Saigon, but very few in Hanoi. So I’m considering this a networking trip, in which I hope to meet people for future reference. I’ll go back to Saigon in two days.

Tonight, I went to an event called the “Hanoi Tweet Up.” People here in Vietnam are using Twitter in very interesting ways, especially considering that Facebook is blocked. It’s largely about networking, and I found that “tweeting” from the US was very helpful in building contacts here. There was a “Saigon Tweet Up,” about a week before my arrival. Before these events, many twitter users here had never met (though some had.) I could only imagine what a NYC Tweet Up would be like. Considering how many of us there are, it might just be a riot. (And we already know what happens when there are Tweet Ups in Iran and Egypt.)

My goal at the Hanoi Tweet Up was to find out which public spaces here might be good for me to play in. I only have a couple days here, and I wanted to be sure to hit the right spots. There was a lot of disagreement about where I should go, even about the names of the parks that people were talking about. Apparently, there is a park with a statue of Lenin and a different park called Lenin Park. However, the government had recently changed the names of one or both of these parks, maybe even inter-changed them with one another. In short, no one seemed quite sure; Vietnamese and expats alike were confused on this matter, but I left the Tweet Up with the name of a park called Cong Vien Lenin, written down on a piece of paper. I plan to play there tomorrow.

May 11th, 2011

My plan to play at Cong Vien Lenin was thwarted by a serious storm: thunder, lightning, rain, the “whole kit and kaboodle.” I must say, though, that I didn’t terribly mind an opportunity to get some rest in the air conditioning of my hotel. Later, the rain let down a little, but it was already after dark, so probably not a good time to try and hit Cong Vien Lenin. Instead, I went back to Southgate, the restaurant that held the Tweet Up, and got some dinner.  I told people about the park where I planned to play, and some people suggested that it could be legally risky to play at the park with the statue of Lenin, because it had been the site of some recent social unrest. I’m still not sure if Cong Vien Lenin is the park with the statue of Lenin or not, though one seemingly reliable person promised me that it is not. One thing’s for sure though. Street performance seems to be a simpler matter in Saigon! Next time, I’ll spend a little more time in Hanoi though, figuring out the best approach.

May 12th, 2011

Today, just before catching my flight back to Saigon, I went to Cong Vien Lenin, finally, and played some sax. My plan had been to go there yesterday around dusk, which is peak leisure-time for Vietnamese – after work and when the sun isn’t too oppressive. I only had time to go, though, in the middle of the afternoon. It’s a rather large park, maybe 25 acres or more, and there were probably only ten people in the whole place (and no statue of Lenin.) Basically, I played for an audience of almost nobody, but I still had a good time. Then, I went to the airport and flew back to Ho Chi Minh City.

May 13th, 2011

Today was a big event for the orphans. Helping Hand Saigon (run by Jodie) organized for two groups of orphans to attend a music night at the Serenade Cafe. It was open to the general public, but it was mainly for the kids to get amped up on soda and see some music. First, I played some unaccompanied sax and clarinet, showing them a little klezmer, traditional jazz, and free improvisation. Then, I was joined by Minh on violin, and we improvised some duets. Then, Minh did some unaccompanied violin music. At the end, a guitarist and singer did a little “sing-a-long” with the kids. The orphans have a little dance they do to Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.” It’s pretty cute, just as long as you don’t think about the trouble Michael Jackson might’ve made at an event like this.

Helping Hand Saigon

May 14th, 2011

I spent a few hours playing in the 30/4 Park today, next to the big cathedral. It’s a big spot for young people (around college-age) to hang out. A bunch of interesting things happened. Glenn came by, and joined in with some freestyle rapping, a harmonica player came by and we tried some duets. Then, he was joined by two other harmonica players, who showed us some traditional Vietnamese music as performed by a harmonica trio. (I didn’t know there was traditional Vietnamese music for harmonica trio.) Also, a young Vietnamese gentleman struck up a conversation with me about noise rock, which is a very rare interest for people here, so I was a little surprised.

Traditional Vietnamese harmonica music

Of course, there are occasional encounters in the Parade of One project that are completely nonsensical (at least across cultural/language barriers,) and there was one of these today. Not far from where I was playing there was a multigenerational group of women having a picnic. I was sitting on a bench nearby, just playing my horn, and one of them approached me, while the rest watched closely with wide grins, then she almost sat down right next to me, but darted away, back to her group, at the last minute, while the rest erupted in laughter. A few minutes later the same thing happened again! My theory is that they had dared her to do something, but she was too chicken to do it. I’m not sure whether the dare was just to sit down next to me, or if it was to sit down next to me and tell me something or ask me something, or if there was even a dare at all. Regardless, I got my revenge a few minutes later by playing sax and marching in circles around their picnic. They found this hilarious.

Revenge!

For dinner, I met a friend, and we got some traditional Vietnamese food. An seemed more interested in laughing at the way I ate and used chopsticks than she was in her own food. After dinner, I rode around on her electric bicycle. It was my first time driving through the Saigon traffic. It’s a mix between kind of fun and kind of scary. Fortunately, I don’t think I’ll be doing that much of it. Her vehicle is pink and designed for someone quite shorter than me. Must’ve looked ridiculous. Good thing there are no pictures!

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