Thursday, June 30, 2011


If you spend any time in Asia you will probably acquire a puppet or two. Back at home, they look out of place and uncomfortable. I've been trying to put a small one purchased from the Bagan market into a shadow box, but the cat keeps getting his nose into the proceedings. My favorite, an ancient Burmese General, unearthed from a dusty stall in Yangon hangs almost over my head.

The puppets we've both enjoyed most are not merely decorative. They're on the job every day in the Water Puppet show in Hanoi. We've seen them twice and love everything about it - the dusty, dusky old theatre and uncomfortable seats; the squawky orchestra and the charming stories the shows recount. The event is a "must see" on all the tourist's lists and the theatre is generally full, many of the people snoring in their seats -  not because the show isn't engaging, but because they're exhausted from being on the typical grueling tour group schedule.

A thousand years ago, water puppet shows were created by farmers who spent their days in flooded rice fields. They discovered that water was an excellent venue for puppets as it hid the rods and strings that provide movement and could be used for special effects, like waves and splashes. The shows depict daily village life - farming, fishing children's games plus legends including dragons and lion dogs. The fishing vignettes are particularly entertaining as the fisherman is outwitted by his prey.  These shows are accompanied by an traditional orchestra which includes drum, flutes and the dan bau - sometimes there's a singer, sometimes not. The shows are about an hour long - funny, colorful and utterly captivating.

For $1.00 a ticket, I'd say it's currently the best entertainment value for the money on the planet.


  1. I'd love to see that puppet show. I've got my dollar ready but not sure about the finances for the rest of the trip.
    So interesting about the origins of the water show.

  2. I was in a hurry when I read this and didn't even notice your cat. How did I miss such a cute thing as that????