While a post on the official and unofficial goings-on to accompany the 55th anniversaries of Hue University's Physics Department and College of Education would shed light on some cultural similarities and differences, a post on last night's opening ceremony of Hue Festival 2012 would simply be more fun. Hue Festival happens every two years here, usually in June. This year, though, they moved it to April meaning that it fills our last full week here. I'm not sure how much we'll see, but I'm sure at least some of it. For example, I'm going to coffee tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 with a woman I met at the physics party on Thursday. At 4:00 on Monday (and today and Tuesday) there are street celebrations throughout the city. Since we're going to coffee on her scooter, it may take a while.
Anyway, we went to last night's opening ceremony with the husband's teaching assistant and the young woman who runs the office of Hue's Advanced Program in Physics (the folks for whom the husband is teaching).
While we certainly could have done this on our own, it was great to have the company of people who could also offer explanations of some of the acts. While it's easy to enjoy music without understanding the words, it helps to know a bit of context.
If I get a chance to write a blog post I've thought about, on "flying solo" here while the husband is teaching, it would come out that I have been a faithful follower of Gibbs's Rule Number 9 which is not to go anywhere without a knife. When we got to the show-your-tickets point in the entrance line, I realized that they were screening bags and people and, yes, my knife was in my rucksack. Oh well, I thought, if I lose it, it goes in a good cause. The husband said later that he figured so many locals here probably carry knives that it wouldn't be an issue and, indeed, it wasn't. Remember this point later when I show the photograph of Vietnam's president addressing the crowd. Like they'd let someone into an Obama event with a knife (it's a serious knife, not a Swiss Army baby). Come to think of it, they'd never let Obama speak at an event as physically open as last night's was. But I digress.
The opening ceremony was in front of the Citadel's Ngo Mon (noon) gate, which is 190 feet across and three stories high. I'm not sure how many feet deep the stage was, but it covered part of the moat that surrounds the Citadel. Various acts used every bit of the ground space and every story up. When we arrived, this is what our view would have been like from the center section. Especially given the prospect of umbrellas being needed (it had just stopped raining an hour before), we decided to make for higher ground and a better view, this one. The seats you see down at the bottom were reserved seats or at least more expensive seats. The neat thing is that I'm betting we had a better view of the big picture than even the folks in the front row down there had. People without tickets, and there were a lot of them, could watch on big screens on each side of the grandstand.
Behind the grandstand was Hue's famous flag tower. Hue Festival's closing ceremony will be held next Sunday night at the base of the tower. I'm wondering whether they will turn the grandstand around for that; I'll have to make a point of going over to check. Here's how the flag tower looked last night. The lights running up the pedestals and pole and in the large globe are not electric; they're all open flames. There was just enough breeze left over from the afternoon's storm to keep the flag looking good while not fanning the flames too dangerously.
We arrived about an hour before the scheduled start time of 8:00 and got to watch a lot of the crowd arrive.
We also watched the VIPs come in. The flags atop the grandstand sections represented the countries with participants in Hue Festival 2012.
There is one performer from the US here, Mary McBride, a singer. She was performing in Hanoi last week and is now here. We didn't see a Canadian flag and were unable to find any Canadian performers listed in the festival program. As the ceremony began to kick off, performers lined the stage with a banner for each participating country.
Performers also came out with incredible conical hats on sticks arrangements.
We thought things were going to get going. But first, we had to hear the president speak. After he sat down, there was a flurry of fireworks I was unable to catch no thanks to needing to swap memory cards, and things really took off.
The first number featured a number of classic Hue symbols including more conical hats. Violet ao dai are also part of Hue's history and culture. The Vietnamese are such a hard-working people that I was not surprised to see what I interpreted to be workers.
The second number had an ocean or at least a water theme.
I'm honestly not sure specifically what the next number was about, because there were a lot of different things going on in it.
The next song was a Hue folk song.
The next song was about Ho Chi Minh, and indicative of just how big he is here, it used all the vertical levels of the staging area.
The next number featured an entire choir.
The next number featured a group of men and a group of women playing off one another. There was a vaguely martial theme to it, so it may have concerned men training women to take part in a conflict. (I probably should have asked our hosts, but I was so caught up in watching and shooting that I didn't think to.)
The next number was an incredible duet (not technically, I guess, in my limited musical knowledge, but I'll call it that) with drums and a grand piano working together and against each other. Next came what I presume were teasers for some of the troupes from other countries performing in Hue Festival 2012. First came Australia.
Then came Russia.
And after Russia came China.
China was followed by Korea.
Finally, there was France.
If you're wondering what the deal is with the middle photo for France, your guess is as good as ours. None of us, American or Vietnamese, could figure out what the significance of priestly appearing men with a globe of flames had to do with France.
A lot of people left during the numbers specific to each of the above countries. I'm not sure if perhaps they thought there was going to be a number for each participating country, which would have taken a couple of hours, or if they had to get up early today. As it turned out, there was but one more number before the grand finale. Judging by the singer wearing a violet ao dai and carrying a conical hat and the couples with bicycles, it was a love song about or set in Hue.
The grand finale was just that, the finale and quite grand. At the outset, we recognized the dancers we had watched in a rehearsal at the theater in the Imperial City. If you missed that post, you can read it here.
The finale wasn't just the lantern dancers, though. There were other dancers and performers as well.
And then, more fireworks, only this time the memory card wasn't full (though I filled over six of the eight gigabytes by the end of the evening), so I was able to get off quite a few shots, more of which came out than I expected. Here are two the husband and I decided were among the best.
And then the fireworks ended, and there were just the performers. After they exited, it didn't take long for the stands to empty. More people lingered than I thought would, many of those going up to the gate and walking on the stage. Many photos were taken of each other or of couples, more memories to go with those from the ceremony. It was, indeed, amazing, especially considering that the stage was still being constructed a week ago. I'm not sure where they practiced such large-scale routines, but they all looked pretty flawless from where we were sitting.
We didn't see any more Festival performances today, though we did check out the Sake Festival running in conjunction with Hue Festival. Unfortunately, there were no sake festival t-shirts, or we would have gotten two for specific Myo Sim master instructors. Resounding the Spirit of Vietnam, a "dialogue of drums and percussion instruments" is performed twice later in the week, and that sounds interesting to both the husband and me. I don't think we're finished with Hue Festival 2012 just yet.