In the eyes of foreign tourists, Hoi An is a city of the past with the musky scent and the idyllic surroundings built around dazzling yellow houses. But hardly do you know, it is also the cradle of a unique genre of Vietnamese traditional art performance, Bai Choi. If you want to explore the dynamic Danang in a more rustic aspect, don’t ever miss to come and see Bai Choi.
Discover The Origin Of Bai Choi
No one can be sure when and how Bai Choi has gradually become an essential component of the local life in Central Vietnam. There is, however, a tale often told to explain the advent of Bai Choi. The beginning of the story dated back to the XVI and XVII century when the land here was still covered with old jungles full of wildlife animals. To guard off the danger from the forests, villagers set up stilt huts around the village’s gate and had young males stay there overnight.
Bai Choi was an idea to entertain the guard, making them less sleepy. At first, this art form was a combination of singing for communication only. Then, the creative residents in the Middle of Vietnam invented a brand new form of card games to make Bai Choi more interesting.
Though the original purpose was quite simple, the art of Bai Choi now is a signature of the local culture. If Northern Vietnam has Quan Ho, Cai Luong is the specialty of the South, the middle region can be proud of Bai Choi, one of the UNESCO Intangible Assets.
The Main Components Of Bai Choi Art
The art of Bai Choi we see nowadays consists of card games and music performance. Unrelated as they may seem, the two features make an excellent match to delight not only players but also observers.
Bai Choi Games
Bai Choi game is a card game with distinctive rules. The deck will be divided into two. The dealer, also known as Mr. Hieu keeps half of the deck. Players, sitting on different bamboo huts, will buy three cards from the rest of the deck and waiting for Mr. Hieu to sing.
To start the game, Mr. Heu draws a card from his stack, then singing a few lines to give some clues to the players so that they can guess what Mr. Hieu’s card is. If their cards perfectly match Mr. Hieu’s, they will be the winner, receiving some lucky money and a cup of Vietnamese liquor.
Bai Choi Performance
Singing is an irreplaceable part of Bai Choi art. Materials for the singing comes for the daily life of the locals, from short stories about lifestyles to moving experiences with the closeby neighbors, from family affairs to social events. From the singing of Mr. Hieu, observers can have a clear and comprehensive picture of communal life in the past.
The best thing about Bai Choi singing is the utmost flexibility. Rather than based on written music sheets, Mr. Hieu can easily modify traditional folk music or even make his own tunes to fit the game.
There is no exaggeration to say that the melody of Bai Choi has awakened a lingering memory of the old Danang, which requires a close-up view to discover.
Important Characteristics Of Bai Choi
- Bai Choi Cards
To make the game possible, we can miss Bai Choi cards. It is a special deck of 30 cards made from bamboo. All the bamboo sticks, on which the name of a chess piece is printed, can be allocated into three suits.
- Musical Instruments
To add more color to the singing of Mr. Hieu, many traditional musical instruments are put into practice. 2-stringed fiddles have various tones, sometimes sound like a chirping bird, sometimes similar to a neighing horse. A familiar and intimate harmony is brought into the performance by clappers, shawm, and war drum. Everything integrates together to open the magical door, leading you to the old days of Danang.
In the main festival which normally occurs on Lunar New Year or Tet Holiday, 9 bamboo huts will be set up in a U shape to make room for Bai Choi Performance. Mr. Hieu or the MC of the game stay in the hut at the highest point of the U while other players settle down on the remaining huts.
Still, there are weekly performances organized by passionate artists mostly in Danang and Hoi An to reduce the distance between this conventional art form and the earnest visitors. In these small shows, people often sit on sedge mats, creating a cozy, open-hearted atmosphere.
Bai Choi Artists
Mr. Hieu, the dealer also the leader of the game, plays a crucial role in the flow of a Bai Choi performance. His voice, his expression, his collection of traditional folk songs reveal a lot about the ordinary life of the locals.
Not only applaud the good nature of the Vietnamese in patriotism, family and conjugal relations, and moral values a sensitive “Mr. Hieu” can also condemn social evils, outdated customs, and negative phenomena.
Ultimate Guides To Enjoy Bai Choi
Though the largest performance happens on New Year vacation only, you can still emerge in the poetic and cultural environment of Bai Choi art when traveling to Da Nang and Hoi An. Some active clubs of Bai Choi artists offer a mimic of the large festival with simple activities in the weekend.
In Danang, you can see Bai Choi performance in a number of districts, for example, Cam Le, Son Tra, Lien Chieu, Ngu Hanh Son, and especially in Hoa Van town.
Saturday evenings are Bai Choi nights in Hoi An because people, both locals and tourists, will gather by the Hoai river to join in Bai Choi games. You may not understand the meaning of the music, but you will surely feel the excitement of the crowd.