Bai choi performance in Hoi An

(VOVWORLD) - Bai choi is a type of folk art and folk game popular in Central Vietnam, particularly in Quang Nam province. Bai choi has played an important role in Hoi An residents’ spiritual life for centuries. 

Bai choi performance in Hoi An   - ảnh 1The performing space for Bai choi at night in the ancient town of Hoi An. (Photo: Lan Anh) 

Bai choi originated among farmers in the Quảng region, where watch-towers were set up to watch over the rice fields. While they were on duty, village boys posted in the towers communicated with each other by singing songs or chanties.

A tradition developed of holding a week-long spring Bai choi festival each year from the 30th day of the 12th lunar month. In the yard of the communal house or pagoda or some other wide space, ten bamboo platforms on stilts are built, each platform accommodating 4 or 5 players. These serve as watch-towers in the game of Bai choi.

Phung Tan Dong, a culture expert in Hoi An, explains the rules of the game: “Bai choi is a complex cultural activity which combines a game of chance with poetry, music, singing, and acting. There are 2 decks of 30 cards. One deck is placed in a bamboo tube on a stage. The other deck is distributed to the players in the watch-towers. Cards are drawn at random from the tube, and as each card is drawn, its name is announced. Whichever watch-tower has that card receives a flag. The first team to gain 3 flags wins the game.”

A master of ceremonies dubbed “Mr. Hieu” plays the important role of controlling the game and engaging the audience. After drawing a card from the bamboo tube on the stage, Mr. Hieu immediately improvises a short lyric based on what the card says.

The solo performance by Mr. Hieu reading out the cards, and call-and-response singing and joking by the players in the watch-towers, constitute the attraction of Bai choi.

Bai choi performance in Hoi An   - ảnh 2Artisan Phung Thi Ngoc Hue in one of her performances. (Photo: Lan Anh) 

Phung Thi Ngoc Hue says she has loved the game since she was little. Since she went to work for the mobile information group of Hoi An’s Culture and Sports Center, she has been studying Bai choi and looking for ways to make Mr. Hieu’s role more entertaining.

“During a Bai choi performance, Mr. Hieu - or Ms. Hieu - must engage the audience by playing a part, which might be something from an old classical drama, to involve them in the game. We sometimes use “vè” - a poetry and song form from the Quảng region - in the program,” Hue recalls.

In 1996, the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theater was founded, and Bai choi was staged for the entertainment of tourists for the very first time.

Two years later, a Bai choi performance space was created to entertain tourists on full-moon nights in the ancient town of Hoi An. This performance space creates a more intimate connection between the performers and the audience. Today Bai Choi games take place every night along the bank of the Hoài River and attract an incredible number of people.

Tran Dinh Chau, Deputy Director of Hoi An’s Culture and Sport Center, says: “We have turned Bai choi, a folk game, into a folk art form which has a great importance in the community. The genre is loved by young and old.”


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