A visitor watching a work of Vietnamese German artist Khai Doan displayed at the Goethe-Institut Hanoi. Doan's exhibition "Dipolar," opening until June 5, is a highlight of the Europe Days in Vietnam this year.
The colonial vestiges of French villas and Opera Houses are reminders of a time when European cultural influences were pervasive in urban Vietnam, but there is not much else in evidence that marks those days.
Today, stylish Vietnamese women wear colorful Korean dresses and Chinese shoes, carry Hong Kong bags and the latest edition of iphone or ipad. Young men ride fashionable Honda's SH scooters to the office or a Yamaha or Suzuki model. Vespa? The Italian scooter is as charming as it was all those years ago, but its classical style is favored by few.
Cinemas are filled with action-packed flicks from Hollywood: "Fast and Furious 5," "Kungfu Panda," "Thor""¦ and teenagers chew at KFC's spicy chicken wings while queuing up in front of the ticket booth. When they choose music for a weekend date, Korea's Super Junior or a night with Lady Gaga's hottest DVD are the first choices, not "strange" symphony concerts.
Publishing houses are trying their best to revive the reading habit among the youngsters, but what moves fast off the book shelves are popular Chinese novels detailing conflicts between a young bride and her mother-in-law or bestseller chick lit like "Devil Wears Prada" or "Bridget Jones's Diary""¦ (the basic plot of a somewhat plump, disappointed divorced wife changing herself and winning the heart of a hunk, a man much sought after, and her ex-husband returning with regrets that he left her this is a formula for success in both China and America!).
The month-long Europe Days celebration in the two major Vietnamese cities has brought the continent back into cultural reckoning, so to speak.
Earlier this month, several hundred suburban residents in Ho Chi Minh"ˆCity and Hanoi, most of them children, watched for the first time an "amazing white family circus" performing comedy routines set to hot Latin music. Blancaluz Capella and Luciano Martin from Argentina; Rafael Moraes and Gustavo Carvalho from Brazil; Silvia Compte Busto, Enrique Aguilera and Ramiro Criado Vergaz from Spain the seven professional circus actors of Bolondo troupe played the parts of seven members in a family in which the mother had a fondness for doing somersaults, four brothers liked to climb, tell stories and perform magic while the youngest girl was deeply in love with acrobatics.
The audiences laughed and laughed, forgetting they were sitting on small plastic chairs, tree branches, stairs and window sills or even atop a bus (that was used to transport the troupe and their props).
Troupe members work hard and save 1,000 euros every year so they can gather together for a month every summer to perform their free shows. Of course, they earn more than laughter. They receive warmth, affection and gratitude, not to mention raised awareness about Europe.
In another special initiative, the European Literature Day uses the power of words to introduce several foreign cultures to Vietnam.
From May 27 to 28, the Goethe-Institut, Institut Francais L' Espace and representatives of Wallonie-Bruxelles will, along with the Danish and Italian embassies, present books that have recently been translated into Vietnamese.
Since it is a tough sell to gain public interest in an area dominated by Chinese and Americans, an entertaining performance is expected to accompany the introduction of the books.
Besides music, movies are always the most popular art form. The European Film Festival (from May 16 to 27 in HCMC and from May 20 to 29 in Hanoi) features thirteen films from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Ireland, Czech Republic, Poland and the United Kingdom. The movies tell many love stories - the love of a sold mare trying her best to find and bring back her separated foal (Pom le poulain Wallonia Brussels), the love that three middle-aged fathers would not have found if they didn't have to cope with their youngsters' every day needs in their wives' absence ("With You the World Is Fun" - Czech Republic), or the love for liberty felt strongly in the center of a big war in a small community fighting against Gestapo and Vichy regime policemen (Liberté France) all these stories will remain in the minds of viewers for a long time.
After watching "With You the World Is Fun" on the first night of the film festival in HCMC, Ha Ky Nam, a 30-year-old man, commented: "Such a great comedy! I found that husbands everywhere in the world have the same difficulties raising their children they can't do much without their wives!"
Europe Month celebrations end with a comic festival opening on May 30.
I, for one, felt the fresh breeze of an old culture that had a major presence in my grandparents' lives, and I have since spoken to many who wished it would last for more than a month.