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Famous composer Duong Thu has opened a café within a café in Ho Chi Minh City that invites famous scholars to talk about their areas of expertise in literature, poetry, art and other subjects.

He spoke with Thanh Nien Weekly about his motivation and aspirations for this inclusive intellectual gathering.

Thanh Nien Weekly: You've said that your own experiences in absorbing and learning about culture from older artists inspired you to organize this culture lecture at Café Thu 7 (Saturday Café). Can you tell us more about this?

When I was young, I suffered many disadvantages and lacked good living conditions in comparison to my friends. My aspiration to live a beautiful life and to learn led me to meet older artists like Van Cao, Tran Dan, La Dat, Dam Linh, Nguyen Xinh, Xuan Khanh, Duong Tuong and Chau Dien. I am sure that at that time no one thought that I could become someone. They just saw me as a younger brother who listened to them with a lot of respect. They must have been lonely and wanted to share their opinions and feelings with someone. To be able to live with their "issues" was sheer luck for a person like me. Hanging around with older artists who were 100 times more talented than me, I felt very small, but this also helped me become more mature and to preserve the youth in my heart.

The Salon Café each Saturday morning will repeat the same experience for young Vietnamese people.

What does the "Culture Salon" do, exactly?

I have been in touch with Vietnamese overseas scholars like Dr. Nguyen Huu Liem (philosopher), architect Ngo Viet Nam, music professor Nguyen Thuyet Phong who all work in Europe or the US. They are invited to come to Vietnam to give lectures. Besides, we also connect with scholars in Vietnam including writer Nguyen Ngoc, Prof. Truong Quang Thao, architect Co Van Hau, journalist Danh Duc, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tu Huy (French Literature). So what urges me to do all this connecting of people? As I mentioned in an article for Sinh Vien (Student) magazine, I wish that everybody can live in a world filled with cultural values so that they can become the "elite" (refined thinkers) later. And this is not only my dream but also the dream of many other intellectuals. And this world of culture can only be created by connecting people from different cultures to make a favorable environment to improve and exchange cultural values as well as creative inspirations.

And what has this project meant for you, personally, so far?

Culture Salon opens every Saturday morning at Café Thu 7 at 37 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, HCMC. Duong Thu invites one famous scholar every week to give a talk on different subjects and topics. Entrance is free for everyone. Come early to get a seat.

I miss being a lecturer for art and literature. I quit 30 years ago. Besides, I usually talk with young people about music, fine arts and art based on my own experiences. So my life has become more meaningful and interesting with organizing the Culture Salon. And this is also good for my music as I feel that I am immersed in creativity.

In terms of outside impact, what has been the satisfying part of this activity and do you think it can be improved?

I am very glad that there are more and more young people who know about Café Thu 7. I am happy because leading Vietnamese intellectuals are very enthusiastic about joining and overseas Vietnamese scholars know about us. But as the project has just started (last September) there is still a lot of room for improvement. This is very different from an economic initiative... promoting culture needs time and you have to do it slowly and steadily.

Do you have any plans to step up international cooperation to expand activities and bring new learning activities in to broaden the vision of today's youth?

We cannot stand alone. We can only expand the connections. I have been cooperating with the Tri Thuc Publishing House, the Nha Nam Company as well as the HCMC Architects' Association. We also cooperate with Vietravel for Culture Salon's music program. As for international cooperation, we expect to cooperate with the British Council, Goethe Institute, and Japan-Vietnam culture exchange center. As our fund for cultural activities is still modest, we might need to look for more sponsorship.

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