Jazz at the House of Big Sing
Nha Hat Lon. That would be the Hanoi Opera House. Literally it translates to the House of Big Sing. Learning new words can be fascinating (and often hilarious). So many new phrases are funny little interpretations, metaphors and juxtapositions when you translate them literally. (Then there are the wild transliterations of English words into Vietnamese characters. Today I saw "The Importance of Being Earnest" on a shelf in the library by the author Oxca Oaido. If you know how to sound out the Vietnamese characters, these spellings are ingenious and effective.)
Anyway, I digress. Last night I spent an evening at the famous Nha Hat Lon. The French built the thing in 1911 (?) as a smaller scale replica of the Paris Opera. It has a stately yellow and white presence at the end of a boulevard near the bottom of Hoan Kiem Lake. I've been dying to get inside the building; for one thing it's acoustic are legendary. So I was thrilled when my friend Chien offered me free tickets to a concert by a Finnish jazz group called Trio Toykeat. Chien suggested I meet him and his friends on the step of the Opera House at 7:55 for the 8:00 show. I suggested 7:45 instead, which he seemed to think was unnecessary. I guess I'm still getting used to Vietnamese time, which is a lot like Latin time (or drag time for that matter!) . The boys were completely unconcerned to be chatting outside at 8:10. The show actually started at about 8:20. It was an interesting crowd streaming by us as we waited on the steps. In my neighbourhood and at the university I can go a whole day only seeing one or two Westerners, but it seemed the whole diplomatic community had shown up for the occasion (after all it was sponsored by the Finnish embassy).
The building has been restored and is in beautiful condition. The foyers are pure marble, but inside it has the size and feel of the Elgin Theatre in Toronto - red velvet seats and Victorian looking boxes. The show was great too, but I'm not sure what the Vietnamese audience made of it because much of it was experimental. My friend Chien had about 8 of his friends present. I thought they had been enjoying it, but the truth came out just after the intermission when most of them decided to excuse themselves: karaoke was calling! Chien admitted that he couldn't really get into this kind of jazz. He was trying hard to learn to listen, but his ear wasn't yet accustomed it. I guess it's the same trouble many in the West have learning to hear tonalities and musical structures so foreign to us. To be fair, the karaoke was also part of a farewell party for one of Chien's best friends who is leaving for five years of study in Japan today. In any case, I decided to stay and hear the second half. Also I needed an early night to get home and unpack my bags in my new house. I will get to the story of my house soon I hope.