Monday 14th of June 2021 00:59:45 AM (Vietnam)
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Puppeteer makes a splash with home-made homage to his art

The house recently began welcoming foreign tourists to take a look into the old artform, which originated in the rural countryside of northern Viet Nam.

Puppeteer makes a splash with home-made homage to his art


A homely feeling: Artisan Phan Thanh Liem (left) shows a foreign tourist how to control puppets in a homemade tank in his museum and home. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
Living room lecture: Liem offers tourists a unique experience. Visitors can learn about Viet Nam's history of water puppetry, hear first-hand accounts of his family traditions, and watch how puppets are made.
Full house: A group of tourist enjoy a show by Liem at the museum.
by Le Huong

There are no ticket booths at the door or any ticket collectors hanging around, and visitors are simply led upstairs inside what appears to be a normal, three-storey Vietnamese home on a small lane deep off the capital city's bustling Kham Thien Street.

On the upper floor, a homemade tank ringed with bamboo trees and with water ferns floating in it sits in front of a model of a traditional communal house, and this is where noted water puppeteer Phan Thanh Liem has erected a small stage and museum to his art.

The house recently began welcoming foreign tourists to take a look into the old artform, which originated in the rural countryside of northern Viet Nam.

The tour includes a brief history of water puppetry and of Liem's family tradition. His grandfather Phan Van Huyen and father Phan Van Ngai laid a foundation for Viet Nam's present day water puppetry theatre. The tour continues with a puppet show by Liem himself and a demonstration of puppet-making before ending with a meal of traditional dishes.

Liem said he had the idea of turning his home into a tourist destination after many years as a solo puppeteer travelling around the country as well as abroad.

"When travelling giving performances, I could not show off my family's tradition," he said. "And I hoped to entertain tourists with the unique experience of visiting a family engaged in a traditional art form right at the heart of the city."

With the floating water ferns, which he bought from the countryside, and records of countryside sounds including roosters crowing, dogs barking, cows mooing, and the chirping of insects and croaking of frogs, he creates a rural ambience for his shows.

"This is the second time I have seen a water puppet show in Viet Nam," Canadian visitor Emma Brian told Viet Nam News, wiping water droplets from her face. "I like this show more than the other one since I can not only see the performance but also learn how the puppets are made and even work them on the water myself."

Indochina Travelland's Le Thuy Thu Thuong said that a group of students and teachers she guided from an international school in Malaysia enjoyed the visit greatly.

"The museum is new and the special brain-child of an artisan," Thuong said. "He doesn't need to be too professional in receiving the guests, just remain natural, friendly and cosy in the way he and his family have done, and his house will become a top destination. My company will now choose Liem's house to entertain tourists travelling in small groups rather than handicraft villages further out of the city in Hai Duong."

"I think this model is suited to small groups of tourists of fewer than 15, especially tourists travelling with their families and children," said Dao Trong Duc from Vido Tour Co. "It is a good choice for tourist companies in peak season, when the big, professional puppet theatres like the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre are too crowded."

The zig-zagging lane leading to Liem's house was also enjoyable to Western guests who wanted to experience more of the everyday life of Vietnamese people, Duc added.

In this experimental stage, Liem said he did not care much for profit. He just hoped to invite more tourist agencies to come to see his museum so that he can perfect his special tourist destination.

"Though turning my home into a tourist attraction has affected my family's privacy, my priority is introducing my family's pride to more people from around the world," he said.

"Tourists coming here can see everything dealing with water puppetry in a very intimate space, something they can't find in the big water puppetry theatres," said Mai Thanh Huyen from Exotissimo Travel Co. — VNS

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