October 26, 2014

In October 2007 we visited Vietnam. At the time, I had started research on a novel based in that country and desperately wanted to see the real thing. I knew that I’d only get a tourist’s view in the short time that we would be visiting the country, but at least that would be better than nothing. The novel is now finished and is titled PUSHING WATER. The story takes place between 1938 and 1941.

While in Hanoi we saw a performance by a Water Puppet Company or Mua Roi Nuoc. It is a unique art form that began in the Red River Delta region of Northern Vietnam in the tenth century. Farmers devised this form of entertainment using the natural materials found in their environment. In ancient times, the ponds and the rice paddies after a harvest became the stage for these impromptu shows.

stage This art form has only found its way to the world stage in recent years as a result of the normalized relations of Vietnam with the West. Today the Than Long Puppet Troupe is the most well known in Hanoi.

entruageModern water puppetry is performed in a pool with water as the stage. The puppeteers stand behind a screen and control the puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanisms hidden beneath the water surface.

marching The puppets are carved out of wood and often weigh up to 15 kg (33 lbs). A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music. Singers of Cheo (a form of opera) also with its origins in North Vietnam, perform songs while the puppets act out the story.

princess puppetThe themes of most stories are usually based in a rural setting with a strong reference to Vietnamese folklore. The tales are about day-to-day life and folk tales that grandparents tell their grandchildren. The puppets act out stories of the harvest, fishing and festivals. Legends and national history are also told through these short skits. Many of the skits especially those involving the tales of daily life, often have a humorous twist in the end.


The costumes are painted and decorated to be an authentic representation of the time and place of the story being enacted.

fireworksThe program usually ends in a fireworks display with a sense of triumph no matter what the story.

pupetiersAt the end of the performance the puppeteers and musicians come front and center, stand in the hip high water to take a final curtain call.

happy man :or: lucky manWe bought this charming fellow in a market place in Hanoi, a water puppet called Happy Man. Many puppets are discarded for one reason or another, perhaps a broken joint, a malfunctioning inner working that cannot be repaired and are repainted and sold in a few locations.


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  1. thema straw on October 26, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Hi, Margaret, I’d be very interested to know what has drawn you to write such a long piece as a novel on Vietnam…. T.J. Straw

    • Pushing Time on October 28, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Hi Thelma, I found this post of yours in my spam and thought I should dust it off and send it to where is should have gone. Who knows why some things get spammed! I will soon be addressing more thoughts about PUSHING WATER, my Vietnam novel. Thanks for asking! Cheers!

  2. Jean Stewart on October 26, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    What a unigue souvenir of your special time there..very interesting blog

    • Pushing Time on October 26, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Hi Jean, so nice of you to stop by and leave a comment. Yes, it was a very special time and Happy Man is a great addition to our bookcase.

  3. Susan on October 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    What a fun experience. You just had to have the happy ma.

    • Pushing Time on October 26, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Susan!! Yes, we had to have him. Don’t think there was a happy man in the program we watched, but it looked like he’s done some great performances from what the vender said.

  4. Helena Fairfax on October 26, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    What fabulous photos! I loved them. What an interesting time you had there. Your new novel sounds fascinating. Looking forward to reading it!

    • Pushing Time on October 26, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Hello Helena! Thanks, so glad you enjoyed this post. It was a really interesting experience. And I’ll certainly keep you informed of what’s going on with the novel. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. annestenhouse on October 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I was in Vietnam this time last year, Margaret, and really enjoyed the Water Puppet displays. Your photos are so good. Anne Stenhouse

    • Pushing Time on October 26, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Anne. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, the Water Puppets were amazing. I cannot help but smile every time I see the Happy Man in our bookcase. Glad you like my photos!

  6. Jeri on October 26, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Fascinating – a very unique art. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pushing Time on October 26, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Great to hear from you Jeri. It was indeed a unique experience also to watch the puppets in action. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Trish Mayo on October 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Lovely series of images – what a colorful, unique and beautiful performance. Wonderful that you brought Happy Man to come home with you.

    • Pushing Time on October 26, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Trish. It was such a great experience that Happy Man had to come home with us. Great to hear from you.

  8. lexacain on October 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

    What an amazing find! Great pics! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Pushing Time on October 27, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Thanks Laura. Hope you come again for another visit.

  9. thelma straw on October 27, 2014 at 10:22 am

    I put a comment here early Sunday when it first posted but it seems to have vanished – maybe my ink was that disappearing ink spies use!!! Thelma Straw

    • Pushing Time on October 27, 2014 at 10:30 am

      Hmmm, Thelma, disappearing ink!! How very appropriate for a mystery writer to posses and at the right time of the year when haunting is very much expected. As always, thanks for stopping by. I love hearing from you.

  10. Nalo on October 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Very nice show !!

    • Pushing Time on October 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      Hi Nalo. Glad you enjoyed the show!!