A program incorporating multiple perspectives from storytelling about history and culture, to gastronomy, sports, exploration, and photography, enables students to better understand the city where they live.

Following a previous educational program about the history and culture of Southern Vietnam, Cultura Fish brought more stories and activities, both in class and outdoors, to the Đồng Ca class (Đồng Xanh Steiner School) to discover Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The two-week journey (from December 12 to December 23, 2022) left many vivid memories for the children as well as the program team. To conclude the “Exploring Saigon” experience, the Đồng Ca children performed the play “Mỵ Châu – Trọng Thuỷ,” which they scripted and directed themselves.

Diverse and Humanistic Approach

True to the spirit of “exploration,” Cultura Fish designed the curriculum using various methods such as storytelling, strategic games (board games), music (Đờn ca tài tử), traditional performance arts (hát bội), photography, coffee mixing, archery, etc. This enabled the Đồng Ca children to learn while playing and naturally connect with the city they live in. The two weeks of “Exploring Saigon” were filled with stories, activities, experiments, exciting inner-city trips, and most of all, questions and curiosity from the children.

From the City of Dreams…

“Exploring Saigon” began with role-playing motion games, followed by a “task” for the children to design a city they liked. Thus, one child wanted a city named “Western Paradise” because there was no suffering or harm there; another wanted to build a city where residents lived in tree houses with domes that spray water during fires; another aimed to create a city where schools, parks, amusement areas, and libraries were all free for everyone; and another dreamed of a city with many “intelligence agencies” (inspired by a comic book series they were reading). From the children’s imaginations of a city, the Cultura Fish team took the Đồng Ca class on a journey through the city’s cultural realms.

Sketching the Imaginary City

Saigon Coffee

Coffee is one of the “content” items Cultura Fish always wants to introduce to children (as it smells and tastes good), but there has been hesitation because it might make the kids too energetic. This time, with the green light from teacher Trần Minh Sang, Cultura Fish carefully asked the children before the lesson day and brought all the necessary equipment to “open a cafe” with them at school. Coffee is an interesting part of Saigon culture and an “excuse” to talk about the cultural integration of Vietnam. Therefore, the coffee-making workshop initially focused on creating a fun, playful, and experimental atmosphere for the children. While enjoying, the children listened to stories about coffee plants and how coffee came to Vietnam and specifically to Saigon.

Southern Performance Arts: Đờn ca tài tử & Hát bội

Artist Thanh Bình teaching simple hát bội dance moves to the Đồng Ca class

Naturally, studying with Cultura Fish always includes singing. This time, with the theme of “exploring Saigon,” the Đồng Ca class was introduced to two “fun activities” hát bội and Đờn ca tài tử: a flashy, lavish performance art form once popular not only in Saigon but across Southern Vietnam, and a sophisticated art form once cherished by the city’s citizens.

This was the first time “Hát Bội 101” was introduced to elementary school children; previously, this course had been embraced by teens to middle-aged students. Of course, discussing hát bội with children is not simple due to many Sino-Vietnamese terms and many concepts unusual to their experiences. Yet, researcher Vương Hoài Lâm excellently fulfilled his mission through a teaching style that combined storytelling and illustration (dance moves, prose), challenging the children to read poetry in a medieval style, and classifying hát bội characters into typical motifs. The activity of drawing “masks,” a very characteristic task from teacher Lâm, was also warmly received. It is hard to describe the team’s emotions when the children remembered that hát bội should be “exaggerated but beautiful” and “ridiculous but charming.”

Watching the actors rehearse hát bội

The next part of the hát bội content involved the children watching the actors rehearse at the Ho Chi Minh City Theatre of Performing Arts. Although it was just a rehearsal without full costume or makeup, the children were impressed by the actors speaking in poetry, singing a few lines, and dancing “spinning wildly,” and they were extremely eager to watch the performance all day. The class also received a simple dance lesson from “Uncle Bình” (Artist Thanh Bình) right on stage.

With Đờn ca tài tử, already familiar with artists Sáu Hưng and Song Oanh from the previous semester when studying folk songs, this time the class listened to different tones like Northern, Southern, Sad, and Festive and combined them with motion games. The two artists also enthusiastically taught the children to sing “Hành vân” with new lyrics, vocalizing “xang xê liu ú…” countless times for the class to keep the rhythm and identify the double rhythm. Who knows, maybe one day in the future, when life gets busy, today’s children will lean on a Southern Spring verse to express their feelings…

Exploration Combined with Photography

Photographer Giang Phạm teaching the children how to take pictures

Initially, when the Đồng Ca class heard that the two-week lesson theme was… Saigon, they seemed disappointed because they thought they would be traveling far and what’s new about the city anyway. But when they were given a film camera with a limit on the number of photos they could take (4 shots), and the bustling Bàn Cờ market area as their “workspace,” the children discovered that this city was both familiar and strange.

– “This alley is very… alley-like, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s beautiful inside” – one child exclaimed when they accidentally stepped into a Christmas-decorated alley.

– Cultura Fish replied: “That’s right, that’s how Saigon is.”

The content of photography and exploration was led by photographer Giang Phạm. Mr. Giang taught the children how to tell a story through images, how to take better pictures (composition, shooting rules,…) but always reminded them “if you raise the camera and think it’s beautiful, then shoot.” The Đồng Ca class learned to observe, wait, and consider making a decision to shoot (because they didn’t know if the next stop would be more beautiful). Thus, the city exploration trip (suggested by Mr. Giang) seemed unexciting but turned out to be incredibly fun. This kind of joy was not as noisy as the previous trip to the Mekong Delta with many group activities, but was a kind of deep joy, more curious, and also a bit adventurous because you never know what awaits or what people at the market will say or do to you.

Training Body and Mind with Archery

If not counting the exploration trips, this was a completely outdoor class, and moreover, it was a fresh, cool Monday morning. The class agreed (actually, Cultura Fish “arranged it”) to dress “differently than usual” for archery, not for any particular purpose, just for fun. Thus, the teachers at Trần Quan Brothers Archery Club also joined in with their students. This morning’s class was lively in a corner of the garden with all sorts of animals, fruits, masks… of hát bội.

Of course, the content of archery still had to relate to the Saigon theme that Đồng Ca was studying with Cultura Fish. Besides telling stories of ancient martial arts (archery as an illustration), the children also had to build… fortresses to defend themselves, imitating the old Quy and Phụng fortresses. Although the class lasted from 9 am to 11 am, time seemed to fly by quickly, and some children were not yet satisfied and wanted to shoot more.

Strategic Game (Boardgame) Learning About Trade

The last session of the two-week course on Saigon ended gently with… a board game. Unlike the “bustling” atmosphere of the previous days due to outdoor games, field trips, or motion games, this time the children tried their hand at strategic thinking, planning how to trade “profitably” and working in teams to achieve mutual benefits. This morning’s class was bustling in the true sense of a “market,” with kids selling, buying, “bargaining,” and pleading earnestly, truly fascinating. Thanks to this, it was surprisingly discovered that many children were very intelligent, knew how to assign tasks within the group, and understood the “market” situation! The boardgame session on Saigon was led by Ngô Quang Đĩnh, a regular boardgame host who organizes boardgame sessions in Ho Chi Minh City.

A Surprise Closing ceremony 

The two-week journey (from December 12 to December 23, 2022) left many vivid memories for the children as well as the program team. Particularly, to conclude “Exploring Saigon,” the Đồng Ca children performed the piece “Mỵ Châu – Trọng Thuỷ,” which they scripted and directed themselves. They also made their own costumes, designed the stage, and incorporated the hát bội elements they had learned into their performance.

The performance “Mỵ Châu – Trọng Thuỷ” by the Đồng Ca class without the intervention of teachers

At the end of the program, Cultura Fish along with teacher Trần Minh Sang (class teacher of Đồng Ca) and the students sang Đờn ca tài tử songs together, looked back at the pictures they had taken during the exploration, and gave each other many compliments for “Mỵ Châu – Trọng Thuỷ”. Cultura Fish hopes that what “Exploring Saigon” brought to the Đồng Ca class will be an inspiration for the students to learn more about and love the city where they live.


Program Execution Team “Exploring Saigon”

Hiếu Văn Ngư – Cultura Fish

  • Project Manager: Hà Thúc Đức Tùng
  • Concept and Content: Lục Phạm Quỳnh Nhi
  • Teachers/Storytellers: Hà Thúc Đức Tùng (archery, coffee mixing, history), Lục Phạm Quỳnh Nhi (history, culture), researcher Vương Hoài Lâm (hát bội art), artists Sáu Hưng and Song Oanh (Đờn ca tài tử).
  • Assistant and Photography: Võ Trung Hậu

With the support of:

  • Ho Chi Minh City Theatre of Performing Arts.
  • Trần Quan Brothers Archery Club
  • Photographer – journalist Giang Phạm
  • Boardgame Host Ngô Quang Đĩnh
  • Parents of Đồng Ca class (Đồng Xanh Steiner School)

For more information about designing and teaching courses on various topics such as science, history, culture, arts, etc., please contact Cultura Fish via email [email protected] or phone number 0934848800 (Đức Tùng)