With the theme “Exploring Vietnamese Culture,” the course “Knowing Oneself and Others” (Season 2 from March 10 – March 18, 2023) endeavored to provide students with diverse experiences not only in the number of fields (anthropology, traditional theater, cuisine, rituals, etc.) but also in the variety of delivery methods (classes, workshops, brewing experiences, field trips, etc.).

Building on the success of the previous season of “Knowing Oneself and Others” (2021), this year’s program continued to offer foundational knowledge and practical cultural guidance, aiming to understand the cultural-historical characteristics of Vietnam as a way to comprehend oneself (the influence of culture on thinking, emotions, and actions). The course “Knowing Oneself and Others” (Season 2 from March 10 – March 18, 2023) endeavored to provide students with diverse experiences not only in the number of fields (anthropology, traditional theater, cuisine, rituals, etc.) but also in the variety of delivery methods (classes, workshops, brewing experiences, field trips, etc.).

Let’s look back at the “Knowing Oneself and Others” journey with Cultura Fish

1. “Overview of Vietnamese Culture”: Equipping with Knowledge for “Professional Travelling”

Considered the “foundation” for the entire “Knowing Oneself and Others” program, the “Overview of Vietnamese Culture” module provided students with the perspectives of anthropologists and ethnologists to better understand the land where they were born and how to observe and interact with different cultures. The above picture can only “capture” students and lecturers looking quite “traditional,” but in reality, this module was very lively with students’ questions, humorous stories from researcher Lê Hải Đăng, and discussions among students about education, culture, and memory issues.

Although this module was “heavy” on knowledge, researcher-lecturer Lê Hải Đăng made the last “lesson” special: teaching students to sing “Bèo giạt mây trôi” with his own musical accompaniment. It is hoped that the foundational knowledge from the “Overview of Vietnamese Culture” will give students much confidence when “traveling” in their own country and everywhere in the world.

Researcher Lê Hải Đăng guiding students to sing “Bèo giạt mây trôi” accompanied by his guitar.

2. “Hát Bội 101”: Learning to Be an “Expert” Audience

“Hát Bội 101” is familiar to those interested in Cultura Fish from its early days because this module is aimed at… the audience with “professional” knowledge to enjoy various performance arts like hát bội, cải lương, spoken drama, etc. When integrated into the “Knowing Oneself and Others” program, “Hát Bội 101” not only provided “watching” knowledge but also offered perspectives and information about performance arts in Asia similar to hát bội. Led by researcher Vương Hoài Lâm (who humbly calls himself “a longtime theatergoer”), “Hát Bội 101” classes were full of laughter as students experienced reciting passages, listening to stories in the plays, and having their “familiar yet strange” questions about hát bội answered.

Researcher Vương Hoài Lâm instructing students on how to read poetry in the classical style, incorporating gestures created by the students.

In particular, “Hát Bội 101” also offered the opportunity to wear hát bội costumes and “act” in plays. Students who had never touched hát bội makeup were transformed into võ kép, văn kép, đẹp đào, võ đào by the meticulous care of actors from the Hồ Chí Minh City Hát Bội Art Theater. This workshop was so engaging that some students decided to keep their makeup on to… ride their motorbikes outside.

3. “Southern Folk Songs” Module: It Turns Out Folk Songs Are This Easy

Artists Sáu Hưng and Song Oanh have been associated with Cultura Fish through various activities introducing đờn ca tài tử, cải lương (music part), reciting poetry, Southern folk songs, etc., to the audience. In the “Southern Folk Songs” module, the two artists not only brought songs but also encouraged young students to confidently create with traditional materials. In about three hours of class, students were guided to practice three forms of folk songs such as hò, lullabies, and lý. Learning folk songs involved many activities, from sitting still to moving around, creating a very lively and exciting atmosphere.

Participants creatively playing with melodies of songs like “Lý cây ổi,” “Lý cây khế,” etc.

4. “Lục Vân Tiên Poetry Tale” Module: Reading Tales by the Lamp Light

A “double sword” performance by artists Sáu Hưng – Song Oanh and researcher Vương Hoài Lâm; the “Lục Vân Tiên Poetry Tale” module guided students on how to properly recite Southern poetry, alongside a “theoretical” class explaining the literary merits of the work and its role in Southern culture. The two “Lục Vân Tiên Poetry Tale” sessions brought a new atmosphere to a “school literature” work.

The lively discussions and activities in the Vân Tiên poetry reading class.

5. “Personal History & Understanding the Chinese Community in Chợ Lớn” Module: From Personal History…

In addition to general overview modules or “101” introductory classes, Cultura Fish also included personal “case studies” in the “Knowing Oneself and Others” program, such as the “Chợ Lớn Dialogue” module with Mr. Lương Chí Cường – a Chinese in Chợ Lớn with much experience in tourism and trade. Through Mr. Cường’s “personal history,” consisting of various events, experiences, and choices, students could somewhat visualize how an individual chooses their identity belonging to a certain culture and how contemporary factors influence this process, especially when encountering a multicultural environment. It was delightful that day when students freely shared their own stories, discussed with the lecturer, and sparked many thoughts that lasted a week after.

Personal story sharing session of Mr. Lương Chí Cường with his experience of “choosing to be Chinese.”

Following this dialogue was a one-day field trip exploring the Chinese community in Chợ Lớn through architecture, spirituality, cuisine, lion dance art, etc. By walking through cultural spaces in Chợ Lớn, experiencing local cuisine, and visiting Thắng Nghĩa Đường, students had the opportunity to learn about Chinese culture and had more “material” to discuss with the guide.

Cultura Fish students visiting Thắng Nghĩa Đường.

6. Workshop “Coffee Appreciation”: Culture Is a Habit

Coffee is not indigenous to Vietnam, but phrases like “going for breakfast and coffee,” “let’s have coffee sometime,” etc., are familiar to us. Along with rice, coffee can “tell” Vietnam’s story from economic, agricultural, cultural, and flavor perspectives. Fortunately, Cultura Fish was able to invite Mr. Lê Hữu Phước as the lecturer for this interesting topic, which he called the workshop “Exploring with Coffee.” With the view that “culture is a habit,” barista Lê Hữu Phước shared with workshop participants a bit about the history of coffee globally and his experiences with the Vietnamese coffee industry.

Barista Lê Hữu Phước demonstrating coffee brewing techniques.

Barista Lê Hữu Phước also encouraged students to share their coffee experiences from childhood and guided them in brewing various coffee styles, from machine, pour-over, to filter. This session was humorously dubbed “extreme coffee” because of the smell, brewing, and tasting of various types, from commercial to specialty, creating a lively atmosphere akin to a lab. The highlight of the day was the unforgettable salted coffee, which almost no one stopped at just one cup.

The joy of savoring delicious salted coffee.

7. “Rituals” Module: From Temple to Shrine

The “From Temple to Shrine” trip is often introduced as the “user guide” to temples and shrines, meaning learning to identify spiritual places, knowing how to perform rituals with the deities there, and understanding that performing these rituals is a cultural practice, not out of fear. This trip, led by Mr. Lê Bá Thông, provided basic knowledge about Southern rituals and he was very willing to explain to students the small details in temples and shrines. He also meticulously guided on how to bow and pay respects, “debunking” folk rumors about rituals, making students feel more comfortable with these spaces as the trip progressed.

Mr. Lê Bá Thông sharing his methods of practicing rituals and worship in cultural spaces such as temples and shrines.

Before this trip, Cultura Fish equipped students with knowledge about temples and shrines, understanding them as cultural institutions belonging to the community – of which we are a part. Therefore, we should not be afraid of temples and shrines, nor should we fear them if someone paints them as “thrilling” or “scary.” The “Knowing Oneself and Others” journey aims to better understand the cultural factors that influence us, to understand, to choose, and to… be more relaxed in our thoughts.

There are many more stories to share about the “Knowing Oneself and Others” (Season 2) journey, but this article is long enough. Cultura Fish will continue to share detailed stories about each module in future occasions. “Knowing Oneself and Others” will soon restart with refreshed content, so stay tuned for updates on Cultura Fish’s Facebook page or website.

  • Hiếu Văn Ngư – Cultura Fish