One thing, strangely, is missing from the cacophony of cars and bikes honking, TVs blaring, Chinese soap operas translated in Vietnamese (with ONE voice off translating) and it is music!
The Vietnamese seem to be a rather non-musical people. Restaurants turn on the Muzac as soon as you come in and you have a helluva time making them understand that it’s not necessary. So far. it’s been a hodgepodge of electronic, lab-churned sounds that shouldn’t dare call themselves music, American successes of the 70’s and, yes, Even Engelbert Humperdinck !!!
There is also the lady who walks around with a blood pressure taking, height and weight gauging apparatus that plays Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday and Auld Lang Syne over and over again.
At dawn, in the train between Hanoi and Hue, they finally blasted some loud Vietnamese music. It went so well with the scenery that I hurried in the corridor to enjoy the combination of both but as soon as I parked myself in front of the window, it stopped as abruptly as it had started.
Once in a while, you hear a few tinny notes, a lute perhaps, coming from God knows where, just enough to catch a bit of melody.
I asked the guide in Hue, Li, to sing something for me, which she did after much initial hesitation and ensuing grace: a lilting, melancholy song in the Hue tradition I’m told.
She suggested that we go to the karaoke bar but never got around to doing it. Then, last night, In Saigon, after supper, I went to a jazz bar recommended by a young Swiss couple I met on Halong Bay. Found it easily. Sax n’Art in Le Loy Street. A bit like the Griffintown Cafe on Friday night, with a more clubby atmosphere. Classical jazz, blues, rock with remarkably skilled pianists, singers and a stupendous old Swedish clarinetist who sat in the audience and was invited to show what he could do with his instrument. Quite a lot actually. He also sang and whistled and had everybody swaying and tapping their feet.
It was not Vietnamese but it satisfied my hunger for music.