Pre-’75 Music

Several weeks ago I came home from work and my fiancee excitedly turned on some music that she had discovered on a Vietnamese music website,  The music was a number of songs recorded by Vietnamese artists before 1975, and most of these particular songs used the same melodies as classic songs mostly from the States.

I don’t know who saved, digitalized and uploaded the music to this particular website, but I am thankful.  Saigon and indeed the nation itself are quickly losing a lot of their history in the rapid run of development, and it is vital that culture be preserved for the future.

Here’s a song called Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the ‘Ol Oak Tree, sung in English by a singer listed as Thuy Ha Tu, but I’m positive that the order of her name is wrong and I also don’t know the tone markings.

Or here’s a song called Tinh Ban sung to the melody of James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend by a signer noted as Cathy Hue.  As far as I can tell, the Vietnamese lyrics are very similar to the English words.

Another song was this one, titled Mong Phieu Du and sung by a singer named Tuan Dung that borrows the melody from Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel.

And I simply had to mention this song titled Loi Cho Co Hippie Bui Doi sung by a band called CBC and to the tune of Ticket to Ride by the Beatles.

Listening to these songs  and looking at the titles, I finally understood why a lot of middle-aged friends of mine in Long Xuyen know all of these songs, or at least the melodies, by heart: They listened to them while they were growing up in what was then South Vietnam.  Nowadays, I doubt that any young people in Ho Chi Minh City, or for that matter anywhere in the country would know about this music.  I have a friend who told me that his parents destroyed all of their records and record players after 1975 so there would be no problems with the new government.  Sadly, because of precautions like that, so much culture was lost.

Luckily, some of this classic rock style music has made it to YouTube, such as CBC singing People Let’s Stop the War originally by Grand Funk Railroad at a place called Sherwood Forest in Saigon.

Here’s another link to a YouTube video, again of the band CBC, singing a Vietnamese song.  I didn’t know that this type of music ever existed here.

So the next time you’re in a cafe and going crazy with the Vietnamese muzak, or when your eardrums are getting pierced with some contemporary crappy pop, think back to this music and believe that it can happen again here.

Finally, there is one more thing, also on YouTube, that is very interesting: A four-part audio slide show of bands from Saigon in the 60s and 70s.  It’s very moving to see their faces and hear the great music they created that has now been nearly forgotten.

Part 1,Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Enjoy and ask all your Vietnamese friends about this music; see what they know.


Paha Sapa

I was walking to work this morning and thought about the Black Hills out in South Dakota.

I used to live a couple hours drive away from there, and every time my parents drove me to Rapid City I could judge how far away we were by looking at the dark hills on the horizon.  My parents used to have friends that lived in the hills, and we used to go camping there as well.  The pine trees surrounding you smell incredibly fresh and I used to love exploring in the forests when I could, crunching around on all the pine needles and cones and climbing around the granite boulders scattered everywhere.

My family moved away from South Dakota when I was 15 and I haven’t been back to visit since I was 18.  It was strange to suddenly think about this place after so many years, but I hope I can visit again in the future.

Thinking about the Black Hills, I remembered two songs where they are mentioned in passing:

1. Rocky Raccoon from the White Album by the Beatles.

2. Day of the Locusts from the album New Morning by Bob Dylan.

You may not be as sentimental about the Black Hills as I, but at least you can enjoy the music 😉

Tiếng Nam

I’ve lived in this city for about two months now and one thing that I’ve been noticing lately is the mixture of Vietnamese accents from around the country that mingle together here.  For example, my friend’s girlfriend is from the south-central region, and I work with a girl who has traces of a northern accent.  Once when I was in a talkative mood I started talking to a cab driver only to realize that he had a thick northern accent.

These varied accents sound slightly strange to me.  I consider myself a southern boy and am proud of my southern drawl in Vietnamese; blending vowel sounds and no hard consonant sounds at all.  With the extreme central accents, the tones are all off and sound weird to me.  With extreme northern accents, people sound like they’re choking to death.

One day when I was very motivated, I drafted a pronunciation guide for Southern Vietnamese because you can’t find it in any book and I wanted people to know that southern Vietnamese is different from what you learn when you study Vietnamese in another country.  The slightly crazy thing is that even some people down in the southern Mekong Delta region will say that their Vietnamese is “wrong” because it doesn’t sound like the people choking to death.  How can it be “wrong” if millions of people speak the same way and have been for years?

At my favorite hangouts in Long Xuyen, the Vietnamese flows like a lullaby – the tones roll up and down like waves and there’s not a harsh sound to be heard.

There are still plenty of situations when I converse with southern-accented folks, but down in the Delta that melodious accent is thick and ever present – it envelops you and seeps into your bones.

Sài Gòn Xanh

Last night, after a month and a half in Saigon with no Saigon Xanh, I had a couple of bottles.  It was delicious.

To those who aren’t aware, Xanh means green, so this beer is translated into English as Green Saigon (as opposed to Red Saigon and Saigon Special).

I don’t know why, but there seems to be a trend of moving away from Saigon Xanh and all of the restaurants and drinking establishments that I’ve been to since I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City don’t serve Saigon Xanh anymore.

I had my start in Vietnam in Long Xuyên, in the Mekong Delta, and the standard beer for most places was Saigon Xanh.  Sadly, even in Long Xuyên now, the trend is catching on and some of my old haunts have stopped serving Saigon Xanh.

For me however, Saigon Xanh and drinking are synonymous: it is the beer.  It has a lower alcohol content that other beers so you can keep going longer, it comes in a bigger bottle than other beers and it’s cheaper than most other beers.  It has everything, which is why I don’t understand places that refuse to serve it.  Some of my buddies in Long Xuyên and I even changed the words of this song to: “Sài Gòn đẹp lắm, Sài Gòn Xanh, Sài Gòn Xanh!”

Last night a friend texted me and we arranged to meet up for some drinks, on the condition that they served Saigon Xanh and we were the only foreigners at the establishment.  He agreed and we went traveling into unknown territory on the border between District 5 and District 10.  We stopped by a couple places, but they didn’t serve Saigon Xanh.  Then we saw a sign down a small alley and stopped by and asked.  While we were asking I noticed an elderly man sitting alone and drinking a Saigon Xanh.  This was the place!

The bottles were served very cold and the first sip after such a long time was amazingly refreshing.  For tradition, and to fight against the onslaught of profit mongering, drink Saigon Xanh.