As a friendly welcome back event to the spring semester, the University of Georgia Vietnamese Student Association hosted a “Night in Saigon.” The annual event rallies together VSA groups from universities all across the southeast to showcase the rich, diverse culture of Vietnam and teach a lesson through skits and musical performances. This year’s theme revolved around the phrase “seize the moment.”
Event-goers received a plate full of Vietnamese food — including a spring roll, banh mi, and a salad — students and parents of VSA students entered a crowded Tate Grand Hall. At the back of the hall, attendees picked up a cup of soda or a cup of taro or Thai tea.
The skit featured two ancient star-crossed lovers from the popular Vietnamese legend “The Dragon and the Fairy,” which told the tale of Au Co and Lac Long Quan, a peasant girl and a rich king, who existed long before Vietnam became a country. In this rendition, the two must live out multiple lifetimes before they finally get to be together.
Even after being given lifetimes of chances to meet and fall in love, the couple falters due to hindrances of their families and friends. Unfortunately meaning the two never had the opportunity to be together.
The universe gives them three lifetimes to live out so the pair can find a chance to be together. In the first lifetime, the duo is a poor peasant girl and a rich king who together defeat a strange mythical beast.
In the second lifetime, which takes place in 1963, Au Co and Lac Long Quan are both students who accidentally bump into each other after the bell rings. In their third lifetime, they are strangers who immigrate to the U.S. and meet after fighting over banh mi in a grocery store.
After the two meet in the grocery store, Au Co admits that she’d rather become a dancer than a hairstylist and Lac Long Quan gives her his hand and asks for a dance.
In each instance, either one or both of the characters aren’t ready for a relationship because they haven’t learned to “seize the moment.” Both Au Co and Lac Long Quan feel pressured by their parents or their best friends and they feel unconfident in their worth as a person.
Punctuating each scene are dance and musical performances which hammer in the emotions felt by the two lost lovers. After the two meet in the grocery store and Au Co admits that she’d rather become a dancer than a hairstylist, Lac Long Quan gives her his hand and asks for a dance.
The stage fades to black and when the lights turn on, the audience is faced with a stage full of couples ready to dance. The music genre shifts from hip hop to pop to more muted pop, until the last moment of the performance, when the women brush the men’s shoulders goodbye instead of ending the performance in the men’s arms. The two lovers were brought on stage again, resulting in another unhappy ending.
Luckily, the universe allows Au Co and Lac Long Quan one more chance to be together and by the final lifetime, Lac Long Quan finally sticks up for himself in front of his physically abusive, intimidating, although well-intentioned mother and Au Co finally allows people into her life and feels willing to open up her heart.
After finally winning their inner quarrels, they unite as lovers onstage during the fashion show of VSA, which creates a slightly meta ending, since the show itself ended with a fashion show. The dance and musical performances, as well as the fashion show, come full circle as they integrate with the skits up until the very end.
For many students, this event represents an opportunity for Vietnamese students to celebrate their culture. However many other Asian-Americans attended also attended because they said they related to the issues expressed through the heart-wrenching lessons demonstrated through the performance.
“It really helps the Asian-American community have something to identify with,” Elyssa Junio, a junior biology major at UGA, said. “You don't really realize how big the community is until you have events like this and you realize how supportive the community is. Everyone is here for each other.”
Most students attend the event after hearing about it from peers or through VSA.
“I am in VSA and I am part of the food committee,” Kimberly Nguyen, a sophomore computer science major at UGA said. “I helped serve food and that's pretty much how I heard about it, as part of VSA.”
Even for people who don’t identify with the Vietnamese or Asian community, this night is a great learning opportunity for them.
“It's definitely good for people to see other people's cultures,” Junio said. “It’s a great chance to experience Viet culture, food, music and language.”
The theme of the event changes each year, but attendees this year can leave with smiles and light hearts, knowing that the two star-crossed lovers finally took the leap to “seize the moment” by staying true to themselves.