Within millimetres of the pavement, myriad motorcycles roar past, beeping furiously.
Street vendors jostle for space with doormen of swank department stores that offer the latest Hermes, Cartier and Chanel, alongside hawk-eyed shoeshines, and smart bellboys ushering “la belle et le grand” to lunch with oversized menus in three languages: Vietnamese, English and French.
It’s a melee. A melange. A metropolis on the edge of the Mekong Delta, once known as “the Paris of the Orient”, known formally as Ho Chi Minh City, but to all simply as Saigon.
Across Dong Khoi Street, up a flight of steps is another world, the sound-proofed red, gold and crystal world of an opera house in the heart of the city. Built in the flamboyant French Third Republic manner in 1898, it is officially known, somewhat drably, as the Municipal Theatre.
In this grand colonial leftover, so grand it once acted as the Parliament of South Vietnam, we could be in the heart of Europe. But no, today we are in the heart of Vietnam.
Sitting on the edge of the stage of the Saigon Opera House, as it is also known, a slender figure calmly ignores the hammering of a sudden tropical downpour on the roof and a cast of 15 acrobats thundering about him.
This is Tuan Le, the founder of Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam.
He is the director of the show A O Lang Pho that is in rehearsal behind him before an Australian- exclusive season at the Perth International Arts Festival next month.
This world-famous Vietnamese circus artist has juggled his way from Hanoi to Broadway and back again. Tuan Le is also caught between his international fame and a yearning passion for the vanishing villages of Vietnam.
Tuan Le may be sitting in a nostalgic epitome of French culture with its elegant dress circle and sumptuous plush velvet but the show is wholly Vietnamese.
The title A O Lang Pho, is a deceptively simple phrase that is difficult to translate directly but loosely means “village-city”.
A O Lang Pho tells a story of people’s daily lives in a paradoxical Vietnam, once predominantly rooted in village life, but now in dramatic transition from the old ways to the new.
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