Katica Illényi, Artist of Merit Of Hungary, F. Liszt and Artisjus awarded violinist, member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts and the only Hungarian thereminist, has represented Hungary at the opening concert of the European Music Festival in Hanoi. A journey to a shockingly different world …

Vietnam’s capital, Hannoi, is incredible for a European person. When I saw the city at an evening walk, my first thought was that is so wonderful and incredible! It is so much different, but the best is that the Vietnamese people are really friendly. The clock is set six hours before, it is warm, there are 30 degrees, and there are lots of people and million motors everywhere. The crowd and the street life is so amazing! There is huge crowd on the Hoan Kiem Square, many families, children go there. Every generation can be found there. They are playing, singing, dancing, they enjoy the peace and the fact that they are together. They paint with chalk something square on the asphalt and they sit on a light blue plastic stool and they play with each other, even from two-year-old kids until grandparents. Although, the mobile phone is in their hands, but they are together and they talk and eat … Despite the great crowd, the atmosphere was extremely familiar. And this is the key that is why we felt so good there.

It would be so nice if European people could also learn this. I was thinking a lot about what can be done in Hungary, so that all the sad people could feel themselves a little bit better. If I weren’t a musician, I’m sure I would deal with this. For example, if we could hear music on the buses or in the institutions … I could exactly tell what kind of music would make people feel better in Hungary.

In Vietnam, I have seen that they played spontaneously tug of war in the street. Anyone can join them. There are vendors everywhere, it is as if there’s a huge celebration in the city. The traffic is closed in the center of the city at weekends in Hanoi (as if the Andrassy Avenue was closed), shops, restaurants and bars are opened until 11 o’clock in the evening, and then they start packing and going to sleep. They cook the soup on the street at 6 o’clock in the morning and they eat it sitting on the floor at half past seven. They are early birds, they are hardworking, busy people. It is typical that they want to solve everything. Even those things that they know it cannot be solved. There is a shop which sells hats and caps during the day and it is a restaurant in the evening, so it is opened for 20 hours. That is why they work a lot, but they do it cheerfully and happily together with their whole family.

One evening, when we were walking, we went by a vegetable vendor. He was carrying his goods on his shoulder. He told me to try it out. It was very difficult. I could not walk like this all day. This is an ordinary thing for the Hanoi vendors.

I became acquainted with a street performer who played violin with a loud voice in the middle of the city. He saw that I was watching him and he gave me a microphone in my hand to sing. He was playing the Que sera, sera so I sat down and sang with him. People stopped. It was a wonderful experience.



I think I was interesting for them because many people come from the countryside to the capital at the weekend, even those who rarely see European tourist. They have even stopped us and asked if they could take a photo with us, because they have not seen such a person before. A tall, thin, bald, European man is very exotic for them. There are no bald men at all. Sometimes they looked at us as if we were aliens. Of course, they were very special for us too. They are small, slim people and everyone has dense, dark hair.

I admit that when I have received the invitation I did not really wanted to go to Vietnam. When I got the invitation, I had the feeling that if I did not want to go, it would definitely be very good. That’s how it used to be and so it was. Csaba Őry, Hungarian Ambassador in Vietnam, and his wife Tamara helped us in everything, they took care of us and they gave us advice and even helped us in buying souvenir. I am very grateful to be so guarded us. We have bought home a lot of wood carved dragonflies. The essence of this is that there is a tiny weight in its nose, so if you put it on your finger, it will not fall off. The other gift was a silk scarf. I have bought ten in the silk street and as soon as I got home I have distributed all of them.

We were in a Vietnamese restaurant as well. I was a little bit scared, because my stomach is sensitive, I am vegetarian, so it was really good that they took care of me, they took me to a place where there was no trouble. We went to a sifu restaurant one evening. We ate Vietnamese fish that I’ve never seen and it can be found only there. These were very tasty.

I did not dare to eat food which were sold in the street, but I saw a lot of delicious ones during our walks. The truth is that I am cautious in those countries where the water cannot be drunk from the tap. People sit on the street and they eat the hot food together. There were unfamiliar dishes and scents all over the streets, people sit on small chairs and eat together. For me, it’s a nice memory, but I am very careful with the food, because after my Jordanian concert I felt a little bit bad …

The greatest gastronomic experience was at the Embassy where we could eat cooled coconuts. After leaking it, we could drink the coconut water with a straw. It was wonderful, I have not drunk such a refreshing drink since then. It was as if someone was drinking life. It’s nourishing and healthy, it contains everything you need … You can get this anywhere, even in the street, and it cools you down in the hot weather.

Everyone uses motorcycle in Hannoi. It is easily accessible and it can be easily rented. A German photographer wrote a thick book about what the Vietnamese can carry on a motorcycle. A whole home appliance or twenty slaughtered pigs are put on the small vehicle … I’ve seen a complete six member family travelling on a little motorcycle. The transportation is also amazing in the capital city. It is so noisy in the afternoon that you cannot hear your own voice, you can just hear the sound of the engine. There are of course rules. If you want to cross the street you have to step firmly and everybody will stop. But if you don’t step, nothing will happen. They will easily go into a one way street if they have to do something there...

There are many plants even on the houses. It is this nation’s characteristic. Despite the development, the electric poles have remained from the past decades and the wires are not hidden. There are hundreds of wires which are hanging on the poles and these go down in the earth …

You have to step over these or you have to pass by these. I have made a lot of photos about this. I do not envy the Vietnamese electricians, I do not know how they can make these out. We have seen a very narrow street, we went there every day, it was so special. Practically it was an alley, there were rails on the ground, it was as broad as a train line. They pulled in the drying clothes and the chairs and the train can go … Yes, these are the curiosities for us while these are common in Asia.

Women are very similar everywhere in the world, they are never satisfied with themselves. Only European models can be seen on the posters, but the most shocking experience was that silicone butt supplement can be bought.  It was just like a silicone bra, but the point of this is to emphasis the form of the butt. Vietnamese women are generally flat, thin, but they want to look like the European women. It is common that the young girls wrap themselves in clothes and even their heads as if they were living in deserts. We can see only their eyes. They do this because they want to have white skin.

There were some problems with the sound technique, but then everything was solved. While we were waiting for the rehearsal, I started to do yoga.

The system was set up in the evening, and finally everything went well. Next day, the most successful moment of the concert was when I played engine sound on theremin. The audience was laughing when I said that the most special thing in Hannoi for me is I can see motorcycle everywhere. Then, after a nice lyrical piece, I played the engine sound on the instrument. Everyone was laughing. It took them by surprise, it is not a usual thing at a classical music concert. The Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra was wonderful. The most interesting thing was that they knew and wonderfully played Liszt’s and Bartók’s compositions.

The Vietnamese are very nice and open people. After the concert, they wanted to hug me. I’ve also learnt a Vietnamese song, it’s like our Spring Wind Makes the Waters Rise song. It seemed so simple, but it was so complicated. All the lines were a little bit different. Wherever I went, I asked a Vietnamese to sing it to me. For example, in a restaurant, I asked a waiter, who was so nice, after singing the song, she took me to the local musicians with whom I could also practice the song.



The embassy driver also checked my pronunciation, and finally it was a great success at the concert. I loved this song so much that I played it at home.

After the concert, we have travelled, we have seen the ancient Vietnam capital, Hoa Lu. I was impressed by its beauty and also by the traditional respect of the Vietnamese people, it is so powerful that none of the colonial power, like China, France, or America, could defeat this wonderful country. I have seen a water buffalo too, and his owner offered me to sit on it, but I refused it because the animal was very smelly and we also had a boat trip in Trang An. This is a river. It was wonderful! There were hundreds of boats one after the other, we were rowing into a cave under the hills and we came out on the other side. The mountains were like the ones in the Avatar movie, but they were not hanging in the air. There were tourists from all over the world, they were shouting to each other where they came from.

I felt very good in Vietnam, it was fantastic, but it was completely different from what I got used to in Europe: the hot weather, the food, the scents, the colors, people, the city, the huge Red River. This developing country has fascinated me, there is peace for decades and they feel themselves good. There are a lot of young people, children, big families … It’s good to see them and it was so good to come home with such wonderful experience. I also have to say that I would fly to Vietnam again at any time. I recommend everyone to get to know Vietnam, to know cultures which are different from ours and this is essential in order to have world peace and to respect each other.



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