IN its restless efforts to promote failed bands, FBO Admin accepted a recent invitation to attend a 'nightclub opening' in a far-flung district of Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, weaving on the back of a Quebecois photographer's bike which followed Vietnam's most famous 'python artist.' Mr Tong, a 40-something circus performer, wore a tight black shirt, black slacks and tan loafers -- he's been working with pythons for 16 years. 'It's the most important act of the circus,' he said at one traffic light, in English. 'Wait till you see the crowd go crazy tonight. I'm the big performer of the opening.' Thirty minutes later we pulled off a main road, and onto a new development's fringe, where -- reached by a red-lantern-lit sidewalk into a former field, was a booming outdoor courtyard packed with local families crouching at small plastic tables watching a 1-2-3 mix of performances. On stage was a guy wearing a 'Desperately Seeking Susan' jacket and untied fake Converse sneakers and sporting a Kajagoogoo hairstyle with bleached spikes, belting out vocals (and dance moves) to a pre-recording synth track. Some kids held their ears at the high notes.
We got ushered into the 'VIP room,' a FBO regularity. It was an open house to the side with a plain tiled floor, a few bamboo mats on the ground with a dad smoking a water pipe and some kids sitting around. In a corner was a simple bed, with a couple models applying more make-up before their dance peformance with a gay guy with fake red-leather pants with white fringe. Soon glasses of Hanoi Beer with giant block-chipped ice cubes floating in it were handed to us.
Mr Tong was getting ready. He had put on a leopard-skin headband, leopard-skin wrist bands, bicep bands stretched taut over his bulging muscle, and a single shoulder strap over his broad shoulders. I asked where the costume came from. 'This? I designed it,' he said. 'It's based on the Vietnamese legend of Tac San: a jungle man who saves a princess.' Is that something like Tarzan?, I asked, noting the similarity of the name. 'No, it's not Tarzan,' brushing the long tail of his full hockey-style mullet -- the only one I've seen in Vietnam. No sideburns in the way to stop his move.
A few minutes later Mr Tong jumped on stage to a 'Night at the Roxbury' soundtrack, clapping wildly. Out of a basket he pulled two giant pythons and wrapped them around him. Occasionally flexing, occasionally pointing to the audience Mick Jagger style, occasionally pulling unwilling and very frightened girls and boys -- maybe nine or ten years old -- out of the audience to drape pythons over their shoulders. Family members and other kids jumped up and down in their seats, clapping uncontrollably.
Mr Tong was a little more subdued after the performance. Wiping off sweat, he mentioned he'd been to New York before. 'I spent a week in Madison Square Garden with the Ringling Brothers,' he said. 'New York's great. It goes nonstop. I stayed up so late that month. Sometimes after 1am!!'
Mobile HQ -- Hanoi, Vietnam