A healthy body and a healthy mind, or so the saying goes. We’ve got an 8am start today so we’re up at 5.30 and heading out for a morning walk. This fits with our usual routine back home, minus Max, the disabled Jack Russell. He’s safely ensconced at home and, by all reports, not missing us at all.
'Left or right?' Mel says. 'Right,' says Sarah. She’s spotted something of interest in the dawn light; movement in a park a block away. We can hear music; hundreds of locals are doing the Hanoi equivalent of morning boot-camp, minus the barked instructions from a beefed-up instructor. There’s gentle music and slow, graceful exercises for the older generation, a vigorous aerobics work-out for the middle generation, a variety of exercise equipment, badminton, and walkers, going counterclockwise around the park. We join the walkers until we muster up the courage to enter the park for some stretches.
Back in the hotel and dressed, we realise we’re in matching outfits. 'Now they'll never tell us apart,' says Sarah. Black shirts, grey pants, black shoes, short hair, and brand new Vietnam Pride pins, given to us last night by Thư.
Punctuality is key here. We’re in the lobby five minutes early but our tour manager from Phoenix Voyages, Mr Dung, is already there. We have an air-conditioned car to ferry us through the seething streets to the Viet Nam National Academy of Music.
Ms Nguyen Thi Hai Vân, Manager of the International Cooperation Dept, meets us. We thought we’d scrubbed up alright, but Vietnamese women are so stylish they put us to shame. Ms Van’s silk dress, amber beads and platform shoes make us look like grubby pigeons next to a finch.
Let’s not mince words - VNAM is spectacular. Slightly faded French-style glory on the outside, the small hall is decorated in traditional Vietnamese style with every façade covered in intricate carvings, a spectacular chandelier, and red velvet seats. But it’s the main hall with which we fall instantly in love. The Sun Symphony Orchestra is warming up for rehearsal so we can hear, from the minute we step inside, that the acoustic is crystal clear. We step into the foyer; grand marble staircases sweep upwards left and right.
Outside again, we’re joined by Mrs Dang Chau Anh, Head of Conducting. We introduce ourselves, the project, the contacts we’ve made in Hanoi, and what we're hoping to achieve. While both women are keen to help us, it’s hard to describe our project to them. Although two choirs from the US are visiting this year, there’s no precedent for what we’re trying to do. It takes time before we’re on the same page; we learn we need a Vietnamese organisation to partner with us, and to seek official permissions from the government for our concert. Ms Van suddenly figures us out: we should ask iSEE to be our official host and they can invite VNAM to co-organise the concert. Now we feel our new colleagues understand - we’re here for outreach, as well as to make music.
We mention Thư’s suggestion that iSEE would like to support starting a diversity choir, so we ask if there’s a conducting student who may be interested in helping. Ms Anh gives us a big thumbs up.
Whilst it seems a cliché, there have been a couple of 'six degrees of separation' moments in the last 24 hours. Mrs Anh studied in Sydney for six months and lived in Newtown in the 90s, on Edgeware Rd. We’re delighted when the women suggest a photo. We stand under a photo of Ho Chi Minh conducting an orchestra, choir and the public in August Revolution Square in the 50's. It’s perfect, embodying everything we’ve been discussing both this morning and during our time here. We hope to return.
As she shows us out, Mrs Anh suggests that silk is a cooler clothing choice in this weather. Time for new PPC uniforms, we think.