If you have seen a Bai Choi game in Hoi An, you’ve probably been amazed at the spectacle here. It has singers, musicians, actors, actresses and it even has a stage.
No one knows exactly when “Bai Choi” appeared. It is said this game was played during every Spring Festival in Thua Thien Hue Province around 400 years ago. Then “Bai Choi” lost its popularity and was almost forgotten, until the festival was revived after the former Feudal capital Hue and the historic town Hoi An in Quang Nam Province were recognized as world cultural heritage sites. Now, thanks to Hoi An authorities, who decided to preserve and introduce Bai Choi to visitors, the game is played for all to see and admire.
The Bai Choi nights have become familiar to the people in Hoi An; on Saturday evenings the people gather on the town common near the Hoai river (also called the Bach Dang river) to enjoy interesting activities during their weekends. The audience often gets involved, and sometimes one can hear the excitement when fans shout out with the bamboo bar show out in their hand and are excited to receive a yellow flag from the dealer. This game always brings about an effervescent atmosphere and makes the town more lively, while at the same time keeping its specific quietness – the festal evenings of Bai Choi not only bring the warm breath of the modern life, but also revive the gentle, charming and meaningful characteristics of the traditional culture.
Most lyrics express the openhearted and reconciliatory nature of Vietnamese people. They convey human emotions and are highly educational, differentiating “Bai Choi” from other games. The lyrics usually praise patriotism, parental and conjugal affection and good human nature, and criticise social evils and outdated customs and habits.
The prizes given to the winners in Bai Choi game aren’t very big, having very little material value. At the end of the game, the winners usually get a lantern, “a speciality” of Hoi An. But the most important thing for the partners is that they have an especially attractive and exciting cultural game.
How to play Bai Choi game
Each “Bai Choi” comprises of 30 chess pieces with different names, assigned to 10 types of cards. On each card is written the names of three chess pieces, and the players will select the type of card they want to buy. After the nha cai (banker) gives out the cards, a bamboo stick, on which the name of a chess piece is written, is drawn to start the game.
After “nha cai” (the dealer) delivers all the bars to the partners, the game starts. The “hieu” (working as M.C.) conducts the game by randomly drawing out the bamboo sticks from a box. Each of the sticks bears the name of a chess piece, and the hieu sings the short folksongs representing each of the chess pieces on the bamboo sticks he has drawn out of the box.
When the partners hear the folksong of any of the chess pieces on their wooden bars, they have to shout out and show their chess piece for a check. They receive a yellow banner, which is equivalent to a small prize, and the set ends when any of the partners has 3 right chess pieces on the same bar. The winner gets the biggest prize in the game.