Vietnamese BINGO

Vietnamese BINGO

I have always been pretty good at games of luck, I have won several sets of concert tickets from radio call-ins and if there is a door prize being given away my name is always drawn.  So, I had no qualms about trying my luck in Vietnam.  Half way through my first game of Bai Choi I was pretty sure I was going to win despite the language barrier.  I had two of the three symbols needed on my paddle and was holding two flags, all I needed was a third and I would win.  I had no idea what the prize given to the winner was, but I was excited nonetheless.

My Bai Choi paddle with the three symbols I needed to win

Bai Choi is the Vietnamese version of BINGO and is played outside in public squares throughout Vietnam.  We stumbled upon the game in Hoi An as we were roaming the old town.  Before thinkCHUA could stop me I was buying a paddle for 50 cents.  I didn’t know what I was getting into, but was drawn in by the loud singing and the elated onlookers holding paddles.  I could see that there were prizes, but was still unsure how it worked.  I found a seat next to an older woman that seemed to be a seasoned player.  I told her in English that she would have to tell me if I won, I am sure she didn’t understand what I said but smiled and nodded.

Me in my seat next to the Vietnamese woman that advised me during my first game of Bai Choi

While I examined the three symbols on my board and attempted to memorize the three foreign words above them, the two singers worked to coax more people to buy paddles.  Once all the paddles had been sold the game started and the singing commenced.  First the male singer started singing and the woman stirred a small bucket containing what looked like chopsticks, but when she pulled one out and started singing herself I could see that the other end had a symbol on it.  The game continued with a duet, presumably announcing what symbol had been drawn since a few people started cheering.  I couldn’t tell if any of my words had been called since it was hard to pick out in the rest of their song.  Luckily, the woman next to me pointed to one of my symbols and smiled.  Then a woman, whom was not singing, hung a paddle on a wire with a symbol matching one of mine.  Excitedly I shot my hand in the air and a man came around and handed me a flag.

The duet continued as the paddles with the winninng words and pictures were hung from the wire at the center of the stage.

I looked around and saw that only a handful of people had also received a flag, feeling lucky already the singing began once again.  A few more paddles were added to the wire, none of which matched any of the symbols on my paddle.  Starting to feel my luck fading, I looked around to see that now a handful of players had two flags in comparison to my one.  Then, the woman next to me pointed to another symbol on my paddle and grabbed my arm helping it into the air.  The man came around and gave me a second flag, I flashed a smile at thinkCHUA and he laughed.  I needed just one more symbol to clinch the win.  I listened carefully as they began singing again, the tension and excitement in my stomach mounting.  I had a good feeling about my odds and strained to try to pick out the one word I needed.  As the woman put the next paddle on the wire a young woman jumped to her feet and waved her two flags in the air.  The man quickly ran over to the commotion, took a quick look at her paddle and handed her a third flag.  The game was over and I had not walked away with the prize, which was a red lantern, but I wasn’t disappointed I was ready to play again.

Me with my almost winning paddle and two flags.

To really understand the theater of the whole game you have to watch the short video at the beginning of this post and take in the sights and sounds of Bai Choi.  I may not have won in my first attempt at Vietnamese BINGO, but I was hooked on Bai Choi.

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» dad :
Jan 17, 2011

what fun… of my first reactions was how pleased i was to see your playful, fun side once again….me thinks it has been hibernating for a short period, although always present……wait till you see the size of the buddha in bangkok…….very impressed that matt is comfortable and skilled enough to do the motorcycle deal… too!!!….be safe….love dad

» Katie :
Jan 19, 2011

As you know, I’m a huge fan of BINGO. One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “nothing in life beats the thrill of yelling BINGO.” Thanks for sharing a look into Bai Choi :)

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LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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