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Waves of tourists head to mermaid show

Update: February, 01/2015 - 16:54
Fine fins: Both adults and children admire the mermaids' performance and express their surprise. — Photos

Nha Trang is famous for its beaches, but the city's aquarium boasts an even more unique attraction. Duy Thanh reports.

Most children are familiar with Hans Christian Andersen's story Little Mermaid, who lives in the deepest corner of the ocean.

Even though they cannot see how beautiful a mermaid is, they try to imagine "mermaids" in the flesh, swimming in front of their eyes, based on the descriptions given in the book.

Andersen described the little mermaid, "her skin was as soft and tender as a rose petal, and her eyes were as blue as the deep sea, her body ended in a fish tail", and Nguyen Thi An has also received the audiences' appreciation, especially children, when she performs as that character in a mermaid's costume at an aquarium.

An is one of the many pretty girls who play the role of a mermaid and swim among coral and thousands of sea creatures at the international-standard aquarium in Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa.

Telling tails: Nguyen Thi An (in blue) and Le Thi Na prepare to slip into the water for their performance.

Her body movements are as pliable as a wave, while her hair drifts in water like a cloud. She always smiles, blows a kiss and waves her hand to the audience, who are struck with wondrous surprise by the performance.

"I am totally impressed by the mermaid," said Russian tourist Lisa Ivanov. "She can hold her breath during the performance, she dives, dances and is friendly with the audience at the same time."

"She is incredible, and has helped create a unique attraction for this tourist area," said Ivanov.

Vu Thi Lan, a middle-aged tourist from Ha Noi, said the mermaid had surprised her.

"At first sight, I did not think she is real because I could not believe that she would be able to dive into the cold water and stay underwater for so long without a scuba," she said.

"The mermaids' friendly appearance and stunning performance really impressed and delighted us and our children."

Mermaid's Challenge

Though the aquatic performances last only 15 minutes, diving in the six-metre deep aquarium on a daily basis can be quite a challenge.

An was born in the coastal village of Ba Lang, located north of Nha Trang City. She learnt to swim when she was a child. When she gave up her career as a swimmer in 2007, she worked in the Vinpearl Nha Trang tourist area as a diver, fed the fishes and cleaned the aquarium.

Smooth swimming: Young girls in mermaid costumes performing at the aquarium.

When the tourist area's manager offered tourists a mermaid performance in 2010, An was selected to play the mermaid by virtue of the fact that she was the only female diver in the tourist area.

"When I started the work, the biggest problem for me was that I did not know what I had to do, and I did not have any experience because a mermaid is an imaginary creature," she said.

An looked up stories, videos and images of mermaids on the internet and imagined how a mermaid would look and how she would swim. It took a month for An to practise swimming like a mermaid would.

Before the official performance, An was faced with another difficulty – the mermaid's costume. She sewed the costume herself and also added a fake fish tail.

"During the first performance, the tail of the Vinpearl mermaid looked ridiculous as I had joined two fins together," she said.

When An mastered the tricks of the mermaid performance, she trained another girl to join her in the performance.

Luu Chi Hieu, vice general manager of the tourist area, said Vinpearl was the first aquarium in Viet Nam to stage mermaid performances for the tourists.

"Few people know that our mermaids have to practise hard every day and face a lot of difficulties during the performance; swimming with the sea animals can be fun, but also very scary," he said.

An agreed, "The aquarium houses not only lovely little fish, but also giant creatures, such as sharks, turtles and stingrays," she said. "I'm scared because after so many years, they have grown in size, while I am still small."

These mermaid performers also constantly keep getting scratched by the coral and rocks in the aquarium or are sometimes hurt by touching some fishes' fins.

The young girl' skin has also suffered because of the excessive exposure to water.

An revealed a trick where the mermaids swim from one side of the aquarium to the other, and how they rise to the surface and breathe out for some seconds.

"Sometimes I perform too enthusiastically, and due to the many somersaults and kisses, the air is literally knocked out of my lungs and I feel very tired, but the thought of the audience waiting for me pushes me and does not let me rest for longer than three seconds," she said.

"A mermaid performer needs to have exceptional swimming and diving skills, good look and passion," said Le Thi Na, who has been on the job for two years at the aquarium.

Na added that it took her and her fellow performers months of daily practice on land and in the swimming pool to perform such alluring and harmonious manoeuvres.

Meanwhile, the constant exposure to sea water has taken a toll on the girls' complexion and they will only be able to do the job for a few more years at most. All of them have other day jobs, which help them earn a stable income.

Na also works as a guide at the aquarium, while her colleague Nguyen Thi My Hanh joins dance performances at restaurants on weekends to supplement her earnings. Veteran performer Na now mostly works as a trainer and tour guide at the aquarium.

After they take off their mermaid costumes, they too walk like normal people and join the crowds and continue with the daily rigmarole of life.

The girls always wear beaming smiles and also make gestures to communicate with visitors, particularly the children in the audience. While visitors enjoy seeing the various species of fish and marine creatures at the aquarium, the sudden appearance of the mermaids, who swim and frolic among the fish always gives them a pleasant surprise.

The Vinpearl aquarium in Times City, Ha Noi, has also offered visitors a chance to see a mermaids' performance since 2013. — VNS

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