Researchers and artists of traditional folk music presented suggestions to preserve and promote bai choi singing at a workshop held recently in the central province of Binh Dinh , the cradle of the singing.

The workshop was held by the provincial People's Committee and the Centre for the Preservation and Promotion of the Vietnamese Culture with the aim of raising people's opinions on bai choi singing and building a dossier for UNESCO to recognise this traditional music as a world intangible heritage.

Unique to the coastal central region, bai choi is described by some as Vietnamese bingo in huts, often seen at local festivals.

The stage for playing bai choi includes nine cottages, each having five or six players, a bamboo pipe to hold cards and a signal flag. One cottage, called the central house, is for a musical troupe and includes a drum and other kinds of musical instruments. The deck of cards is divided into two parts, one is for the players and the other is placed in the centre of the house. Cards are printed on paper and glued onto bamboo sticks.

The game singer will deliver one signal flag to each house while singing bai choi and then draws a card from the central house. Whoever holds the card closest to the one drawn is the winner.

The bai choi songs are about festivals, people's lives and productive labour, accompanied by some musical instruments.

The game and singing were invented by Mandarin Dao Duy Tu (1572-1634) hundreds of years ago as a way to help the local people protect their crops, according to Hoang Chuong, director of the Centre of the Vietnamese Culture.

"Farmers played and sang bai choi to entertain each other while they spent nights at cottages to guard their fields," he said.

"Cards used in the game express the cultural exchange between Kinh people and other ethnic groups in the region."

Binh Dinh Province is considered the place where bai choi originated, and where many bai choi clubs and artists are active in performing and promoting the art. Many documents and songs have been collected in the province.

However, bai choi has also been performed and developed in coastal central provinces . Chuong emphasised that the researchers and managers should make a survey in these areas to have a panoramic view of the cultural space of bai choi.

Addressing the workshop, Nguyen Thi My Liem, vice director of the HCM City Conservatory of Music, said bai choi had some cultural values similar to other songs in the region but, on the other hand, it still had unique features. She suggested that the space of bai choi should be widened to different kinds of stages.

Mai Thanh Thang, vice chairman of the provincial People's Committee agreed. "We have tried to promote the singing by organising performances in the province," he said.

In the near future, bai choi singing will be brought to extracurricular activities at schools to introduce the art to students.