Christopher M. Johnson
Small wars broke out in cities all over the world this weekend. Not with guns or rocks or bombs. Just pillows.
Saturday was International Pillow Fight Day.
Cushion brawls went down in more than a hundred towns — including Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
September 23 Park in Ho Chi Minh City is named after the day in 1945 that France recaptured Saigon. It was a move that eventually led to war. And to Vietnam’s decisive ousting of its former colonizer.
And 60 years later, a new battle was waged.
“First rule of pillow fighting is — everyone talks about pillow fight!” yells Julian Ajello, as he runs through the rules of engagement for a crowd of about 100 combatants.
Ajello's group, Wake Up Saigon, organized this showdown.
A woman named Ivy — also from Wake Up Saigon — lays down the law: no zippers, don’t hit photographers, etc.
It’s a warm day in the city — pushing 92 degrees, all sun, all humidity. It’s the kind of heat that makes a pillow fighter twitchy. Folks are already taking pot shots.
Christopher M. Johnson
The weapons of war? Long bolsters, square throw pillows and a fuzzy purple number with a cat speaking Vietnamese stitched onto it.
Pure silliness. But not for Dang Chang, who’s warming up by twirling his pillow like a gladiator’s mace. He’s in the strategy zone.
“Keep your distance, keep the pillow always moving, and intimidation. You can’t stay on one person too long. Otherwise, they just start ganging up on you. You gotta keep moving, Braveheart-style,” Chang says, with a laugh.
Chau Dinh is a city native. She’s a little less Game of Thrones about this.
“I don’t really have a strategy,” she says, with a laugh. “My pillow is pretty small. I’ll probably just hit everyone I could, in my range."
Most of the folks here, like Dinh, are in their 20s and 30s. Some might say pillow fighting is a young person’s game.
“I would say they’re right!” Billy Kaderli adds. “I think we’re probably the oldest ones here.”
Kaderli is 61. He and his wife Akaisha came to this fight packing heat.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Akaisha says. “I’m gonna lay low, and hit them when they’re not looking. And probably on the bum.”
After a brief countdown, the fighting commences. The thing unfolds like pillow fights do. A few folks go mano-a-mano. Others twist and move. And of course, there’s the exploding pillow.
A guard comes and tries to stop the fight. Poor guy. Whistling and waving his hands as exactly no one pays him any attention.
It’s the kind of chaos Ajello lives for.
Ajello and a bunch of friends started Wake Up Saigon a few years ago, partly so he could get his fix of grown-up fun. Like water gun battles. And zombie walks, 500-deep, through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. And, pillow fights.
Wake Up Saigon’s done pretty well organizing events that really make people come out of themselves. And that's in a country where folks are friendly, but also seem guarded.
Ajello credits demographics.
“Maybe the old people up in Hanoi still run the country, but the beating heart of this country is the young people,” Ajello says. “And they want to do something new and different, and they’re not afraid of being silly.”
Back on the battlefield, people have been swinging at each other for almost half an hour. Ajello says he’s getting his butt kicked. That’s what he signed up for.
Apparently, so did a certain reporter. The lesson: if you’re gonna come to a pillow fight armed, then expect to take one in the back of the head.