Category Archives: Ho Chi Minh City

The Queen is Back in Town

Photo courtesy of Eric Isaac, ericisaac.com

One day back in Saigon, I stopped by Bread & Butter for lunch expecting to order from the tiny Pham Ngu Lao joint’s menu of English pub fare. While I wouldn’t have my craving for bangers n mash satisfied that day, I would get a surpise that would sustain me through many a bout of lunchtime homesickness.

On that fateful day, I pulled up a stool and began perusing a new menu that read like a best hits of American comfort food. 

Philly cheesteaks. Grilled cheese with tomato basil soup. Blackened catfish po’ boys. Muffuleta  sandwiches. Mission style burritos.

Who was sprinkling this manna from heaven? None other than Liza Queen.

Residents of Greenpoint may remember Liza from her Brooklyn eatery, The Queen’s Hideaway. The Hideaway closed in 2008 due to some serious New York landlord douchebaggery, but that misfortune sent Liza to Saigon, where she took up residence alongside her long-time buddy and friend to Bread & Butter barflies, Dan Carey. But it turns out Liza wasn’t just schooling B&B’s kitchen staff on the finer points of American classics; she was learning, too.

Liza recently debuted her Vietnamese fare under the banner of Queen’s Dahn Tu at the inaugural Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea’s new food market. After reading about the event on Brooklyn Based, I trekked over to the Williamsburg waterfront to try Liza’s take on banh xeo, banh trang tron, and bun thit nuong. (Bep is also serving bun thit nuong, corn on the cob [i.e., bep], and other Vietnamese staples at Smorgasburg.)

Apparently it was good. By the time I showed up at 2pm, Liza and her crew were slinging their last few servings and getting ready to restock. I got my hands on one of the banh xeo, and though for $8 the portion was a bit smaller than I’d expect, it was certainly tasty, made with more elegant ingredients than you’ll typically find at the smoke-billowing Saigon street stand.

(Plus, 9000 hours in Saigon will make a cheap bastard out of anyone.)

 The experience of noshing on banh xeo while looking out over the Manhattan skyline was surreal, but then, so was tucking into a Mission burrito as roving bicycle vendors squawked their sales pitches in the hem outside Bread & Butter.

Welcome back, Miss Queen.

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Filed under Food & Drink, Ho Chi Minh City, New York City

Tom Gets Scribd

I’ve just uploaded seven of my greatest hits from my tenure at AsiaLIFE HCMC. (Or at least my mom says they’re my greatest hits.) Check them out at my new Scribd account or click right to the articles below.

Scooter Madness: How American intervention, an underground economy and Cold War politics created the world’s last stockpile of classic Italian scooters. April 2009.

I Want My VNTV: Local audiences remain critical of Vietnamese television, but it’s hard to deny the demand for homegrown content. Industry insiders speak about delivering better programming in Vietnam. June 2010.

Primates on the Rebound: On a small island in Cat Tien National Park, a group of conservationists has big plans to counter the trade in endangered primates through rehabilitation, research and education. April 2010

Work in Progress: Over the past decade, the contemporary art scene in Ho Chi Minh City has quietly flourished. But limited infrastructure, lack of funding, and the enduring challenges of working within the confines of state oversight have presented obstacles to providing services to artists and attracting collectors. An overview of the scene and a look at some of the art being created in the thanh pho. April 2010.

Wildlife in Jeopardy: Vietnam is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, but it has also suffered from decades of deforestation and habitat loss and remains a hot spot for wildlife trade. Today, conservationists face an uphill battle to save Vietnam’s beleaguered wildlife. March 2010

The Next New Battleground: Local and international businesses have found an alternative to shrinking export markets in the last place anyone expected: rural Vietnam. November 2009

Solving Saigon’s Congestion Question: The way we drive now and a look at the plans and problems that lie ahead for Ho Chi Minh City. November 2009.

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Filed under Art, Conservation, Culture, History, Ho Chi Minh City, Pop Culture, Television, Transportation, Vietnam

A New Home, Full of Smiles

This past Sunday was a special one for Smile Group, a grassroots organization that supports disadvantaged HIV/AIDS-affected families in Ho Chi Minh City.  After operating out of the Thao Danh drop-in center for more than a year, Smile Group has found its own house in a beautiful building with an enclosed courtyard shaded by a mango tree. You can tell by the photos how excited the families are to have this new space for their meetings and activities.

What will they do with that new space? Lots. One of the best things about Smile Group is their focus on enrichment. Documentarian and social worker Leslie Wiener’s photographs never fail to express the ability of Smile Group’s activities to foster community-building among HIV-affected families, some of whom face deep stigmas in their physical communities. With ample accommodations, Elisabeth Nguyen will make yoga sessions more sustainable by enrolling in a course on teaching yoga for children (with her costs covered by the Global Fund for Children). Leslie is also seeking opportunities to have Macs supplied to the house to teach the kids practical computer skills. And of course, the dancing, singing and musical performances will continue, not to mention invaluable workshops on living with HIV/AIDS.

Thomas Maresca’s “Living Positive” cover story that follows the lives of three Smile Group families is no longer in the AsiaLIFE archives, but you can read the profile of Leslie that I contributed to the July 2009 People Issue (issue 28), still available in the online archives.

Here are some more photos from the day, courtesy of Leslie:

A bit of new school…

And a bit of old school

Crashing the dance floor

The gang’s all here

Enjoying the new house

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Filed under Causes, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

AsiaLIFE Shouted Out by Expletive-Rich Website

Three things I love: typography, Saigon and the f-word.

A new website called What To Fucking Do in Saigon distills many of expatriates’ pet loves and hates about Ho Chi Minh City into tidy little bits of advice for what to do in the thanh pho, all featuring the grande dame of curse words. The schtick often breaks down though, offering declaratives rather than imperatives. One such entry shouts out the Spotlight pages of AsiaLIFE HCMC, where we feature snapshots from night spots around town.

Does this mean we’ve arrived?

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Filed under Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

PBS Picks Up Documentary on Vietnam AIDS Activist

Update: Watch the entire documentary at the PBS Global Voices website.

I recently spoke to Leslie Weiner, one of the three women behind Smile Group, and her documentary on Vietnamese AIDs activist Nguyen Van Hung will premier on PBS in the United States on May 10. I profiled the work of Smile Group and the legacy of Hung in a February 2009 AsiaLIFE article, “The Teacher’s Lessons.” Now, his story and the stories of those living with HIV/AIDS in Vietnam will be broadcast to millions. Check out the trailer for Thay Hung: Teacher below:

For those unfamiliar with PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), it’s the States’ most widely broadcasted nonprofit public broadcasting television service, with affiliates in more than 350 locations. Thay Hung: Teacher will appear under the banner of the PBS series Global Voices. If you live in the United States, check for air dates at pbs.org.

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Filed under Causes, Ho Chi Minh City, Media, Vietnam

Meanwhile, at the AsiaLIFE blog…

I’ve been blogging less than usual over at the AsiaLIFE blog, largely because I wrote the last two cover stories for the March and April issues (issues 24 and 25) on top of my regular managerial and editing duties, leaving me little time to devote to the digital domain. However, I’m back in the swing of things. Here’s what you can find over on the AsiaLIFE blog:

Leslie from Smile Group, a fantastic local nonprofit that builds community among and provides support to HIV-affected families, sent us an update on what the group’s been up to. Read the post here.

Also check out AsiaLIFE contributing editor Thomas Maresca’s excellent story from Issue 20 in which he profiles three of the families and sheds light on HIV/AIDS in Vietnam.

Sugar-coated Karma by Tuan Andrew Nguyen @ San Art's "Syntax + Diction"

Although the artist talk took place this past Thursday, check out this post for a brief introduction to leading Vietnamese artists Dinh Q. Le and Tuan Andrew Nguyen. Other suggestions:

1) Head over to the Galerie Quynh website for more info on Tuan Andrew Nguyen.

2) If you’re visiting Saigon, check out San Art and Galerie Quynh.

3) If you’re in New York City or visiting there this year, go see Dinh Q. Le’s installation The Farmers and the Helicopters, opening June 30 at the MoMa and on until January 11, 2011.

4) Read my cover story on contemporary art in Ho Chi Minh City in Issue 25 of AsiaLIFE.

Nordic Week at the Equatorial Hotel Returns to Saigon

One of my favorite food events in Saigon, Nordic Week, returns to the Equatorial Hotel from April 24 to 30. Get the skinny here, or head over to VietNews Online, where you can read my article on New Nordic Cuisine first published in the June 2009 issue of AsiaLIFE.

David Macmillan and Keith Rotheram in Phnom Penh, photo by Fred Wissink, photo editor for AsiaLIFE

I also wrote a third blog post on the controversial media coverage of the Sean Flynn discovery. It seems that Tim King, the executive editor of Salem News, took note of my posts on the questionable reportage and what I view as clear bias against Macmillan. He picked up on the story and put the news media under the lens in two stories.

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Filed under Art, Food & Drink, Ho Chi Minh City, Media, Vietnam

Static Motion at Galerie Quynh

If you haven’t yet stopped by Galerie Quynh to see the current exhibit, Static Motion, you’ve got one more week to do so before the show closes.

And you certainly should. The pairing of these almost monochromatic series might seem like an odd choice, but once you step into the space, even before you engage with the individual pieces, the title of the exhibit makes immediate sense. By showing George Papadimas’ geometric sculptures and Nguyen  Thanh Truc’s collage-esque paintings together, gallery owner Quynh Pham has created a space that seems alive with an electronic buzz. At a certain depth of field, Nguyen’s paintings, anchored by Papadimas’ sculptures, seem to have the blizzard-like entropy of a dropped broadcast flickering on your television screen:

Individually, the artists’ works capture the relationship between stasis and movement, as well.

There is something irresistible about Papadimas’ sculpture. You can’t help but walk circles around them, attempting to divine meaning in their vertices, watching as they seem to morph as you move. Papadimas often employs algorithms in his construction, and here he focuses on “the oppositional nature of the numbers 0-9.”  In the exhibit literature, Pham writes that the sculptures “allude to an order that goes beyond societal and cultural appropriations.” Perhaps that’s why you feel like you could obsess over the objects for hours; they seem to reflect something essential and unknowable, the tantalizing gap between the potential of mathematics to reveal mysteries of the natural order and our ability to actually conceptualize the answers.

If Papadimas’ sculptures exist askew of society, Nguyen Thanh Truc’s paintings provide a sort of visual expression of its ability to consume us and our attempts to impose order on the flood of information that assails us today. Nguyen adheres strips of newspapers and magazines to canvas, clips of the information stream that shape our reality. Visualized this way, one of our meaning making systems–the media–seems almost like an assault on our senses. As a magazine writer and rabid consumer of media, I find Nguyen’s work extremely potent. It has the ability to simultaneously express the sense of duty news consumers feel to utilize all of the information available via print, broadcast and Internet, the futility of that project and the guilt associated with the project’s failure. I cannot speak to the engagement with Vietnamese society, politics and culture expressed in the headlines, but I think Nguyen’s paintings transcend Vietnam in some ways.

The show runs through Saturday, April 24. Head down to Galerie Quynh at 65 De Tham in District 1. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 6pm. For more info on the artists, go to www.galeriequynh.com.

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Filed under Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam