Tag Archives: Asia

9000 Seconds of Saigon 05.20.11

Introducing your friendly Saigon blogger’s weekly biweekly-ish digest of roughly two and half hours worth of reading and viewing on Saigon, Vietnam, Asia-Pacific, and Asia’s intersection with New York City.

Right here on 9000 Hours in Saigon, Mike from Along the Mekong posted a query about getting your foot in the door at expat magazines to the About section. Check out my lengthy reply if you’re a budding wordsmith in Vietnam.

courtesy of diacritic.org

After a long absence from the blogosphere, contemporary artist and dia/projects founder Richard Streitmatter-Tran has dusted off diacritic.org and logged a breakdown of dia/projects’ activities one year since its opening.

courtesy of diacritics.org

Meanwhile, the folks inspired by the original diacritic have been reliably churning out dispatches from the diaspora. This week, the diacritics (plural) published articles on a surviving warren of Vietnamese refugees in France, contemporary art photography in Phnom Penh, spoken word artist Bao Phi, and Tran Anh Hung’s latest film, Norwegian Wood

courtesy of Asia Society

Being back in New York has its advantages–like getting to visit Ai Wei Wei’s new public sculpture in Grand Army Plaza. The Asia Society has a short post and two-minute video on Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads on its blog.

If that blurry chef in the background of the lead photo for this New York Times article looks vaguely familiar, you were probably a regular at Pham Ngu Lau’s Bread &  Butter during the past couple of years. Liza Queen is back in Brooklyn and serving up the Vietnamese fare she learned to make during her tw0-year stint in Saigon. Look for her bun thit nuong and banh xeo under the banner of Queen’s Dahn Ta at the Brooklyn Flea’s new all-food market, Smorgasburg.

And speaking of Western chefs in Vietnam, you can check out the Phan Thiet/Mui Ne segments of Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escapes on muinebeach.net (for which blogger Adam Bray was a consultant). 

From Tom’s twitter stream this week:

Border Troubles
 
Cambodia refuses to remove troops from #PreahVihear, Thailand responds by blocking Indonesian observers along border. http://t.co/guq6rtZ
 
Soundtrack of Street Life in Vietnam
 
Propaganda or poetry? Vietnam’s iconic loudspeakers punctuate public life with messages from the Party. http://bit.ly/mrFR7s
 
Trouble Among the Hmong
 
Report on #Hmong conflict in northern #Vietnam via @ChristianPost suggests some culpability among messianic leaders http://t.co/A1u4RE8
 
@hrw pressures Vietnam to open investigation into recent unrest among #Hmong hill tribes in Muong Nhe.
 
Guns Blazing
 
ASEAN defence ministers seek to halve weapons spending by coordinating trade among regional industries. http://bit.ly/im9M6r
  
A Message for Canada’s New Conservative Majority
 
Editorial: Canada needs to rethink its commitment to the #EastAsiaSummit. http://bit.ly/mzWUhU

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Filed under Cambodia, Media, New York City, Photography, 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

My Life at the Quan

Photo by Nam Quan for AsiaLIFE

I haven’t been watching which of AsiaLIFE‘s articles have been syndicated on Vietnews too carefully lately, but I just dropped by and saw that the editors picked up my piece on quan nhau: “Living the Quan Life.”

This one was a real bummer to research: head to a few local quans with friends, nosh on the savory grilled fare typical of these joints, wash it down with dirt cheap beer and shoot the shit. (That’s why I get paid the big bucks.)

As my friend Hai explains it, that’s basically nhau. Eat. Drink. Talk. No one element is more important than the other; each one fuels the other two. I go into the culture of nhau in greater detail in the article.

Oh, and I eat pig’s brain.

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Filed under Culture, Food & Drink, Vietnam

The New Vietnam

In July, AsiaLIFE ran its economy issue. You can now find two of the feature stories that explore how the booming economy is producing big changes in the country on Vietnewsonline.vn.

In The Domestic Dilemma, I tried to find out whether local Vietnamese businesses could compete with the increasing number of foreign firms setting up shop to take advantage of the booming domestic market for consumer goods. Just 10 years ago, marketing was nonexistent in the country. Now local companies are scrambling to build brands as companies like Nestle and Pepsi munch away at market share.

For his part, AsiaLIFE staff writer Thomas Maresca explored how the increase in disposable income is changing Vietnam, its people and its cultural landscape in subtle ways not immediately noticeable to the average foreigner. Check out Money Changes Everything for the full story.

Update: I just realized that The Domestic Dilemma was picked up by Vietnam Business Finance News, a website that I regularly turn to as a resource on business, economics and finance in Vietnam. Cool.

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Filed under Media, Vietnam

Motorbiking the Hai Van Pass

 

Axel_

Axel_

 

At this point, I don’t exactly have a plan. I am winging it.

Having passed over a horde of substandard Honda Dreams, Citis and Wave Alphas — motorbikes that would almost certainly leave me stranded on the Hai Van Pass if they didn’t break down sooner — there is now parked in front of me a gleaming new Yamaha Sirius. But the owner wants my passport.

I can’t explain to him that this is impossible, that I will need my passport to check into a hotel in Danang in a few hours time. That I plan to drive his bike 4 hours southeast of Hue, over the Hai Van Pass, into Danang , then to Hoi An and back would no doubt be a deal breaker.

 So instead I tell him I cannot give him my passport. It is at my hotel. He asks for the hotel’s number. I tell him I need to switch hotels; mine is very bad. I tell him he can have my New York State driver’s license. He looks on the verge of giving me a yes. I tell him I’ll pay him up front for the three days’ rental.

Bingo.

I stop at my hotel, pick up my backpack, get back on the Sirius and just like that I’ve salvaged my trip from the brink of disaster. Just like that, I am headed out of town, bound for the Hai Van Pass.

The road out of Hue is almost exceedingly well marked, if a bit labyrinthine. Every few hundred metres, there’s another sign. This way. That way. Left. Right. Up. Down. Back the other way. It’s a cartoonish route, but it proves dependable and soon I’m on the open road heading west, driving past coastal paddies.

But then the rain starts up. The proceeding hours are a blur. I stop to reposition my rain jacket; multiple configurations lead to the same conclusion: it’s going to be a we ride. About an hour into the drive, my hands are frozen solid. I stop at two large markets to find gloves. No luck. All I get are inquisitive stares and giggles.

From there, things get hazy. I remember a backup where a bridge is being repaired. But other than that, I am just trying my best to make good time, trying to overtake the truck traffic. After a while, 70km per hour feels just fine on the slick roads. I start to accept the discomfort, the aching limbs and numb fingers. The sign to denote you’re leaving a hamlet — the crossed-out skyline — is my only comfort.

 

And then it happens. I’m just outside of the Hai Van Pass. The rain has reduced to a drizzle. The first ascent alone, steep and banking towards the ocean, assures me that the Hai Van Pass will dwarf the two smaller passes I’ve already driven. The experience, I begin to realize, will make all that’s come before worth it.

Thanks to a recently completed tunnel for truck traffic, the Hai Van Pass is nothing short of a motorcyclist’s dream come true. Lanes that likely made for tense trips by bus or truck provide latitude for motorbikes to bank and weave with relative safety. Around every corner, you imagine the summit must be near, but the road continues to climb, the South China Sea below growing more distant, the jungle foliage on the mountainside more verdant.

And then I reach the top. With the mist and cloud cover, the view is non-existant. No worries. I’m eager to get back on the bike. The drive down the mountain proves just as much fun — you’ve got to keep your hand on the break just to keep yourself in check. And not long into the descent, the rain abates altogether. The sun comes out. I take of the stifling raincoat, and continue down the mountain, the sun and wind drying my sodden clothes.

Next stop Danang.

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Filed under Motorbiking, Stories, Vietnam

Cutbacks at Qantas

Qantas announced this weekend a series of measures meant to keep out of the red in the face of sky-rocketing global fuel costs. On the chopping block are 22 of its 228 plane strong fleet, as well as Jetstar’s pilot and cabin crew base in Adelaide. The route, however, will remain in service, with flights manned by staff based out of Sydney and Darwin. Some routes will see capacity reductions, but no routes are currently slated to be cut outright.

Despite its most recent fuel woes, Qantas says it will go ahead with plans to replace older crafts with more fuel-efficient A380s and B787s, roll out new customer service initiatives and launch its direct service from Sydney to Buenos Aires in November.

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Filed under Australia, Flights, Transportation

Escape from Saigon: Dong Nay Province Swimming

I was hurtling down the rode in Dong Nay Province, past vast swaths of rice paddy, when it suddenly occurred to me. I  cocked my wrist to accelerate and pulled up alongside Tyler.

“I think I forgot what fresh air smells like.”

Add this experience to the “You know you’ve been in Saigon too long when … ” list.

I’d joined a motorbike caravan to the Golden Scorpion, one of the recreational swimming holes out in Dong Nay Province, about an hour outside of the city. I’d been told there was fresh water and a bridge to be jumped off. What we found was a well-organized riverside park dotted with thatch-roofed cabanas, ringed with water slides and diving platforms. 

The water parks in Dong Nay are no Western wonders, but that’s what makes them so much fun. The water slides were not engineered for comfort, but it’s pretty amusing to watch your friends’ get slapped around the second curve of the too-short slide while you nurse your own bruised hip at the bottom. 

And while life vests are required, safety restrictions are pretty lax. No one scolds you for tipping over your friends rented boat, and the workers don’t intervene when you decide to launch yourself backwards and headlong down a water slide.

For these and many more reasons — including the dirt cheap beer — the trip to Dong Nay is well worth the mind-numbing headache you’ll suffer on return to smog-choked Saigon.

The Golden Scorpion. Entry: 10,000 VND. Life vest rental: 20,000 VND. Boat rental: 15,000 VND. Bottle of Saigon Green: 9000 VND.

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Filed under Getaways, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

News Bites: Vietnam Tourism Forecast Is Sunny

This week, Breaking Travel News reported on the growth of tourism in emerging markets, citing a 6-8% increase over the past ten years — a twofold upturn over tourist powerhouses like Europe.

China is fueling much of this tourism boom — Chinese tourists spent $30 billion abroad last year. And where are they going? Vietnam.

An article on tourism in developing economies in The Economist last month put the number of Chinese visitors in Vietnam at 507,000 for 2007. The Vietnamese tourist industry also benefited from 442,000 South Korean visitors and 376,000 tourists from the United States.

Another Economist article published in April focuses on growth in Vietnam’s tourist industry and concerns about sustainable tourism. Again, Vietnam’s move to number four on the World Travel and Tourism Council‘s table of fastest-growing destinations is chalked up to the rising spending power of nearby countries. However, Vietnam’s infrastructure is cited as a handicap, the reason for its rank of 96 out of 130 countries on the World Economic Forum‘s competitiveness forum.

But while infrastructure lags behind, retail growth is brandishing the country’s luxury appeal. AT Kearney ranked Vietnam number one on its list of most attractive markets for retail investment, as reported by Foreign Direct Investment. Vietnam outstripped former leaders India, China and Russia thanks to its 8% GDP growth and the relative lack of competition compared with these countries.

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Filed under Media, Trends, Vietnam

An Israeli Falafel in Saigon

Note: Falafellim is currently closed due to a dispute with the landlord … another great eatery is in limbo thanks to the Saigon’s finicky real estate.

Falafel enthusiasts and vegetarians rejoice! Falafellim is serving up meal-sized falafel pitas here in Saigon. Located on Pham Ngu Lao just off the traffic circle at Ben Thanh Market, this small, attractive falafel bar was opened a few months ago by an Israeli ex-pat. And while most of the foreign fare you sample in Saigon disappoints, these falafel sandwiches are the real deal — packed with delicious fresh ingredients and served with authentic tahini and chili sauce. Falafellim also serves hummus, egg and salad dishes, as well as the falafel baguette (truly, an idea whose time has come).

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Filed under Food & Drink, Ho Chi Minh City, Uncategorized, Vietnam

Vegetarian Guide to Saigon’s Backpacker District

Eating vegetarian isn’t always easy in Saigon. Luckily, the Backpacker District encompassing Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien caters to HCMC’s herbivorous visitors. Here are some of the best spots to eat an chi.

Zen: from stir fried to braised, Indian to Mexican, Zen offers the largest slate of cheap non-meat cuisine around above Bui Vien. The Vietnamese dishes are tasty, but Zen also offers creative takes on Western dishes, like stir-fried macaroni and cheese (penne noodles in cheese sauce with tofu, onions and mushroom). Between Chua An Lac and De Tham.

Chi’s Cafe: Chi’s isn’t a vegetarian restaurant, but it does have the best 30,000 VND veggie burger around. For pescetarians, Chi’s also has a delicious basa fillet with lemongrass and chili served with rice. Between Chua An Lac and De Tham.

Le Pub: Two of Le Pub‘s managers are strict vegetarians, so extra care is taken to use vegan products and keep separate cookware and surfaces for meat dishes. The food is pricier than most Backpacker District fare, but the quality is also far superior. The spicy chickpea patty should be first on your list of dishes to try. Chua An Lac.

Vegetarian Restaurant: For great homestyle and comfort food-style vegetarian, this aptly named spot serves clay pot concoctions like spaghetti with soya balls and meatless shepherd’s pie mashed potatoes, cheese, tomato sauce and various vegetables (it’s a day-to-day surprise what greens make their way in). Chua An Lac.

Margherita: The vegetable pizza is pretty delicious, but the vegetarian Mexican food steals the show. This is no authentic Mexican, but Margherita’s spin on quesadillas, tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas and burritos are all worth trying. Chua An Lac.

New Delhi: Not only does New Delhi win the prize for best Engrish sign (Thunder price the competition!), it also has the best cheap Indian fare on Bui Vien. Your favorite Indian staples cost about 20,000 VND and the beer is dirt cheap, as well. Bui Vien, near Do Quang Dau.

Coriander: The vegetarian pad thai is always a safe bet, but the tempura-style vegetables with plum sauce is a must try. The fried and breaded mussels with plum sauce are a great treat for pescetarians. Bui Vien, near Do Quang Dau.

Chua An Lac is an alleyway between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. It’s identifiable by the ornate gateway on Pham Ngu Lao.

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