Tag Archives: Saigon

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

Extended Dinh Q. Le Interview on AsiaLIFE Blog

Dinh Q. Le at San Art, May 2010. Photo by Richard Harper for AsiaLIFE

For this month’s AsiaLIFE, I interviewed contemporary artist Dinh Q. Le for our Q&A section. Dinh has been one of the most recognized Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) artists in the contemporary art world since the 90s. On June 30, his three-channel installation The Farmers and the Helicopters will be the subject of a six-month exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. You can read the full interview on the AsiaLIFE blog.

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Filed under Art, 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

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

NYT Travel: Overselling Vietnam Beer?



Yesterday my sister sent me a link to a New York Times Travel section article called “In Vietnam, Traveling an Unlikely Beer Trail” in which the author embarks on what he describes as “a beer odyssey” through the country. When I read these two words—“beer” and “odyssey”—I was immediately intrigued.

To most of the beer enthusiasts I know, Vietnam is not known for the quality of its brew. Had I missed something during my two years in Vietnam? I wondered.

Alas, I had not. The article, despite being well-written and engaging, left me with a familiar impression: travel writers are still figuring out how to sell Vietnam.

There’s nothing wrong with romanticizing the beer culture in Vietnam. When I moved here in March 2008, I too was taken with the local bia hoi joints, the plastic stools and tables, the convivial atmosphere and 33 cent beer. But to suggest that Vietnam boasts a beer trail is a stretch in my opinion.

Let me explain why.

At one point, the writer says: “For the first-time visitor to Vietnam, the variety of local and regional beers can be surprising. It seems each city has a beer named after it (Bia Can Tho, Bia Thai Binh, Bia Saigon, Bia Hanoi, Bia Hue, and so on), and the best of the bunch depends on whom you ask and where you’re asking. But in recent decades, Vietnamese beer culture has morphed, adopting traditional European styles as well as embracing a uniquely ephemeral home-grown brew called bia hoi.”

To me, the phrasing here is misleading. I don’t know if “variety” is the right word. Yes, many cities have their own beer, but the contents are pretty standard: pedestrian lagers brewed with too much rice and too few hops to have much (if any) defining character. These regional beers do well in their hometowns for a simple reason: local pride. (This is according to my interviews with local market research firm TNS Vietnam.)

I also think the bit about Vietnamese beer culture morphing needs qualification. For those who have the means, beer choice in rapidly developing Vietnam is very much a social statement. Various local bar owners, the heads of international brand operations and Vietnamese friends have all told me the same thing: the beer middle and upper class locals drink is influenced by their perception of its prestige, with beers like Heineken ranking higher than Bia Saigon or Bia Hanoi, which are viewed as a workingman’s brew.

Since the emphasis is on the label rather than the quality of the contents, there’s little demand for a more diverse range of beer (except among expats, who represent a drop in the bucket). Local tastes tend toward simple lagers, so few bars serve anything but Tiger, Foster’s, Budweiser, Heineken, Miller, San Miguel, Corona and the local brews. This carries over into the microbreweries that the writer covers, as well; a brewer at one of these establishments told me he’d like to brew up something with a bit more character, but his boss won’t let him for fear that it won’t sell.

The “aspirational drinker” trend is what really drives the change in beer culture in Vietnam. It utterly dwarfs the tiny niche of microbreweries in Saigon. As an editor, I would have urged the writer to focus on either the novelty of Saigon’s microbreweries or the bia hoi culture covered at the end of the article.

Overall, I think it’s a mistake is to paint a portrait of an evolving beer culture that begs to be explored. When you evoke phrases like “beer trail” and “beer odyssey” you then have to deliver on the reader’s expectations. The fact is Vietnam’s beer portfolio remains very limited, and the trends that are really driving production are actually nudging beer in Vietnam towards mediocrity.


Filed under Culture, Media, Nightlife, Vietnam

Rock Climbing Vietnam and Southeast Asia

Last month, AsiaLIFE junior writer Stephen Wright covered the rise of rock climbing in Ho Chi Minh City. The peg was the opening of X Rock‘s second climbing location in District 3, but he went above and beyond the call of duty, ferreting out some great rock climbing in Southeast Asia (with the help of resident climbing guru Richard Carrington). The article made it’s way to Tuoi Tre‘s English-language portal Vietnewsonline.vn. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, check out Rock On.

Also on the Vietnam rock climbing front, Amy Morison, editor of Live Hoi An magazine, put the word out about the new climbing trips to the Marble Mountains offered by Phat Tire Ventures in this month’s AsiaLIFE Getaways feature, “Our Girl in Hoi An.”

Search “AsiaLIFE” at Vietnewsonline.vn for all the syndicated content from Saigon’s monthly pub.


Filed under Adventure, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Nordic Food in Vietnam


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Fred Wissink

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a couple of visiting chefs from Sweden during the Equatorial Hotel‘s Nordic Week. At the start of the event, I had swung by for a press dinner and left utterly smitten. Executive chef Niclas Wahlstrom of Stockholm’s Den Gyldene Freden and Magnus Johansson, past winner of the Culinary Olympics and Nobel Prize dinner pastry chef, were good enough to give me some of their time between lunch and dinner services to teach me about the New Nordic Cuisine movement. Tuoi Tre‘s vietnewsonline.vn picked up my story on the culinary movement after it ran in AsiaLIFE HCMC. If you haven’t gotten the skinny on New Nordic Food yet, read about it here.


Photo by Fred Wissink

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Filed under Europe, Food & Drink, Uncategorized, Vietnam

Ed Lessons: Beware Bloggers

It’s been about a year since I joined the editorial staff of AsiaLIFE HCMC, my first post at a real-life, in-your-hands magazine. With the job crunch caused by the recession back home, I think it’s fair to say that if I hadn’t moved to Saigon, my year spent educating myself and trying to break into publishing would have turned into three and a half. It’s afforded me a lot of opportunities. Back in May, it even fulfilled a lifelong wish: to be positioned at the nexus of controversy and torrid rumor.

The experience turned out to be less than what I’d expected.

Shortly after our Green issue came out, a local blogger and “brand provocateur” named David Everitt-Carlson posted an entry to his blog — The Wild, Wild East Dailies — alleging that AsiaLIFE ripped off New York magazine’s December 2008 cover. To support his claim, he made mention of AsiaLIFE‘s “new, New York staff.” Surely there was a connection. One had to lead to the other. What’s more, he had pictures.

Here’s the first problem: we had pictures too. No bones about it. The 2008 New York magazine cover was indeed our reference shot.

3228_195737930234_774620234_6832345_6966758_nThe concept, roughly, went like this: Expats are notorious for their love-hate relationship with Saigon, and one of the things we most often whinge about is the state of the environment. New York magazine is well known for its annual “Reasons to Love New York” issues (the theme has also been used by other city pubs). The cover to the 2008 installment became immediately iconic: a translucent red heart reminiscent of the “I Love New York” campaign held in front of a city street. The idea then developed. Everything we were learning about individuals and organizations fighting for Vietnam’s beleaguered environment represented a new reason to love Vietnam. Our photo editor went to pains to set up the shot so that people would immediately recognize it as a reference to the  New York magazine cover, albeit with one difference: a green heart.

So what went wrong? For one, we changed the cover headline. The working title was We Love Vietnam, but I felt it didn’t sit right on the tongue. We Love Vietnam, Too? A New Reason to Love Vietnam? It all linked back to New York magazine’s concept and strengthened the reference, but it didn’t sound too slick. I suggested a placeholder, The Times They Are a-Changin’. Blame my Bob Dylan obsession. My creative director wasn’t sold (and quite frankly neither was I). As we struggled to finish things up with two of our six-person staff out of town, the issue went to print with the placeholder, an admittedly weak headline that contributes to opening us up to Carlson’s criticism: that we stole New York magazine’s cover.

Here’s the second problem with Carlson’s post: he never contacted us to for comment. Instead, he just assumed that, despite the fact that AsiaLIFE‘s designers have been praised for its covers since relaunch in April 2008, we simply got lazy and decided to poach from New York magazine. Apparently he was pretty confident in his hypothesis. He had the “new New York staff” thing, right?

Enter the third problem: we hardly qualify as some recruited bunch of publishing veterans. Since its relaunch, AsiaLIFE has been positioned as a place for ambitious young creatives to cut their teeth. While our staff writer has extensive experience as a freelancer and television writer in New York, this is his first post as a staff writer of a glossy city magazine. Our deputy editor comes from an HR and marketing background; this is her first full-time editorial post. I lived in New York City for 2 1/2 years after college and mostly worked as a contributor/editor for an online travel guide and as a freelance proofreader. Our origin is all coincidence; we were the right people available at the right time in a city not exactly brimming with journalists and editors. Not exactly a bunch of hired guns (but I am proud of what we’ve accomplished with AsiaLIFE).

And the fourth problem: some of the people he painted as guilty of dishonesty never even saw the cover before it went to print. Our deputy editor Ginny was on vacation throughout production. Tom didn’t see it either — he’s frequently mobile and out of office, and rarely sees design mock ups. Our art director was also on 3 weeks leave in New Zealand, as well.

In fact, I emailed David, not to debate the merit of the cover (he has a right to his opinion), but to let him know there were some holes in his logic and that some of his information was very much inaccurate. His response was a rather lengthy exposition on his history in the industry and some advise about not passing the buck. I wrote back thanking David for his thoughtful response, but noted that he hadn’t actually addressed the fact that he was knowingly leaving inaccurate information on his blog. So I elaborated on the mistakes he’d made. His next response was a bit pithier, and I think it’s fair to say, showed a bit of chagrin (perhaps what did it was telling him that if he was going to criticize a magazine for being lazy on design, he should hold himself accountable for what he publishes without so much as a fact check).

Is it unethical to disclose a summary of our personal conversation? I’m not sure, but David did put an addendum to the now-notorious post in which he quoted me out of context from that email exchange, stating that I had “been all over [his] email” (the sum total of my emails to him was 3 … 1 original and 2 responses). Which was curious, because he wrote this in his first response:

You’re welcome to leave your objection in the comments section of the blog and I will print it, in tact – what I won’t do is post it myself because it is a private note to me and I do keep confidentiality on these things.”

Still, there was a lesson in there. Design and editorial now work much more closely, and we have better checks to make sure none of our work, if it does refer to another source, can be interpreted as plagiarism. While it was never our intention to rip off New York magazine, I recognize that we made production mistakes that led to a situation in which it was easy to assume that we had done just that. But “assume” is the key word there. In my opinion, David should have afforded my staff the same professional courtesy they afford others: to back up what they publish with real facts, having done proper journalism. Blogger, journalist, brand provocateur — we’re all responsible for the allegations we send out into the world.

In the end, I think the lesson is paying off. David did email me the other day and tell me the last two issues have looked great.

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Filed under Media, Uncategorized, Vietnam

Jetstar Crosses New Borders

Jetstar Pacific Airlines began flying once daily from HCM City to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport today and will launch its HCM City-Siem Reap route on Monday, November 3. The new routes expand Jetstar’s existing international route map, which includes connections between HCM City and Australia, Singapore and New Zealand.

Bottom rate Jetsaver Light fares begin at US $12 to Bangkok and $40 to Siem Reap. The fares allow for carry-on baggage only, though passengers can tack on a 20-kilogram bag by upgrading to a JetSaver fare for an additional US $20.

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Filed under Cambodia, Flights, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam