Tag Archives: Vietnam Articles

Raid on Illegal Vietnamese Wildlife Restaurants Gets NY Times Coverage

illustrated by Brenden Wenzel, AsiaLIFE March 2010

I woke up this morning to find the following news item in my Google Alerts: Vietnam Raids Restaurants Selling Exotic Meats. The piece, which ran on The New York Times Green blog, reports that a large, coordinated raid by the Lam Dong Forest Protection Department involving more than 100 wildlife agents led to the seizure of hundreds of pounds of illegal meat and the arrest of a dozen restaurant owners. The campaign was supported by surveillance work carried out by NGO Wildlife Conservation Society.

Back in March, I travelled into Lam Dong Province to visit a sustainable agro-forestry farm for a cover story on conservation in Vietnam. My research turned up some troubling facts about the imbalance between the profits from the wildlife trade and the resources available to tackle poaching and trafficking. In his research paper Wildlife Trading in Vietnam: Situations, Causes, and Solutions, Nguyen Van Song of the Hanoi University of Agriculture estimated that the Forest Protection Department employee’s monthly pay is roughly equivalent to daily profits at exotic meat restaurants.

Read the entire article in the AsiaLIFE archives, issue 24.

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Facebook Down in Vietnam

Each day the error message continues to come up, there seems to be more credence behind what was once a rumour: Facebook is being blocked in Vietnam. Explanations abound: dissident ideas were starting to seep into the social networking site; too many Vietnamese girls were posting provocative photos, thereby violating social evil strictures; etc, etc, etc.

One thing remains true though: I am unable to poke anyone.

There’s been some talk about a scanned version of a document from some ministry or another handing down the order to firewall Facebook in Vietnam, but I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive yet. Will try to hunt something down soon … right after I find a reliable proxy server.

Update: Just heard from my creative director another possible reason for the Facebook troubles. Apparently FTP, the country’s second largest Internet provider somehow screwed up access codes to sites that require security. So essentially, there’s some sort of security clash happening between the FTP and Facebook, and the net result is that Facebook is essentially blocking itself.

Neither of us know very much about servers, so we can’t verify any of this, but what is interesting is that the FTP issue has also affected our Internet access at the office, forcing us to switch to a secondary service: VDC. There seems to be no problem accessing Facebook on VDC, which is the largest Internet provider in Vietnam and owned by the government, to boot. If Facebook is being blocked, I’m not sure why we’d be able to access it on a government-owned service provider.

Sidenote: Our general director looked at the scanned copy floating around and said it proves nothing; it could be an intra-office suggestion to block Facebook that came from some corner of the Ministry of Culture and got shot down.

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Filed under Media, 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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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.

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Filed under Adventure, Ho Chi Minh City, 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

Bobby Brewers: The Last Picture Show Has Cometh

Update: Since the time of writing, Bobby Brewers’ has begun showing *ahem* up-to-date films.

Backpackers in Saigon have been packing Bobby Brewers‘ movie theater for years, but Vietnam’s lax copyright laws have tightened and put a stranglehold on this staple of the Bui Vien lifestyle.

Alas, at least for the time being, there shall be no more bootleg movies at Bobby Brewers’ Bui Vien outpost.

Two weeks ago, Bobby Brewers retracted its ubiquitous movie flyers mid-week. Since then, the cafe’s theater has been screening stale flicks like Click, Terminator 3 and (I kid you not) Power Rangers. Gone are the recently released bootleg flicks; even the big three Southeast Asia screen gems — Good Morning Vietnam, The Killing Fields and The Quiet American — have been cut.

A call to Bobby Brewers’ home office confirmed that the company has put the kibash on its speakeasy theater for legal reasons. Unsurprising — with four new franchise locations in the works and its charitable work gaining more recognition, the company needs to put forward a more legitimate face.

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Filed under Free Stuff, Ho Chi Minh City, Nightlife, Vietnam

British lend insight to Saigon Subway

The British came to town last week to pinpoint possible areas for cooperation on Saigon’s main railways and the future metro system, the Word HCMC reported in their latest issue. Turns out the Brits are on a public transportation world tour of sorts, stopping by developing nations to lend their rail expertise. Add the British to the growing list of international partners helping to develop the Saigon subway.

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Filed under Ho Chi Minh City, Transportation, Vietnam

Banh Mi: Franchised and Sanitized

Meat banh mi — Vietnamese sandwich — is the definitive Saigon street food. For 10,000 VND (about 60 cents) street vendors pile on the ingredients: the ubiquitous white porous pork, gristly bacon, spicy pate, cucumber, onion and cilantro.

But if you’re not keen on street food, you can try banh mi at the new franchise Bamizon. Think Vietnamese Subway. I personally have deep and evolved ideas about street food, but I thought I’d give Bamizon a shot anyhow. The verdict? Pretty good. The sandwich (starts at 22,000 VND) benefits most from Bamizon’s fresh crusty bread, a welcome replacement for the standard street rolls that’ve gone chewy with time. The pate is much milder, the bacon leaner — both cons in my book, but in line with Bamizon’s sanitized take on banh mi.

A tourist-friendly Bamizon location is on Nguyen Van Chiem across the street from Diamond Plaza, located across Le Duan from Notre Dame Cathedral.

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HCMC Fine Arts Museum

Like many cities blazing the capitalist path in developing nations, Saigon lacks an established cultural apparatus. However, of all the museums in Saigon, the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum might be the one most worth seeing, even if the quality of its collection and exhibition is inconsistent.

Predictably, war paintings and lacquer work are given prominence at the entrances to the east and west corridors on the first floor. However, some of the rural scenes are worth seeing and there’re a few more abstract works towards the end of the corridors. Further down the west corridor is a smattering of collages, paintings and mixed media art by Western artists — most of which relates to the war — and some more modern pieces by Vietnamese artists.

You can see the museum’s collection of Buddhist worship pictures and folk paintings, as well as some impressive statuary, on the second floor. The second floor is also home to temporary exhibits; a large-scale lacquer scene with the artist’s preparatory sketches were on display during a recent visit. Opposite the east wing are remnants from provincial pagodas: incense columns, statuary and wood panels.

The third floor is mostly given over to bronze work, ceramics and the like. A large collection of bronze incense burners is the highlight of the collection.

Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. 97A Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1, near Ben Thanh Market. Tuesday – Sunday 9 am – 5pm.

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Filed under Culture, Ho Chi Minh City, Museums, Vietnam

Jetstar: Turbulence en route to Vietnam expansion?

Oz Traveller recently posted on Qantas Group’s reduced and cut Australia routes, as well as on the grounding of one of its recently acquired Airbus A320s. The first A320 is due to arrive in Vietnam in August and is slated to support additional service between Ho Chi Minh City – Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City – Buon Ma Thuot (Central Highlands). No word yet on whether Jetstar’s Airbus woes will affect the HCMC increase, but Jetstar is behind schedule on the new Hanoi – Hue direct route.

Qantas cited high global gas prices for the reductions on low-demand routes. The price of gas products in Vietnam will remain fixed until June 30 in order to combat inflation, but hoarding in the lead up to the cap’s expiration is already becoming a problem. Here’s hoping that fleet of fuel-efficient A320s makes it here before the shaky economy goes haywire.

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