27th January 2023
17th January 2023
I was recently reading a report in an English-language Vietnamese newspaper, bemoaning the lack of tourists.
Tourism accounts for a significant portion of Thailand’s GDP and Vietnam, with beaches, historic towns and cities, should be able to significantly boost their economy by attracting foreign visitors.
To an extant, they do (tourism is increasing). The problem, according to some reports, is the lack of return visitors; people add Vietnam to their bucket list, then never return, a case of, “been there, done that,” whereas many tourists return again and again to Thailand. The following website lists ten common factors that deter or spoil the experience of visiting Viet Nam:
Many are based around petty crime: overcharging, thief, poor service, fraud and bad manners.
I have my own litany of complaints, and then some ! However, the focus today in on one major problem in Vietnam … the (add expletive of choice) NOISE. The following is an extract from VNExpress, an English-language newspaper:
Noise pollution can be said to be a fact of life and a headache in many urban areas, but in Vietnam, it gets taken to levels unheard of.
A study by the Institute of Occupational Health and the Environment of 12 main traffic routes and intersections in Hanoi found the average noise level during the day to be 77.8-78.1 dBA, about 7.8-8.1 dBA higher than the standard. The level is 10-20 dBA higher than normal night-time standards at 65.3-75.7 dBA.
The worse offenders, for my sensitive ears, are street hawkers (motorbike riders who have loudspeakers, and often park outside my window for hours, playing their noise on a loop … sometimes for nearly four hours).
I know, they are just trying make a living and support their families, but if you are constantly woken up at 5:10 am by a guy driving past blaring out that he is selling bread (without stopping for anyone to actually buy said item), or you want to enjoy your balcony and read some Shakespeare, but a knife-grinder is under your window playing a three-sentence phrase over and over … and over, you may have more sympathy for my plight.
Now for the worst offender; Vietnam seems to positively encourage the right for ANYONE to buy a karaoke machine and use it, outdoors, all day, every day. Increasingly, the use of such machines has caused anger, violence and even deaths:
A man in the northern province of Hai Duong was singing karaoke at home earlier this month and his neighbor complained about the noise. He went over to the neighbor’s to express his anger, only to be stabbed to death.
The whole article may be read here: https://e.vnexpress.net/news/readers-views/fining-karaoke-noise-violations-after-10-p-m-makes-no-sense-4487372.html
I myself have been driven to near insanity by wedding parties on my free day (five hours of karaoke just across the street) and used all my English insults to get my point across. Pretty damn stupid in retrospect, and the fact that I was a foreigner probably saved me from a severe beating, or worse.
So … intelligence is more powerful than strength. Don’t get mad … get even. I have an electric guitar which, of course, is nigh useless without an amplifier. Hence, I reveal my Fender Champion 20W amp.
The amp has four different setting, a range of built-in effects and a Gain button … to increase noise.
We are approaching Tet Holiday, so we can expect a lot of parties, Karaoke and NOISE.
As you can see, I hooked up my laptop to the speaker today around 11.00 am because … already … some local gentleman and his good lady wife (or sister or whomever) began screaming through a microphone. A lot of these ‘performers’ just copy TV stars and make whooping noises or scream. Take it from me, a Vietnamese with a mic is one of the world’s worst tortures.
So, I chose some pretty inoffensive K-Pop, and covered up the caterwauling from the great beyond.
You can see, the Gain is only set to 4 and the volume was on 2. The switch goes up to 10 ! I also used some delay and reverb. Furthermore, thanks to the internet; YouTube, Spotify plus my own files, I own a LOT of loud music … a LOT. And if that wasn’t bad enough, just wait until you hear me murder ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
The gauntlet is thrown down. After several hours, your voices will crack, you will sleep from that nasty cheap beer but I will only just be warming up. Rock ‘n’ Roll will never die … but don’t take my word for it. Here’s Mr Neil Young
9th November 2022
The All-Knowing Parent
The House of Gesundheit opened its doors. Before long, a parent charged in, dragging a sickly child. The Doctor of Gesundheit examined the child, increasingly concerned with the findings.
“I must conduct further tests,” the professional explained.
“Ah, no problem, my child always passes tests,” the self-assured reply, with a pat on the money bag.
As the doctor suspected, the poor child had cancer, but it was at an early stage. Help was available, a full recovery was expected.
“Ah, no, no, no, no, no, no,” the parent countered, “the hair will fall out, children at school will laugh. I will not have my child laughed at, I will not have my child looking like an egg ! No, no, no, just give the child some pills, some medicine and all will be well. I know my child. I know my child much better than you do.”
The Doctor of Gesundheit protested, remonstrated, pleaded. The words fell on stony ground. So many pearls, such a large swine.
Eventually the doctor had to acquiesce. Parent and child walked away, victoriously.
Some months later the parent returned, bursting into the House of Gesundheit, screaming, ranting, pointing an accusing, accursing finger at the doctor.
“You killed my child. I brought my child to you for help. Instead … I bury my child. You killed my child. You are a terrible doctor, you are a murderer !”
The other patients heard this and got angry, they sided with the grieved parent and shouted abuse at the disgraced doctor.
The House of Gesundheit closed down.
The doctor abandoned medicine and looked for work from village to village.
In a small grave in a small graveyard lies a small child. Over the coming years, the graveyard grew bigger and bigger.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by Lennon & McCartney. August 1966
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29th August 2021
The tip of the tip of the iceberg; a handful of books that I would like to read over the next year or so. All depends on time, energy and availability. Be that as it may, here’s a short selection:
Guy Debord (1931 – 1994, France)
First up, the French artist and philosopher Debord who was part of the Situationist International (a group of intellectuals and artists) from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. His most famous work is from 1967, ‘Society of the Spectacle’ which analyses aspects of post-war society from a Marxist viewpoint (of course, the book is much more complex than that, but I want to keep this blog short and concise).
Ryszard Kapuściński (1932 – 2007, Poland)
A poet and journalist, Kapuściński was considered for a Noble Prize. ‘Another day of Life’ from 1976 is an account of the civil war in Angola.
Madeline Miller (Born 1978, USA)
I read the Classics at University, and still love the myths of Ancient Greece and Rome. ‘Circe’ from 2018, is regarded in some circles as one of the best books of the 2010 – 2020 decade, and has been described as a feminist retelling of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’.
Ruth Ozeki (Born 1956, USA)
I read about this book while searching for Post-Post-Modern fiction (i.e. who are the present-day equivalents of David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers et al). This novel sounds extremely interesting, telling the story of a teenage girl in Japan who keeps a diary which is eventually found by a Japanese-American writer in the USA, washed ashore in the aftermath of a tsunami.
Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936, Germany)
I did start this massive two-volume history of the world (published in 1918 & 1922) many years ago back in London, a short loan from the local library but wasn’t able to finish it in time. Maybe this is one for retirement; a comfy chair, some tea and no screaming students. Sounds like Paradise.
Ronald Sukenick (1932 – 2004, USA)
An author of whom I’ve only recently become aware, Sukenick began writing in the late 1960s, mixing cultural theory, fiction and metafiction. One review states that his writing was Post-Modernist before the term had been invented. ‘Up’, published in 1968 challenges or even rejects conventional fiction writing. If you like Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller & Vladimir Nabokov, this could be for you.
5th May 2021
Coffee shops, as I drill into my students, are ubiquitous in Sai Gon, so cafes need something special to make them stand out, to encourage people to go there by choice, not merely out of convenience. One such cafe is:
Cà Phê Cô Ba
4-6 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000
The cafe exudes an old-world charm, a romanticised exotic and mysterious Sai Gon. Dark-wood furniture, a twirling staircase, the aroma of fresh coffee; it requires but little imagination to picture the spirits of beautiful Vietnamese ladies in áo dài, amidst the heady scent of perfume and opium.
Enhancing the ambience, the main room has antique sewing machines along one wall, while the wooden shutters display the boy reporter Tintin on his (unofficial) visit to Viet Nam.
Furthermore, there is a back story. The cafe is named after Trần Ngọc Trà, born around 1906, and named ‘The First Beauty of Sai Gon.’
I’ve had to rely on some online translations, but it appears Ms Ba Trà was a great beauty who intoxicated powerful and wealthy men with her charm. Unfortunately, as her looks faded, she became addicted to gambling and ended her days in poverty.
You can read more (in English) here: https://vtc.vn/nguoi-dep-sai-gon-dung-bua-ngai-lam-tieu-doi-10-ty-phu-ar140046.html
The coffee is pretty average but the price is reasonable considering the central location. Incongruously, the cafe is situated inside a modern office block and is reached by lift. The sounds of modern Ho Chi Minh City, of people shouting into mobile phones, and advertising covering every space bring one back to the modern world.
Serendipity – I had to go into my bank, which had moved to a new location, and afterwards, driving around a famous ex-pat area of District 2, I discovered this:
I haven’t had a bagel since my last visit to London, way back in 2020, and that was factory produced, purchased from a supermarket, in a pack of six. There was nothing for it – I simply had to go in, get my coffee ‘n’ bagel fix.
I opted for the classic smoked salmon & cream cheese, along with ice coffee.
Motorbikes, coffee and bagels … a sign of changing Sai Gon.
Bagel with ‘everything’ (poppy seed, sesame, cheese). My bagel cost about £3, the BLT £2, coffee just over £1.
The verdict ? Well, delicious, of course, nostalgic, you betcha, but a bagel … ? No, not what we have back in east London (where there are still two all-night bagel bakeries). It was more like crusty bread, bagel-shaped, as opposed to the chewy, doughy texture I am used to (goes without saying that bacon and ham are not on the menu in Kosher delis).
However, I was delighted to find this store and though it’s a little far away, I’ll be happy to return.
Meanwhile, I noticed a New York Bagel store in District 1 … I shall try that in due course.
11th February 2021
Quán Lúa: Address: 537/3 Đường Nguyễn Duy Trinh, Phường Bình Trưng Tây, Quận 2, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
I visited this restaurant back in December just before Christmas and, along with my trusty sidekick, sampled some of the fish dishes:
Prawns with onions and peanuts; the best dish.
Canh Chua Cá (Sour Fish Soup). I’m not such a fan of this Viet dish. It was average, nothing special.
Baked fish with sticky rice.
Gettin’ ready to tuck in …
The service was very friendly and, as you see, they didn’t object to my sidekick in the outside area. Cost was reasonable while I would rank the food thus: the prawns were delicious, the baked fish satisfactory and the rice well-flavoured. The soup looks colourful, it’s just not my cup of tea. To be fair, as I went early some of my first choices were not available. I really went as a break from home-cooking, and to support a local restaurant. I’ll leave the last word to my trusty sidekick:
9th December 2020
26th October 2020
A collection of clips predominantly featuring western people and their views on Vietnam. I have also added some suggested sequences for pronunciation practice … and so, without further ado …
First time in Viet Nam – First impressions of Viet Nam
A vlog by Divert Living, posted just over two years ago and which has already received more than a million hits:
[American English accent]
Try 04:44 – 04:53
” … and I asked them, ‘How much is aqua (water) ?’ Aqua’s fifteen thousand, beer’s twenty thousand … of course I’m gonna get the beer, now … it’s just as expensive as the water.”
09:00 – 0913
“Fun fact, Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world … and, to go with the food, the size of the dining tables and chairs are super small.”
This vlog was shot in Ha Noi, so let’s get their take (their opinion, view, experience) on Sai Gon:
What to expect – Saigon or HCMC
Now they travel to my neck of the woods (the area I live in or was brought up in), and they encounter, among many other delights, coconut coffee:
09:50 – 10.00
“Wow … that’s so strong, but it’s got a ball of coconut ice-cream in the middle … whoah !”
And the young lady who I believe is Korean adds:
“I wanna try … This is the coffee king … ahhhhhhhh !”
The young travellers give their views on the environment and cleanliness of District 1 which is the city centre [UK] or downtown area [USA].
To what extent do you agree with them ?
What do Vietnamese students think of the Vlogger’s appraisal of Sai Gon ?
Let’s move on and talk about traffic which is quite a serious issue in Vietnam. Firstly, attending driving school … what can go wrong ? A clip from the world-famous motoring show from the BBC, ‘Top Gear.’
[UK English accent]
Right from the get go (from the very start) we have some great lines:
“Cheer up … this is gonna be a doodle … [Vietnamese] … it wasn’t !”
01.23 – 01:45
“How the hell … what did you just do ?”
“It was eighteen. Eighteen years old.”
“How did you know ?”
“Did you not bother learning Vietnamese before we came here ?”
“You’re screwed, then.”
Time for some food and the ubiqitous Phở My favourite TV chef, Mr Keith Floyd, who sadly passed away in 2009. He came to Asia, and visited Vietnam and now he’s going to tell you about Phở:
[UK English accent]
02:32 – 02:38 and continuing up to 03:05
“Vietnamese are industrious, hard-working, incredibly energetic people …”
“So, the most essential thing here in Vietnam is a great breakfast, a thing called a pho.”
What goes in a pho, Keith ?
“You might put chicken, you might put meat, you might put fish but as long as you’ve got noodles and a rich stock, you can’t go wrong.”
How English people dress …
How English people really dress. Thanks for visiting my blog. All the best.
23rd October 2020
A compilation of videos about Viet Nam for use in class. Some clips are made by westerners, other by Vietnamese speaking English. The clips can be used for listening practice, learning vocabulary, pronunciation, or just to learn more about the country.
Vietnamese beer review
Lights, camera, action !
Vietnamese beer review (Sai Gon Red): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKr6Cj-Xr9g&list=LLfquznE0joCgmA3v1PIQ0CQ&index=8&t=1s
This is an English man, a beer-lover, who uses lots of everyday language, slang and metaphors. Listen out for:
Let’s dive in / coming in at … / head (the white foam on top of beer) / oh, blimey, that’s awful ! /
Vietnamese culture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBAi_b__l_c
To what extent do you agree with her comments ?
I agree totally // I agree to an extent // I’m not sure I totally agree // That has not been my experience // She is spot on ! // She is over-simplifying // There’s an element of truth in what she says // She’s talking nonsense !
The speaker has a long introduction so you can listen to her American accent and try to imitate her, as well as learning new expressions.
Which superstitions have you heard of ? Do you believe in them ? Have you experienced any ?
What does she say about three people in a picture ?
About sleeping with your feet facing a mirror
About saying someone’s full name at night (04:15)
Wearing what colour brings good luck ? (06:00) How about, “Wearing white in your head ?” (07:24)
How about if you run over a cat ? (08:20)
9th October 2020
John Lennon, founder of The Beatles, was born on this day, October 9th 1940.
Happy Birthday, John.
We miss you and love you, always.
One of his most famous songs, ‘Imagine’ : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkgkThdzX-8