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  • Local kung-fu traditions are strongly attached to the Vietnamese outdoors.

    Vietnam has a rich and diversified martial arts history, divided into two main styles – the traditional and the modern. Across centuries of practice and development, many branches of Vietnamese martial arts were born here – strongly influenced by Chinese culture, they tend to bear some resemblance to Chinese martial arts, although they have still evolved their own characteristics, based on the local culture and environment. Said a foreigner who once joined a Vietnamese dojo, “When you walk into a new martial arts school in Asia, there’s always the thing about showing respect. They’re sizing you up, so you don’t want to look weak. But you don’t want to look challenging either. If they think you’ve only come to fight, they may not want to train you, or they may hurt you. Or if they think you’re showing disrespect, they won’t deal with you at all.” Vovinam has gained a worldwide following Vietnamese traditional martial arts comprise those varieties with the longest history in this country. They were originally created for the purposes of self-defence and to resist invaders. Characteristically defensive in nature, traditional Vietnamese martial arts focus on overcoming one’s barbaric tendencies as well as self-preservation in difficult conditions. They are flexible disciplines ideally practiced outdoors in the presence of nature. Practitioners wear black uniforms, and there are five main groups: Bac Ha (Northern); Binh Dinh (Central); Nam Ky (Southern); Chinese-origin groups; and Oversea Vietnamese (mostly created in France, Europe, USA, and Canada). Nowadays, the most popular type of traditional martial art practiced in HCMC is covered by the generic Vietnamese term Võ Cổ Truyền , which simply means “traditional martial arts”. This is a combination and mixture of all groups’ styles, focusing on preserving national traditions. Vietnamese dojos, especially the ones for traditional martial arts, usually practice outside,

  • The unpretentious costume of the south.

    While the colourful áo tứ thân and multi-layered áo ngũ thân are the signature dresses associated with high culture in northern Vietnam, the unpretentious áo bà ba is a symbol of normal people living simple lives in rural areas. In fact, this outfit is closely associated with the southern provinces of Vietnam: the clean, functional cut being representative of good-natured folk that are down to earth and have little time (or use) for ceremony. Beauty in simplicity Traditionally, the outfit includes a loose-fitting shirt and black pants; unlike áo tứ thân , it can be worn by both men and women. The collarless, long-sleeved shirt consists of two parts: the back is a single piece of fabric, while the front is made from two equal parts that are connected by a line of buttons and may have two square pockets at the bottom. Additionally, there is a cut along both sides going up to the waist to make the shirt more comfortable. While there is no set length of the shirt, it’s usually long enough to cover the hips. The loose pants are ankle-length, and come in every colour, as long as it’s black. There are no records as to when and how the áo bà ba became the most popular outfit among the Southerners; however, there are some theories about its origin. While some experts say it first appeared here in the period following the Le Dynasty, others believe that the outfit was a consequence of trading with the Baba people of Penang Island in Malaysia. The latter theory maintains that the exchange of goods between the two regions that took place in the 19th century saw the costume of the Baba people brought to the southern provinces and consequently changed to suit the tastes of Vietnamese people. In

  • Play as you will.

    Kids – bless them – tire of their toys at a frightening rate, usually in direct relation to the desirability and fabulous cost of the item at hand. The more expensive the toy is and the more tantrums were thrown in attempting to coerce the parent into purchasing it, the more likely it is that it will be inexplicably cast aside and forgotten about just minutes into play, leaving parents both at a loss and out of pocket. In response to this common predicament, many toy stores – both in Hanoi and here in Ho Chi Minh City – have begun to offer a rental service by which parents can hire any of the toys in stores at a negotiated price. With the same amount of money, parents can rent a number of toys for their children, and those toys will not be wasted when the inevitable lack of interest occurs – also saving the storage space that would otherwise be used as a cemetery for toys once loved. It all started when a number of families here with many abandoned toys had the bright idea of renting them out to others – at first acquaintances and colleagues, and then online. Gradually, many toy shops and stores experimented with offering this service, and then recognised that it could bring them more profits than regular sales. Since this service appeared, many local parents have chosen it in preference to buying new toys. According to the toy rental shops, items for newborns such as baby carriages and go-carts are frequently “rented out” since these are expensive items usually needed for just a few months only. A simple example is an electric car that costs around VND3,000,000 to buy, which parents can rent for only VND200,000/month and then switch for a different item

  • One local’s fifteen minutes of fame just keeps on going

    International acclaim can be an unusual beast – as with the case of the renowned Lunch Lady at 23, Hoang Sa, Da Kao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For many travellers visiting Saigon, besides seeing the famous sights, the Lunch Lady remains a firm fixture on their itinerary – while at the same time, her stall is more or less entirely unremarkable amongst locals. Her Vietnamese visitors are usually only restricted to those passers-by from the immediate vicinity, and those who only know of her through the introduction of their foreign friends. Nguyen Thi Thanh Since her fortuitous appearance on the cooking/travel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations several years ago, Madame Nguyen Thi Thanh 's stall has become crowded by foreigners on the hunt for her highly-recommended street cuisine. Rented scooters driven by curious foreign faces pull up every few minutes, delighted to have followed the celebrity treasure hunt all the way to Ho Chi Minh City. Despite the devoted attention of the guidebook/youtube fanboys, street food in Saigon is, of course, nothing unusual – and it should be pointed out that there are thousands of lunch ladies in this city. Only Madam Thanh, however, is well-known abroad for her soups. Even though her stall is small and located along a meandering alley, people still seek her out her out to enjoy what they zealously believe to be some of the most delicious street food in Vietnam. There’s no illusion about the venue, however. The Lunch Lady’s stall is not a luxurious restaurant, nor is it even a small one. It’s just a straightforward street food counter, behind another restaurant and below an apartment building, serving a variety of Vietnamese soups. This is perhaps Madame Thanh’s only genuine claim to uniqueness – while most stalls offer a single

  • Pack the slowest punch in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Given the impact of China’s influence over much of Vietnam’s history, it’s no surprise that a quintessentially Chinese martial art such as Tai Chi has taken firm root on Vietnamese soil. Perhaps best described as the cultivation of internal regulatory discipline through controlled breathing and movement, there is a very healthy and long-standing tradition of Tai Chi Chuan practice ( Thái Cực Quyền in Vietnamese ) in this country. It was in April 1957 that Gu Liuxin, a Chinese Tai Chi Master, arrived in Hanoi to instruct Ho Chi Minh in the technique. Of course, this was hardly the first appearance of the discipline in Vietnam. The main vehicle by with the form entered this country was as a cultural import brought in by generations of Chinese settlers, many of whom established themselves in what is now the Cholon region of Ho Chi Minh City Arguably the gentlest martial art During the process of cultural integration as Chinese immigrants became increasingly entrenched in local society, Tai Chi established itself as a feature of local life in the Chinese areas, which in turn attracted ethnic Vietnamese practitioners. Nowadays, there are multiple Tai Chi clubs throughout the city run by both Chinese and Vietnamese descendants, and without much distinction between the two. Moreover, elderly people can often be seen practicing Tai Chi together at parks or in their homes each morning as an exercise to improve their health. It can be said that the place of Tai Chi in Vietnamese culture has become quite important, especially amongst the elderly. As with other martial arts, when travelling to another area or country, there will always be variations from the original forms after development and practice by locals. Despite the alterations, many core Tai Chi techniques in Vietnam – including postures, styles, and targets

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