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  • Making art, one grain at a time.

    Pass by Miss Lan’s shop and take a glance at the displays – at first you might think they’re all somewhat grainy photographs. Look closer, however, since each and every piece is a unique sand painting enclosed between two panes of glass. This relatively new art form is unique to Vietnam, and there’s no better place than HCMC to appreciate it. Artist Y Lan is widely credited with inventing Vietnamese sand painting. It all started in 2001, when she went to her husband’s hometown of Phan Thiet. On the way there, she was mesmerised by the colours of the sand dunes and decided to bring some of the sand back home to fill a flower vase. When she did, the different colours created a striking pattern, giving Y Lan the idea of trying to create a picture by carefully layering the sand. The colours of Phan Thiet What started as a simple home décor item soon became a means of artistic expression, and Ms. Lan soon went back to Phan Thiet to look for different coloured sands. After perfecting her art over the years, she created a company with her husband in 2005 and established numerous showrooms in the country since then. To date, she is the most accomplished sand painter in the country and her most acclaimed work is a large portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Making a sand painting is a combination of simple tools and painstaking technique. There are just four things in a sand painter’s inventory: coloured sand, a transparent container for the painting, a small scoop, and a sharp stick used to pack the sand down. Simple tools to create a startling effect The majority of the sands used are naturally occurring – Vietnam’s geography allows for a dizzying number of colours, and artist Y

  • Wax on, wax off in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Karate was first popularised in Vietnam during the 1950s, at which time there were two Karate masters teaching in the country. The first of these was Master Ho Cam Ngac , who taught Karate to many Vietnamese people in Saigon from 1950 onwards, and the second was Master Suzuki Choji who started his Karate teaching career in Hue in 1954. Ho Cam Ngac instructing a student The Saigon-based Master Ho Cam Ngac eventually trained a number of excellent students, including Thinh Duc Phu, Le Huu Phuoc, Luu Ke Vien, Au Vinh Hien, Bui Van Loc, Nguyen Lam, Dao Thu Thuy, and his own son, Ho Hoang Khanh. The group opened several dojos in Saigon by that time, and founded the Son Dien Association for Saigonese Karate practitioners. In 1970, Master Bell, a Shorin-ryu champion from Australia, arrived in Vietnam to teach Karate and spread Shorin-ryu techniques. Ho Cam Ngac’s student Thinh Duc Phu studied under Master Bell and is now considered the pioneer of the first generation of Vietnam’s Shorin-ryu tradition. After 1975, Karate became increasingly well-organised and was chosen as the chief martial art for international development in the city. Then in the 1980s, Vietnam’s Karate Federation was established, which continues to develop considerably well. In Vietnam, Karate is a subject taught in schools specialising in physical training, and is a major course subject in sports universities and colleges. This kind of martial art is also a popular form of exercise in many sports centres throughout the city. An ideal Karate club for expats in HCMC is Saigon Karate ( saigonkarate@gmail.com ). All teachers at the club are foreigners – including Raphael-Nidan Ohshima, Michael-Nidan Ohshima, and Serge-Shodan Ohshima. They hold classes from 8.30pm to 10pm on Tuesday and Thursday at Dancenter (53, Nguyen Dang Giai, Thao Dien, District 2,

  • Ever felt inspired at two a.m.?

    Creating a unique work of pottery all on your own is great fun and highly satisfying. Although it requires the mastery of some fairly difficult techniques and a lot of patience to get any good at it, there are still no few people interested in trying it on for size. It’s quite a source of pride to take a piece of your own work into your hands after it’s been fired at 1200oC and start to decorate it as you like. If that sounds like your kind of thing, there are a number of classes here open to the participation of foreigners to help you improve your craft. In pottery classes for beginners, you’ll start with the basics – such as how to use the pottery wheel to transform a ball of clay into the desired shape; how to choose the right clay for each kind of pottery; how to apply enamel properly onto the finished work; and so on. It may take a while – doing it regularly for about three months, learning all you can before you’re truly used to the wheel and the basic techniques involved to make a good piece of pottery. Ceramics produced by local enthusiasts Once you’re skilled in the basics, you’ll find it simple to turn balls of clay into useful and artistic objects, and you’ll feel better equipped to create your own works. One thing about pottery classes is that teachers are always willing and patient to help you acquire all the necessary skills, and willing to answer all of your questions about the techniques and the art itself. Rolling into a pottery class is highly likely to be a great experience for folks of all ages. There are a handful of pottery classes in HCMC, most of which are casual courses

  • Buy the ticket, take the ride.

    Travelling by train has a certain charm attached to it in the West, something reminiscent of a bygone era when life was a little slower. For the Vietnamese, however, it is the preferred way of getting around the country for a few purely practical reasons. Cheaper than flying on the one hand, but usually faster and safer than taking the bus, trains never lack for passengers in this country. Despite the many advantages of train travel, many expats still find it hard to find information on where to buy tickets. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it seems. All of the trains in Vietnam are operated by the state-owned DSVN ( Đường Sắt Việt Nam ). Tickets are generally released 60 days before the departure date, although some might be available as early as 90 days beforehand. Even though the booking system has been fully computerised for a long time, it’s still not possible for non-Vietnamese to book tickets online, as the DSVN online reservation system requires that passengers register with one of the following methods of identification – a Vietnamese passport with 10 digits; a Vietnamese citizen ID number (CMND); or a Vietnamese birth certificate number (MSKS). Get your ticket straight from the station In general, you should always get your train tickets at least one day before departure to ensure that you get the departure time and seat class that you want. However, if you plan to travel before any major public holiday, you should try to get your tickets sorted two weeks before you’re scheduled to leave, as trains tend to get booked solid. Those who plan to travel before the Lunar New Year should arrange to have the tickets in hand as early as possible, as the whole city will be vying for a way to

  • Sparkling clean without industrial chemicals.

    Laundry detergent is one of those things that few people really pay attention to. However, a baby’s skin is very sensitive compared to an adult’s, and some regular detergents might be too strong and lead to rashes. If you’ve noticed a redness developing on your little one’s skin, it might be time to switch to a baby-specific product. As good as new! Laundry detergents for babies are formulated to avoid skin irritation and allergic reactions by replacing harsh cleaning agents (such as phosphates, optical cleaners, and bleaches) with more delicate ones. Also, they’re designed to be especially effective in removing common stains specific to babies, especially spilled baby formula and the results of small bathroom accidents. Most feature a delicate scent to keep clothes smelling fresh, but there are also detergents that are scent-free to avoid any skin reactions. At the moment, all of the baby-specific laundry detergents in Vietnam are imported from neighbouring countries, such as Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. There are no regulations in place as to the standards that these products have to meet, so sticking to reliable brands is very important. Some of the better brands are presented in the table below, along with a short description of their products:   Name & Origin Features Avg. Price (VND) Arau (Japan) Natural soap and scent derived from herbal and fruit extracts Mildly alkaline pH Special formula leaves fabric soft 230,000 (800 ml) D-Nee (Thailand) Certified hypoallergenic (France) Neutral pH and colour free powder, sterilized Softens clothes 110,000 (1000 ml) Farlin (Taiwan) Natural plant formula Non-phosphorous, non-fluorescent Lightly scented 145,000 (1000 ml) Kodomo (Japan) pH-balanced Tested to meet International Dermatological Standards Formulated to remove milk, food, urine, and faecal stains 275,000 (3000 ml) Pigeon (Japan) No artificial colours Non-phosphorous, non-fluorescent Natural plant extract formula 130,000 (800 ml)

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