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  • How else are your kids going to learn their Do-Re-Mi in Vietnam?

    One obvious way in which life is different for expat families here is the rather common reliance on nannies. It hasn’t been that way in the West for some time, where having a maid or nanny is strongly associated with a highly affluent lifestyle unavailable to most. One of the advantages of living in a country where the average prices and wages are (for now, at least) lower than they are overseas is that luxuries such as private childcare become affordable, and with the stress of living in an alien land already enough of a pressure on beleaguered parents, having a nanny can turn out to be essential. The problem is that nannies are not a readily available resource in this city, and there’s a good reason why. While in the past nannies were considered more or less a part of the family and lived at their employer’s home, they’ve never been considered as (nor required to be) professionals. There’s no nannying science in the Vietnamese tradition, and the job has always carried something of a stigma to it, an association with lower-class, unskilled labour. While these social attitudes are far more prevalent in the north, even here becoming a nanny is not something an educated young woman would aspire to be – and as a consequence, there are scant pickings for those looking for someone to mind their child who actually knows what she’s doing. A decade ago, the only way you could get a nanny was by personal recommendation. Even then, expats had constant concerns about the staff they were letting into their homes, and it wasn’t entirely uncommon for foreigners to be stung by the experience. Some found their highly-recommended nannies to be irresponsible, reckless, heavy-handed, unprofessional, or even thieves; others were good-natured enough but acted according

  • So you want to rock?

    Expat musicians might find Ho Chi Minh City to be a kind of bizarro music scene. On the one hand, there are plenty of venues catering to fellow expats that welcome garage bands and professional musicians alike, so there is no shortage of gigs to be played. On the other hand, few of us have the necessary space to set up our instruments and rehearse without being bombarded with ice. Luckily, there are quite a few practice rooms in HCMC where you can hone your skills in the safety of a soundproofed room. Ready to rock? Music practice rooms appeared out of necessity. Given this city’s population density and the relative lack of soundproofing measures, it’s virtually impossible to practice playing music without your neighbours screaming murder. However, practice rooms are used not only for the sake of the neighbours’ sanity (and the aspiring artist’s safety), but also because they offer some additional services. Most importantly, music rooms in Vietnam will rent out instruments, many of which are beyond the financial reach of amateur musicians. Also, they are a central venue for organising music shows, events, and lessons. In a way, a good practice room is a hub for amateur artists trying to make it in the music business. So what should you look for when choosing a music practice room? Good soundproofing and an adequate area are both a must. The former is rarely a problem since the costs of building a soundproof room are relatively low. Also necessary is a wide selection of instruments and a good sound system; make sure that all the equipment you need is well-maintained. Few people think about this, but ventilation is another important factor: after all, nobody wants to spend hours practicing in a hot, stuffy room. Lastly, check for fire safety

  • 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 ( ). 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

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