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  • The Booklover’s Guide to Saigon.

    It’s always been the bane of the expat – finding books in your own language while you’re living in a foreign land where it’s not widely spoken. Foreigners throughout Asia complain about this subject, and the pain is especially acute for those who are ardent book lovers. Fortunately, there are a number of options available for those who want to get their hands on a good read. Never a better time for a good book While English-language books aren’t that easy to find in HCMC, there are several mainstream bookshops that carry limited selections of English titles. Fahasa is the biggest name in the English language book market, with the widest selection of foreign books and publications. Genres typically carried are works of literature, novels (with a heavy emphasis on bestsellers, romance, chick-lit, fantasy, and science fiction), business and economics, children’s books, and dictionaries. Prices don’t tend to vary much from those overseas, although it’s rare for these mainstream bookshops to have discount bins as their Western counterparts usually do. Fahasa is the largest and most popular bookstore brand name in Vietnam. It currently has 14 branches in HCMC and many other branches in other cities. The branches with the largest selection are on Nguyen Hue (40, Nguyen Hue, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38225796) and Hai Ba Trung (387-389, Hai Ba Trung, Ward 8, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38208533). Other branches known to have at least some English-language titles are as follows:       475, Bach Dang, Ward 14, Binh Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 35100660 364, Truong Chinh, Ward 13, Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38122847 202B, Hoang Van Thu, Ward 9, Phu Nhuan, Ho

  • The smell of freshly-baked bread… at home!

    Sweetened white bread, taro-filled pastries, and croissants that have never seen a smidgen of butter… For many an expat, walking through the door of a local bakery for the first time is akin to entering a parallel universe where the art of baking has gone terribly wrong. While there are some quality Western bakeries in the city, why not take matters into your own hands? Here’s your guide to finding everything you need to make your favourite baked treats at home. So we’re not doing any actual crusts here? Vietnam doesn’t have a long tradition of baking, and ovens ( lò nướng ) are still something of a rarity in local households. Fortunately, they are readily available at electronics and home appliance stores throughout the city. The cheapest compact oven can be bought for as little as VND1m, but expect to pay up to VND4m for a larger, quality oven. Popular brands include Electrolux, Philips, Sanyo, Sanaky, and Sharp. A stovetop oven is perfectly suitable for casual baking, but full-sized ones are also available at around VND16. You can browse through the offerings of the following stores online:       Nguyen Kim 63-65-67, Tran Hung Dao, Cau Ong Lanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38211211 1/1, Truong Chinh, Tay Thanh, Tan Phu, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 62548548 5-7-9-11, Nguyen Huu Than, Ward 2, District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 62546546 3, Nguyen Oanh, Ward 10, Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 62554888 79B, Ly Thuong Kiet, Ward 8, Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38669999 Dien May Cho Lon 126, Hung Vuong, Ward 12, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 101, Ton Dat Tien, Tan Phu, District

  • Are you ready to step up and take on Ho Chi Minh City’s greatest challenge?

    There are a number of conditions that need to be met if you’re going to have any hope of speaking in Vietnamese, but the most important one is something that only you can bring about – the firm decision to learn it. Sure you need enough time to practice, you need to find someone to teach you, and you need to summon up some degree of enthusiasm that’ll keep you going during the tough patches – but until you actually fix the decision in your mind that this entirely obtainable goal is something that you’re going to achieve in your lifetime, no effort you make towards it is likely to lead anywhere. Expats worldwide make the same complaints about the native language of the country they live in, claiming that the pronunciation is unclear, the vocabulary too unpredictable, the grammar just plain too hard. Those who don’t make these complaints quietly get on with paying attention to what local people are saying, and they’re the ones who end up fluent a couple of years down the track while others are still whining about it being impossible. If you want to be one of the superstar expats of Saigon who actually speaks Vietnamese, it starts with making that decision – and one of the easiest ways to remind and convince yourself that you’re going to succeed is to enrol in a language class. The classroom might not be the best environment for language acquisition (although it is for some), but at the very least it will serve to force you to devote some time to making your choice a reality. Brush up on your tiếng Việt If you’re serious about your decision to study, a university is about the optimal academic environment you can hope for. While there are a number

  • Safely illustrated in the city of Saigon.

    Whether or not you’re partial to becoming an illustrated man or a tattooed lady, there’s always some degree of mystique in the act of permanently marking the body. For many expats, the emotional and psychological transformation that accompanies leaving one’s home and putting down roots in an exotic country like Vietnam is most appropriately acknowledged with a thing of beauty that will forever change your body into an work of art. Without meaning to sound like an overly distraught parent, however, it’s worth pointing out – do some very careful thinking before you stick something in your body here, be it ink or otherwise. Seems legit Horror stories of shady Vietnamese tattoo parlours abound, especially concerning those around the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area where many expats on a tight budget just do not have the moola to walk into safe, higher calibre, and consequently pricier tattoo parlours. The most typical among these scare-em-straight tales involve cancer-causing toxic ink and reused needles contaminated with every strain of local transmissible disease available, HIV included. The most pressing question for expats, then, is just how much truth there is to these tales? Sadly, the simple answer is that they’re very true – if said expats are not picky about who they trust with a needle. Despite the fact that tattooing is a flourishing business in large cities like HCMC, Hanoi, and Danang, there is still no legal regulation governing this industry. Ideally, to open up a tattoo parlour, the owner/tattoo artist has to register the business with the local authority under the ‘body art - tattooing’ category and be subjected to regular inspections by the government’s medical department checking the appropriate hygiene standard. In reality, due partially to overly lengthy bureaucratic procedures, this doesn’t always happen. Since tattooing deals with a lot

  • 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

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