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  • Art on the surface of the water.

    Modern art forms sometimes spring from humble origins. This is the case with the unique Vietnamese performance art known to the world as water puppetry . Called múa rối nước in Vietnamese, the tradition emerged from the Red River Delta area in the northern stretches of Vietnam. The puppets are made of wood or bamboo and lacquered in vivid colour. They are handmade, and sometimes weigh up to 15 kg each. Water puppetry is said to have been invented by farmers back in the Ly dynasty (1010-1225). They are likely to have been responsible for the development of this form, probably in the attempt to tell stories about their traditions, customs, and daily lives to their children, and to express their dreams in life through stories. They took advantage of what they had around them, including bamboo to make puppets. It’s likely that the water element was used by force of necessity – working all day in the flooded rice paddies, the surface of the water was the only available stage. The use of a water stage did grant some advantages to the art form. The water helped people to control the puppets skilfully and also concealed the long sticks connecting the puppeteers with their puppets. This is the reason why the water used on modern puppet stages is always murky. Indoor water puppet performance The precise origins of water puppetry are a mystery to even the most dedicated of Vietnamese researchers, although it’s generally accepted that the style spread throughout the country after establishing itself in northern areas. Gradually, it became a traditional Vietnamese art and was brought to the stage. During the war era, water puppetry, along with many other art forms, helped the Vietnamese to express their determination, patriotism, and dreams of a peaceful future for the

  • Vietnam’s natural heat is not limited to its brazen sun.

    Thermal pools and springs have been associated with good health and wellbeing for centuries. Their occurrence in Vietnam, however, is relatively rare, and there’s no wide-ranging cultural sanitarium spa tradition as there is in other East Asian countries such as Japan or Korea. Those hot springs that do exist here are nowhere near as fully-developed as they would be in either of those countries, but they are still well-enough established to make for relaxing basic health resorts at hot pools. Vietnam has a total of eight natural hot springs available to guests, which are best-known for their natural scenery and hot mineral water. The list that follows is arranged based on their distance from HCMC, from closest to farthest away. Binh Chau Hot Springs Binh Chau (Quoc Lo 55, Binh Chau, Xuyen Moc, Ba Ria Province, 70 km from Vung Tau Beach) This magical hot spring is located 150 km from Ho Chi Minh City to the northeast. Binh Chau not only has a fine spring, but also thermal ponds with water temperatures ranging from 40-82°C, pouring out from over 70 sources day and night. It’s considered the most special of all of Vietnam’s hot springs. Within this area, there’s a place where many wells are located, often used by tourists to boil eggs in natural hot mineral water for fun. Locals associate Binh Chau Hot Springs with a folk legend. There was once a happy young couple living in the area. One day, while the husband was going hunting, he heard an unusual sound coming from a strange bird, and followed the sound to reach a wonderful place, never coming back to his ordinary life. The wife was so distressed at the non-reappearance of her husband after several days that she poured out all the boiling water she had

  • Rolling like royalty.

    Exotic imports and limousines are still a relatively rare sight in HCMC, usually reserved for visiting politicians or celebrities. Short of hiring a helicopter to drop the VIP off at the Bitexco tower, hiring one of these opulent cars for a distinguished guest shows the highest form of respect while communicating the host’s affluence. While this type of service is still relatively new to Saigon, there are a few companies that can cater to the needs of those looking to roll in luxury. Usually used as a wedding prop Navigating the narrow streets of Saigon in a stretcher is a big challenge, and inching along in a supercar isn’t much of a thrill either - which might explain why this type of service has been slow to gain popularity among the city’s wealthy residents. Another limiting factor might be the astronomical customs rate levied on importing such lavish displays of wealth. For now, limousines are mostly rented for the wedding ceremonies of affluent couples, while supercars are sometimes used for brand promotion. A rare sight in HCMC In the west, limousine and supercar rentals are often run by two different sorts of businesses. However, due to the limited market and appeal of such services in HCMC, many companies offer both limousine services and exotic cars. Below, you’ll find a list of businesses as well as the vehicles they offer and corresponding rates – which include driver wage, fuel costs, and other commuting fees. The deposit is usually 30%       Saigon Limo (2, Pham Van Hai, Ward 2, Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38447989) is the only company that specialises solely in limousine services. They rent limousines out by the day or hour, inside or outside of the city. Rates : VND3-4M/hour or VND14.5-19M/8

  • When your life breaks.

    For many expats, the smartphone is a life line, allowing us to talk face to face with loved ones back home, find our way around the city with the help of GPS, or even help us to communicate with the Vietnamese using an online translation service. Unfortunately, as the functionality of modern smartphones continues to grow, they seem to become more fragile with each successive generation. Dropping your phone or getting it wet in a downpour are common occurrences that can render it utterly useless. Fear not – there are plenty of repair centres in HCMC to have your expensive gadget up and running in no time. There’s no app for this The good thing about getting your smartphone fixed here is that labour costs are much cheaper than in the West, so you’ll be saving a lot of money by opting to repair rather than replace. There are two main options when it comes to phone repairs: authorised service centres and regular repair centres. The former are either run by the manufacturer or are officially authorised to perform repairs (this is the case with Apple products in Vietnam). In the case of regular repair centres, they are usually cell-phone and electronics retailers that provide repair services. Reputable chains are highly dependable, while small neighbourhood stores are best avoided. If the phone is still under warranty, head to an authorised service centre to see whether it qualifies for free repair or replacement. Failing that, the technician should provide you with a quote and timeframe for the repairs. At this point, you can either leave it at the service centre or shop for a better deal at one of the city’s many unauthorised repair centres. Whichever option you choose, make sure to keep the receipt: if the same problem resurfaces within

  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”

    One of the more unusual professions that recently landed on the Saigon scene is that of book reading and storytelling. Originally a service for the elderly, young children, and those with disabilities unable to read books for themselves, book reading services emerged in Hanoi in recent years in response to a demand amongst senior citizens who were sick, had blurred vision, or who found their children too busy to read books to them. Early childhood clients were rare at first, their parents hiring the storytellers as basic caregivers to read books and comics to their children and also help out with homework. Doing some light reading before bedtime Book readers are mostly students, teachers, and librarians who have an interest in books and in reading them to others. Some run the business themselves and rely on their personal networks to make money, while others form a group and help each other to do the work. Professional readers often do the job in their spare time, in summer, and on holidays. Some groups are originally self-employed and professionalise themselves as storytellers when they have more clients. They will hire students to work for them and create a small company specialising in book-reading services. Elderly storytelling clients often prefer classical books and foreign literature translated into Vietnamese. In general, they like to hear stories about history, culture, and families. Storytellers work in the early morning reading daily newspapers or in the evening reading other kinds of books. Not all of the elderly clients are – for whatever reason – unable to read books. Many do have the ability to read, but enjoy having someone read to them and to discuss the content and the stories with them. Some like to listen to books in foreign languages but cannot read them on their

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