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  • 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

  • The “who can tell you to do what” of living in HCMC.

    Many expats are used to having just one police force that takes care of various aspects of public security, from enforcing traffic rules to dealing with crisis situations. In Vietnam, however, there are three main forces and one auxiliary one, each having its own set of responsibilities and scope of authority over the country’s citizens. The multitude of uniforms might seem confusing at first, but in reality it’s fairly easy to tell them apart from each other. The real trick is knowing who can tell you what to do in this city. The traffic police ( Cảnh Sát Giao Thông ) are perhaps the most visible in Vietnam. Easily recognisable by their tan uniforms and helmets that read “CSGT”, the force falls under the jurisdiction of both the People’s Public Security Force and the Ministry of Transport. As the name suggests, this type of police deals entirely with traffic safety, which includes such aspects as enforcement, traffic research, setting rules and regulations, and facilitating traffic flow. Out of all the police forces, the CSGT is the only one with the authority to pull over and fine traffic offenders for their infractions.       Uniform: Tan shirt and trousers, black shoes, tan CSGT cap or helmet. Authority: only officers with a blue ID card clearly displayed on their chest have the authority to pull over traffic rule violators. The card includes information such as name, rank, department, and police identification number. Those attempting to pull over vehicles without a clearly displayed ID card risk facing disciplinary action. This measure is meant to prevent the abuse of power by ensuring that citizens know the identity of the officer in case they feel mistreated and want to file a report to a higher authority.       CSGT officer with a blue

  • Still not mainstream.

    As the city’s denizens enjoy ever-increasing levels of disposable income, many of them have started seeking out professional spa services to relax after tiring hours at work. The majority of the customers belong to the fairer sex, but it’s not uncommon now for men to take a spa day. Bucking traditions in style (source: Miumiu Spa) Until very recently there was no such thing as a men’s spa in HCMC. The main reason was cultural – in Vietnam, visiting a spa is largely seen as a very feminine thing to do. While for women, getting beauty treatments such as skin whitening and waxing may be seen to be perfectly natural; for men, going to get a massage and facial is just not something that screams masculinity here. Also, there is another aspect: traditionally, Vietnamese men tend to be embarrassed of being semi-nude in front of others. For these reasons, in the past, the only males that would tend to go to a spa used to be performing artists and models, for whom taking care of their appearance was just part of the job description. The Saigonese, however, don’t always hold on to traditions for too long – and an increasing number of men are now seeking out spa services, thus making it an increasingly socially-accepted practice. Spas in Vietnam tend to be modest in terms of space, and are generally located in small streets and alleys away from the traffic and noise of main throughways. The masseuses are mostly women, ostensibly because they are thought to provide a softer, tenderer massage than men. Some establishments, especially larger ones, employ men as well, although their area of expertise is usually specialised massage such as the Thai Nuat or Japanese Shiatsu , both of which traditionally require more physical strength than run-of-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

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