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  • Are you certifiably fluent in this language?

    English has its IELTS and TOEFL, Chinese its HSK, French its TCF, and you can even study for the SLE to get along with the locals in Slovenia. Students and enthusiasts of the Vietnamese language are naturally also curious about what national examinations there are available to take true measure of our tieng Viet . Vietnamese language proficiency grades mirror those established for locals studying English - ‘A’ for elementary, ‘B’ for intermediate, and ‘C’ for advanced. Attaining fluency at these levels is regarded as solid evidence for ability in the Vietnamese language. The test assesses five skills, including reading, speaking, listening, writing, and grammar, as well as vocabulary. In Vietnam, the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) oversees and approves all official language courses, while universities manage their language centres themselves more or less independently. They are still required, however, to monitor and control their centres to guarantee the training quality, curriculum, and learning materials in accordance with the Ministry’s regulation #31/2007/QD-BGDDT – and in turn, the universities are granted the right to issue MoET certificates for students who complete courses and pass examinations. For these reasons, tests of Vietnamese proficiency to levels A, B, and C given to foreigners are indirectly awarded by approval of the Ministry of Education and Training itself. However, unlike internationally-valid English certificates, this certificate is only recognised inside Vietnam, and lasts for a duration of only one or two year(s). Expats have the following options in preparing for this exam: If you are self-taught, you can register for the examination at one of the universities listed below. It’s undeniably fabulous to have learnt to speak the native language of this country and to have acquired the ability to communicate at ease with native speakers. Nevertheless, according to many foreign students, Vietnamese is not an easy language to master at all despite its relatively simple grammar and largely familiar writing system, usually owing to the additional complexities of having subtle differences between vowels, tones, diacritic marks, and various irregularities. For this reason, most expats choose to study short communication-based courses (with more interaction) and specialised courses (e.g. in trade, daily life, or business) and concentrate heavily on speaking and listening skills rather than writing.

  • Try not to go too crazy.

    Start reading the names on shirts next time you’re cruising the streets of Saigon, and you’ll notice an inordinate number of Beckhams, Ronaldos, and Lampards. In all honesty, the adoration of international soccer greats in this town occasionally verges on sheer worship. In the absence of local chapters of official fan clubs, diehard fans have started their own – for the England Premier League, La Liga, and the Italian Serie A. The largest of these football clubs create a storm every weekend at coffee shops and cafés, gathering to watch the matches and discuss them during halftime. This is the reason why many venues put up at least a 100-inch TV in their front rooms as a way to draw the attention of the football fans. That’s just for the weekly matches, of course – when it comes to the big games like the Champion League, it’s not uncommon for the fan clubs to rent out a huge room to watch and support their teams from afar. Besides online activities, the most frequent undertaking of the fans is to organise weekly or monthly events to exchange information, make friends, play games, or simply to meet “teammates”. One stroke of luck for the Vietnamese is that in this time zone, there’s no need to quit their jobs or stay home from school to watch important games, as sometimes happens in similar soccer-lunatic nations. All they need to do is to stay up late and zombie through the following day in the aftermath of the beautiful game. It makes it a lot easier, of course, when their teams win, and if there’s a trophy involved you’ll see supporters around here beaming for days afterwards as if they got it themselves. It’s not uncommon to see boys and sometimes girls in the uniforms of famous football clubs driving around the city in packs to celebrate the victory of their favorite teams. The uniforms may well stay on them everywhere they go, to school, the café, the library, the park, and in shopping malls.

  • Cool your jets – you’re not leaving anytime soon.

    Having to wait is arguably the most irritating thing people have to do in their everyday lives. However, being stuck at an airport for hours on end when there’s a sandy, palm-lined beach waiting for you is downright maddening. Having a strategy in place for flight delays may save you a lot of waiting and frustration down the tarmac. On paper, the situation doesn’t seem bad at all. According to the figures published by the Vietnamese Department of Aviation, the first five months of 2013 saw the following percentage of flights on time: VASCO 96%, VietJet Air 94%, Vietnam Airlines 91%, Mekong Air 84%, and Jetstar Pacific 58%. Mekong Air does not currently operate any flights, so with the exception of Jetstar Pacific, other national carriers delayed less than one in ten flights, statistically speaking. The vice president of VietJet Air commented on the matter by saying that these numbers fall in line with statistics from other countries. So why is it that the flight delays here seem so egregious? One factor is that the majority of delays occur during the peak season from June to September, a period that is out of the scope of the statistics. This leaves a significant percentage of holiday goers to ponder on how statistical data applies to the real world while they wait for their delayed flight. Another reason is that delays in Vietnam have a tendency to happen quite abruptly with announcements made to customers after they have already checked in for their flight or sometimes without any notice at all. Also, while most of us have experienced short delays elsewhere, the planes in Vietnam are routinely held back for hours on end; in particularly bad cases, flights have been pushed back a whopping 24 hours or even outright cancelled without refunds. For many distraught passengers, the final straw is the airlines’ way of addressing the issue: classifying customer service as lacking would be a euphemism since few things are done to smooth ruffled feathers.

  • Bundle up and hit the road to explore the mountains and lakes... with a side of kitsch.

    Perched at 1,500 metres above sea level in the Central Highlands area, Dalat has been attracting visitors for over one hundred years. Looking at the striking scenery of green forests and lakes set amidst some of the highest mountains in Vietnam, it’s easy to understand why the French chose to build a resort town in this area. These days, foreign tourists flock to Dalat to experience its old-world charm; expats come to escape the suffocating heat of Saigon; and the Vietnamese stop by as often as they can to stock up on local specialty goods that are hard to find in other parts of the country. The area around Dalat has been populated by tribes of indigenous people for centuries, but the city’s history doesn’t begin until the 1890s, when the Swiss/French bacteriologist AlexandreYersin put this region on the Western map. The scientist was struck by the landscape, which reminded him of his homeland, and recommended that the government build a resort town in the mountains. The request was backed by Yersin’s fellow doctor Étienne Tardif, and by 1907 the first hotel was built. Dalat quickly became the retreat of choice for expatriates looking to escape the tropical heat and enjoy the scenery that reminded them of Europe. The French wanted Dalat to be a home away from home, so they constructed hotels, restaurants, and cafés to resemble those of France. Fortunately, the city was largely spared during the wars of the 20th century and many heritage buildings remain standing to this day. The city centre has some interesting examples of French colonial architecture. However, Dalat is most famous for its nature, so most of the sights and attractions are outdoors; there are lakes and waterfalls to see, hills and mountains to climb, as well as quite a few temples to visit. Most of these places are out of town and it’s best to visit them with an organised tour group. However, you can also rent a motorbike and strike out on your own.

  • A whole new meaning to cherry-picking

    Plump, juicy, and sweet - cherries are one of those fruits that almost everyone loves. And even though the cherry tree is fairly capricious climate-wise, its fruit can be found throughout the world - courtesy of express air delivery services. In Vietnam, few people can afford cherries, so they’re imported in small quantities, making them a bona fide luxury fruit. Vietnam gets its cherries from a variety of sources, including the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Chile. As such, they’re available in HCMC throughout the year. The peak season tends to stretch from October to February, with the best cherries said to be available between November and January. The most popular variety available is the bing cherry, due to its sweet taste and large size. While it is possible to find other varieties such as sequoia, stella, vans, and lapins, most vendors don’t really make any distinction – in Vietnam, a cherry is simply a cherry. Although the fruit has a Vietnamese name ( anh đào ), the Saigonese tend to simply use the English term cherry instead. You may see them at many fruit stalls in HCMC, but it’s best to get your cherries from large supermarkets, such as Coop Mart, Maximark, Citimart, Big C, or Lotte Mart. The reason they tend to be a better source is due to the finicky nature of the fruit: cherries need to be kept in cold storage to stay fresh, and most small vendors can’t afford to meet such standards consistently. Air freight, the costs of storage, and generous profit margins all add up to a hefty price tag – a kilo of cherries can cost anywhere between VND350,000-600,000. Still, here in HCMC we’re getting a relatively good deal, as the fruit commands up to VND800,000 per kilo in the nation’s capital.

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