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  • 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

  • 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

  • Now is the hour when we must say goodbye – so make sure you get it right.

    When it’s time to leave the warm bosom of Saigon, it’s common to put off all the packing-and-sorting arrangements until the very last week before you depart. On the face of it, going back seems so much more straightforward than arriving does; there are none of the same questions about what to expect that you faced during the weeks of preparation before you originally moved to Vietnam. But this is a chaotic strategy, and it inevitably turns into a major list of tasks you’d forgotten you needed to attend to all being squashed into the last couple of days of frenzied running around the city – and it almost always completely ruins the mood of your last memories of this place. Do yourself a favour, and go through this checklist at least a month before you’re scheduled to leave, giving you enough breathing space during your final days to appreciate them properly.

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