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  • What do you do when you’ve completely mastered Tieng Viet?

    Memories of high school grammar and vocabulary classes haunt many of us like old nightmares, while for others, studying a foreign language is a genuine delight. There are those amongst the expat community who dive into the challenge of acquiring fluent Vietnamese with relish, and those who avoid the embarrassment of confronting the language barrier with a sense of considerable shame. But while the Vietnamese tongue may be a logical choice for foreigners who are interested in language studies here, it’s not everyone’s first choice – and there are, of course, people who already speak Vietnamese and are hungry for the next challenge. As a cosmopolitan city, HCMC would be awfully remiss not to host venues instructing students in many of the world’s languages important in this region, such as French, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Widely-spoken but less immediately relevant languages here, such as German and Italian, are still taught, but only rarely are such classes suitable for foreign students. Foreign language knowledge is always an asset The viability of joining a language class, therefore, depends on which language you choose and how popular it is in this country, and whether or not classes are taught by native speakers who instruct in English rather than Vietnamese. French is still commonly taught in this city without a whiff of any post-colonial grudges, and the most popular and reliable institute teaching French in the city centre is Idecaf Drama Theatre (28, Le Thanh Ton, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38239968). The institute functions not only as a French education centre; it also serves to create favourable conditions for the development of bilateral cooperation between Vietnam and France in the cultural field. Idecaf has French courses from elementary to advanced. Based on the student’s existing knowledge

  • Do it yourself okonomiyaki.

    You’re certainly in the right place to eat Japanese food if you’re partial to the cuisine – just take a stroll along the fashionable end of Le Thanh Ton around the Sky Garden apartment complex, and you’ll see more restaurants serving the delights of Japan than you can comfortably shake a chopstick at. After 40 years of bilateral relations between Vietnam and Japan and billions of dollars’ worth of investment here, the cuisine of the Japanese has had a profound impact on local dining. If that’s not enough for you, however, and your bent for the bento box extends to your own kitchen, you may want to seek your own instruction into the fine arts of sushi and soba. There are busloads of locals willing to try their hand at Japanese cuisine, and the number of courses in the subject delivered in the Vietnamese language are many. If you need your teaching in English, however, you have a couple of options. The first is Overland Club (36Bis, Huynh Khuong Ninh, Da Kao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38209734 | email ), which opens classes every Saturday from 1.30pm to 3pm under the guidance of a professional Japanese instructor. They teach a daily menu of Japanese dishes, such as fried shrimps, miso soup, rolled fried eggs, Japanese curry, ramen, chicken rice, and so on. Every class has at least 4 students, and the fee for 2.5 hours of learning starts from VND270,000. You can register for the class via phone, email or using their online form here . A more recent option is the Japanese by Blanchy Street (74, Hai Ba Trung, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38238793 | email ) course offered by Saigon Cooking Class. Taught at the restaurant itself by in-house chefs Martin Brito and Yogo Oba, the course is in two sessions spread across two consecutive Saturdays and costs VND1.4m to join.

  • The Korean Wave has served up some spicy cuisine in its wake.

    With its acerbic tastes and scalding hot chilli dishes, it took a while for Korean cuisine to gain any traction at all in the West. Its recent coming into favour owes more to the success of celebrity chefs such as Edward Kwon and David Chang (as well as the good-looking pop stars of the Korean Wave) than it does to a sudden international penchant for kimchi. Indeed, it was with the gradual ascendance of its popular culture – which made its biggest worldwide splash with the viral Youtube hit Gangnam Style – that the Korean administration began to see an opportunity to spread the influence of Korea’s culture, and one of its most famous resolutions in this regard was the decision to establish Korean food as one of the world’s pre-eminent cuisines within five years. Whether by their efforts or otherwise, the net result has been that the unique taste of Korea has now earned its place on the world’s culinary stage. This, however, is nothing new to the Vietnamese people, who were introduced to Korean food much earlier through the television dramas that became popular here well over a decade ago. Nowadays, Korean cuisine has become a Vietnamese dining-out staple. The emergence of multiple Korean restaurants in Vietnam and its annual Korean cuisine festival that attracts young Saigonese and expats alike speaks volumes about the high regard in which Korean food is held here. In addition, the expansion of the Korean community in Ho Chi Minh City is another reason for the popularity of hansik here. There are generally three types of Korean restaurants you might encounter here: Vietnamese-owned targeting mainly Vietnamese customers; Korean-owned targeting a range of International customers; and Korean-owned and opened especially for their own community. Each of them has different style of service, menu focus, and different taste as well as price range.

  • Breaking the routine in Saigon... if such a thing exists.

    If there’s one generalisation that can be made about the Saigonese, it’s that they love to be out and about. The myriads of coffee stalls set up every morning and kerbside restaurants that bustle with activity well into the night are just a couple of indicators that the local culture is thoroughly an outdoor one. It’s no surprise, then, that the city hosts dozens of festivals throughout the year – from celebrating Buddha’s birthday to promoting vegetarian cuisine, scarcely a week goes by without some sort of public event. Here is your guide to the city’s most exciting festivals. Traditional Festivals Around the Lunar New Year, Nguyen Hue street in Dist. 1 and Tao Danh Park in Dist. Ben Thanh When the blossoms take over the inner city Each year, as the Lunar New Year draws close, the streets of HCMC are decked out in beautiful flower displays. For many Saigonese, there’s no better way to begin the new year than by heading over to one of the city’s flower festivals and capturing the beauty on camera. The biggest displays are always put on at Nguyen Hue street, which is closed to traffic for the two weeks surrounding Vietnam’s most important holiday. Throngs of people are the norm, so get there early in the day and avoid going on weekends, unless jostling through crowds is one of your pastimes. For many, the festival at Tao Dan Park may be your best bet, as there is simply more space for the people to spread out – also, the on-site playground is a big plus for families with kids. 15th day of the first lunar month, Nguyen Trai street in Dist. 5 The lantern festival is a long-standing Chinese tradition that is enjoyed by all Saigonese. Two weeks after the festivities of

  • What happens if neither of you is local?

    Love strikes where it will, and not always in the most convenient of places. If we all listened to our mothers, we’d be marrying a sweetheart who lives across the street from home and bringing the kiddies around every Sunday for afternoon tea – but we’re far more likely to frustrate even our own best-laid-plans and find ourselves with a whole load of paperwork in front of us just to follow the dictates of the heart. This is the kind of predicament you’re going to find yourself in if you’ve fallen for a stranger in a strange land. If things have progressed to the point where you’re now looking at marriage seriously, and both you and your partner live here but neither of you is a Vietnamese national, you may be wondering what the chances are of getting your marriage solemnised in Saigon. If your own embassy can’t help – it’s best to check with them first – you might be considering an inconvenient trip to Singapore or Hong Kong to register your marriage there. But is that necessary just for the right to be able to carry a document legitimising your union? It isn’t. Not only does Vietnamese law recognise all foreign marriages, but two foreign citizens who hold permanent or temporary residence in this country can apply for a marriage certificate during their stay in Vietnam. That’s the condition – if you’re on a tourist visa, hello Singapore. Vietnamese law states that the application for a marriage certificate for foreign citizens is governed by the Department of Justice local to where the applicants are residing. In Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll have to register your marriage at the Principal Registrar's Office on Pasteur. You need to complete two sets of the following documents:

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