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  • Still an emerging art form decades after being introduced.

    Ballet was first introduced by the French during their occupation of Vietnam, along with other art forms, such as opera and classical music. Throughout the decades, ballet has gradually developed on Vietnamese soil, but it still remains a nascent art form that has yet to gain popularity among the local population. In recent years, major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have seen a series of successfuThe bigger problem, however, is that Vietnamese audiences have little interest in this imported art form. Early on in the history of Vietnamese ballet, the tickets were sold for a pittance or given away to foreign guests. Even in more recent times, ballet tickets have been mostly bought by expatriates or visitors from abroad, in spite of the fact that they represent a miniscule percentage of the population. ballet performances, but Vietnamese ballet has yet to take off as an independent art form distinct from its European counterparts. One problem is that the successful ballets performed in Vietnam are generally remade foreign ballets, and local choreographers are often faulted with lack of originality. The bigger problem, however, is that Vietnamese audiences have little interest in this imported art form. Early on in the history of Vietnamese ballet, the tickets were sold for a pittance or given away to foreign guests. Even in more recent times, ballet tickets have been mostly bought by expatriates or visitors from abroad, in spite of the fact that they represent a miniscule percentage of the population. There are a few reasons for this pointed lack of interest. Firstly, most Vietnamese people are not familiar with ballet, so it is difficult for them to appreciate the performances. Instead, most of them opt to attend traditional plays, dances, and music shows that they have been familiar with since childhood.

  • The Booklover’s Guide to Saigon.

    It’s always been the bane of the expat – finding books in your own language while you’re living in a foreign land where it’s not widely spoken. Foreigners throughout Asia complain about this subject, and the pain is especially acute for those who are ardent book lovers. Fortunately, there are a number of options available for those who want to get their hands on a good read. Never a better time for a good book While English-language books aren’t that easy to find in HCMC, there are several mainstream bookshops that carry limited selections of English titles. Fahasa is the biggest name in the English language book market, with the widest selection of foreign books and publications. Genres typically carried are works of literature, novels (with a heavy emphasis on bestsellers, romance, chick-lit, fantasy, and science fiction), business and economics, children’s books, and dictionaries. Prices don’t tend to vary much from those overseas, although it’s rare for these mainstream bookshops to have discount bins as their Western counterparts usually do. Fahasa is the largest and most popular bookstore brand name in Vietnam. It currently has 14 branches in HCMC and many other branches in other cities. The branches with the largest selection are on Nguyen Hue (40, Nguyen Hue, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38225796) and Hai Ba Trung (387-389, Hai Ba Trung, Ward 8, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38208533). Other branches known to have at least some English-language titles are as follows:       475, Bach Dang, Ward 14, Binh Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 35100660 364, Truong Chinh, Ward 13, Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38122847 202B, Hoang Van Thu, Ward 9, Phu Nhuan, Ho

  • Making art, one grain at a time.

    Pass by Miss Lan’s shop and take a glance at the displays – at first you might think they’re all somewhat grainy photographs. Look closer, however, since each and every piece is a unique sand painting enclosed between two panes of glass. This relatively new art form is unique to Vietnam, and there’s no better place than HCMC to appreciate it. Artist Y Lan is widely credited with inventing Vietnamese sand painting. It all started in 2001, when she went to her husband’s hometown of Phan Thiet. On the way there, she was mesmerised by the colours of the sand dunes and decided to bring some of the sand back home to fill a flower vase. When she did, the different colours created a striking pattern, giving Y Lan the idea of trying to create a picture by carefully layering the sand. The colours of Phan Thiet What started as a simple home décor item soon became a means of artistic expression, and Ms. Lan soon went back to Phan Thiet to look for different coloured sands. After perfecting her art over the years, she created a company with her husband in 2005 and established numerous showrooms in the country since then. To date, she is the most accomplished sand painter in the country and her most acclaimed work is a large portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Making a sand painting is a combination of simple tools and painstaking technique. There are just four things in a sand painter’s inventory: coloured sand, a transparent container for the painting, a small scoop, and a sharp stick used to pack the sand down. Simple tools to create a startling effect The majority of the sands used are naturally occurring – Vietnam’s geography allows for a dizzying number of colours, and artist Y

  • Laying claim to your own slice of Vietnam is fraught with complications.

    Expatriatism is nothing new. It’s given to the human race to wander, and it’s part of our natural instincts to want to make a new home of a foreign land. Part of that journey is to lay down new roots, but this is an urge that can become frustrated if the legal system of your adopted country prevents you from doing so. For years, it was impossible for a foreigner to buy property in Vietnam – but we are now in the midst of a period of change, and things are looking hopeful for those who choose this nation as the backdrop of their own life story for the foreseeable future. For a five year period that ended in 2014, pending a replacement bill that is expected to be released in July 2015, foreign residents of Vietnam have had permission to purchase property – albeit an apartment only – for residential purposes. The news that the relevant legislation had finally been passed was welcomed by many, but even now that the legislation has gone through its allotted five year time span, it still remains to be seen how or even if these rights will be extended past the experimental phase. Since the experimental period came to an end at the beginning of 2014, the Real Estate Bill has been under debate. It seems likely that the new bill will allow foreigners to buy houses and villas besides apartments in Vietnam. Different from the expired decree 19/2008/NQ-QH12, the new bill might allow foreigners to buy as many houses as they want – although since it hasn’t been issued yet, foreigners who want to buy apartments still have to satisfy the criteria mentioned in our Owning your own Home article. In the unlikely event that things don’t work out, expats who bought their apartments within the five-year window allowed by this law will be permitted to keep them for a maximum of 50 years from the date of purchase, at the end of which they will either have to give them away (as gifts or inheritance to a Vietnamese national) or sell them (again, to a local Vietnamese).

  • The power of the “DRY CLEAN ONLY” tag.

    Road rules, safety procedures, and all sorts of regulations have one thing in common: they are all occasionally broken. There is, however, one directive that is universally followed all over the world, and that is the simple directive “DRY CLEAN ONLY”. This small tag has an almost mystical power that is the envy of “No Smoking” and “Fasten Seatbelts” signs the world over. The good news is that HCMC is not lacking for dry cleaning shops that can take care of high-maintenance garments. Even though there are plenty of dry cleaners in town, it pays to do some research before dropping your designer suit or dress at a corner shop in your neighbourhood. Unfortunately, damage during cleaning is not an uncommon occurrence, mainly due to lack of knowledge or low-quality cleaning agents. To make matters worse, many dry cleaners offer meagre compensation for ruined items, and some flat out refuse to take any responsibility. In addition to the odd laundering misadventure, some agencies are known to be rather enthusiastic with their fragrances. Perhaps in accordance with local tastes, your average drycleaner may – completely unbidden – return your garments laden with heavy aromas of almond or musk that will persist for the entire remainder of their now unwearable lives. What’s painful is that usually these drycleaners belong to the more professional category and tend to treat your clothes with the upmost respect until that moment when they pull out the perfumes and proceed to utterly ruin them. When choosing a dry cleaner, make sure to inquire about their damage compensation policy. This is especially important in the case of expensive garments, as some shops do not accept items valued over a certain amount (VND 20m is on the high end of the scale). Also, make it a point to always post-pay for dry cleaning services, as this will make it significantly easier to request a re-do if the cleaner fails to do a good job the first time around. In general, though, it’s best to pay a small price premium and use the services of trusted dry cleaners listed below.

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