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  • How else are your kids going to learn their Do-Re-Mi in Vietnam?

    One obvious way in which life is different for expat families here is the rather common reliance on nannies. It hasn’t been that way in the West for some time, where having a maid or nanny is strongly associated with a highly affluent lifestyle unavailable to most. One of the advantages of living in a country where the average prices and wages are (for now, at least) lower than they are overseas is that luxuries such as private childcare become affordable, and with the stress of living in an alien land already enough of a pressure on beleaguered parents, having a nanny can turn out to be essential. The problem is that nannies are not a readily available resource in this city, and there’s a good reason why. While in the past nannies were considered more or less a part of the family and lived at their employer’s home, they’ve never been considered as (nor required to be) professionals. There’s no nannying science in the Vietnamese tradition, and the job has always carried something of a stigma to it, an association with lower-class, unskilled labour. While these social attitudes are far more prevalent in the north, even here becoming a nanny is not something an educated young woman would aspire to be – and as a consequence, there are scant pickings for those looking for someone to mind their child who actually knows what she’s doing. A decade ago, the only way you could get a nanny was by personal recommendation. Even then, expats had constant concerns about the staff they were letting into their homes, and it wasn’t entirely uncommon for foreigners to be stung by the experience. Some found their highly-recommended nannies to be irresponsible, reckless, heavy-handed, unprofessional, or even thieves; others were good-natured enough but acted according

  • Sparkling clean without industrial chemicals.

    Laundry detergent is one of those things that few people really pay attention to. However, a baby’s skin is very sensitive compared to an adult’s, and some regular detergents might be too strong and lead to rashes. If you’ve noticed a redness developing on your little one’s skin, it might be time to switch to a baby-specific product. As good as new! Laundry detergents for babies are formulated to avoid skin irritation and allergic reactions by replacing harsh cleaning agents (such as phosphates, optical cleaners, and bleaches) with more delicate ones. Also, they’re designed to be especially effective in removing common stains specific to babies, especially spilled baby formula and the results of small bathroom accidents. Most feature a delicate scent to keep clothes smelling fresh, but there are also detergents that are scent-free to avoid any skin reactions. At the moment, all of the baby-specific laundry detergents in Vietnam are imported from neighbouring countries, such as Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. There are no regulations in place as to the standards that these products have to meet, so sticking to reliable brands is very important. Some of the better brands are presented in the table below, along with a short description of their products:   Name & Origin Features Avg. Price (VND) Arau (Japan) Natural soap and scent derived from herbal and fruit extracts Mildly alkaline pH Special formula leaves fabric soft 230,000 (800 ml) D-Nee (Thailand) Certified hypoallergenic (France) Neutral pH and colour free powder, sterilized Softens clothes 110,000 (1000 ml) Farlin (Taiwan) Natural plant formula Non-phosphorous, non-fluorescent Lightly scented 145,000 (1000 ml) Kodomo (Japan) pH-balanced Tested to meet International Dermatological Standards Formulated to remove milk, food, urine, and faecal stains 275,000 (3000 ml) Pigeon (Japan) No artificial colours Non-phosphorous, non-fluorescent Natural plant extract formula 130,000 (800 ml)

  • 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

  • Browse the pages of the Vietnamese psyche.

    There’s nothing like good literature to broaden one’s cultural horizons, and as expats in Vietnam, one of the biggest favours we can do for ourselves is to gain a deeper understanding of the local mindset through its literary writing. Reading a few Vietnamese authors in English brings a familiarity with the Vietnamese spirit that you won’t get from the back of a taxi driving along Hai Ba Trung, or even wandering lost through a raucous local market. Arguably the easiest way to gain insight into the local culture The following is a list of Vietnamese authors of note ; some write in English, others can be read in translation. Some of them are purely local, others are ethnic Vietnamese born or raised overseas. Despite this being their homeland, not all of them are available in the local bookstores (some are regarded as dissidents) – you may be stuck ordering from Amazon (not in print if they’re banned: they’ll be held at customs forever) or otherwise downloading an eBook. In that regard, click on the book titles for a direct link to Amazon where available. It’s fair to say that most Vietnamese writers of interest to readers overseas concern themselves with wartime topics – although this is not universally the case. Writers such as To Hoai, Monique Truong, and Nguyen Ngoc Tu are well-known overseas for their cultural insights that have nothing to do with Vietnam’s war experiences. The sad fact is, though, that most writing by Vietnamese authors in English will focus on war as a central recurring theme. Nguyen Qui Duc – Radio broadcaster, fiction writer, editor, translator, and playwright. With aristocratic scholarly roots, Nguyen’s insights on the wartime period in Vietnam are unique.       Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family Behind The

  • Buy the ticket, take the ride.

    Travelling by train has a certain charm attached to it in the West, something reminiscent of a bygone era when life was a little slower. For the Vietnamese, however, it is the preferred way of getting around the country for a few purely practical reasons. Cheaper than flying on the one hand, but usually faster and safer than taking the bus, trains never lack for passengers in this country. Despite the many advantages of train travel, many expats still find it hard to find information on where to buy tickets. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it seems. All of the trains in Vietnam are operated by the state-owned DSVN ( Đường Sắt Việt Nam ). Tickets are generally released 60 days before the departure date, although some might be available as early as 90 days beforehand. Even though the booking system has been fully computerised for a long time, it’s still not possible for non-Vietnamese to book tickets online, as the DSVN online reservation system requires that passengers register with one of the following methods of identification – a Vietnamese passport with 10 digits; a Vietnamese citizen ID number (CMND); or a Vietnamese birth certificate number (MSKS). Get your ticket straight from the station In general, you should always get your train tickets at least one day before departure to ensure that you get the departure time and seat class that you want. However, if you plan to travel before any major public holiday, you should try to get your tickets sorted two weeks before you’re scheduled to leave, as trains tend to get booked solid. Those who plan to travel before the Lunar New Year should arrange to have the tickets in hand as early as possible, as the whole city will be vying for a way to

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