Creative road safety campaign in Vietnam

I’m pretty sceptical that this will have any affect whatsoever. Nice to see that the road dangers out here are being noticed though.

New Stitch-up

“The Asia Injury Prevention Foundation has launched a new road safety initiative in Vietnam that is both innovative and culturally appropriate” said Australian safety expert Matthew Hyndes.

“It is a very creative street campaign targeting students and office workers by displaying wrecked motor-scooters in public places” said Australian safety expert Matthew Hyndes.

“Almost 10,000 people died on Vietnamese roads in 2012”.

“The Foundation is doing a great job to create awareness of the dangers of excessive speed” said Hyndes.

“This activity shows the dividends to be reaped by designing clever, visible and culturally appropriate safety campaigns”.

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Oral Exams

Every 9 weeks I have to conduct oral exams for each of my students. Their oral mark contributes to around 5% of their final grade (it should be much higher than this in my opinion, but I’m not the one who makes the rules apparently). For many of the oral exams, I just interview each student alone but every now and again I like to shake things up and have them do a dialogue in pairs. I always love oral exam week; 1) because I get to find out the student’s real views on things and 2) it involves very little preparation on my part. The students never fail to provide some amazing comedy too, here are just a few snippets of the conversations I experienced during this week’s oral exams:

1: Social Etiquette

Instructions: Conduct a polite conversation with your classmate. You are both work colleagues who are meeting for the first time.

Student 1: Hello, nice to meet you!

Student 2: Hello, nice to meet you too! Are you gay?

*Have I taught you nothing in the past 9 weeks?!*

2: Family

Me: Tell me about your family

Student: There are 3 people in my family, my parents and me.

Me: Oh, so no brothers or sisters?

Student: No, and I hate my Dad, he always makes my mum cry.

*How are you meant to respond to that…*

3: Playing cupid

Me: So, tell me a little about yourself

Student: I’m 19 years old. I am a student at HUTECH University. I study business. I like shopping and going out with my friends. I’m single. Do you know any single foreigners?

*Nice*

4: Arrogance

Student: I’ve just finished 3 years studying in Boston, America so I don’t need this class

*What a fabulous waste of my time*

5: Apology

Me: Hello! How are you today?

Student: I’m fine thanks, and you?

Me: I’m pretty go…

*Students phone rings*

1min 46secs later…

*Student hangs up, says nothing*

Me: Ok, your speaking test is over. Thank you.

*Just one apology is all you needed to save yourself there, my friend!*

6: There’s always one

Me: How are you today?

Student: I’m 12 years old.

*Yup*

7: The pièce de résistance

Me: Hello! What’s your name?

Student: My name is ****

Me: I don’t see your name on the register here …

Student: Oh no, I’m taking the exam for my friend, she is too busy.

*Say what now?*

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Misleading: This little darling actually passed her exam with flying colours!

Saigon Foot Rower

History of HCMC

A local student made this video as his graphic design graduation project. It depicts the history and culture of Saigon through some awesome animation. Apparently it’s gone viral …

I don’t speak Vietnamese, but just how amazing is this:

Ladyboys & Hot Pot

On Wednesday, I went out for dinner with 4 of my workmates to try out some of the infamous Vietnamese hot pot. I was under no illusions; it was never going to live up to the Lancashire hot pot I was raised on, but when in Rome…

I’m usually not very adventurous when it comes to trying Vietnamese food due to around one million bouts of food poisoning in the last 2 years; it’s made me a little cautious. But this particular evening I was feeling daring and convinced myself to at least try a taste of everything on the table. I’ve heard that the dysentery diet is the best around anyway…

We headed to a local restaurant on the Saigon canal called Quán Thúy Linh . And when I say canal, don’t assume I mean the beautiful and idyllic networks in the UK, but instead a water system that is fed directly through the city’s sewage system. Luckily, it hadn’t rained that day, so no nasty smells had been unleashed.

The hot pot was a concoction of vegetables, bamboo, beef, shellfish and noodles and was actually really quite delicious. Boiling a whole squid wasn’t the nicest of things to witness, neither were the wriggling antennae of the cooking king prawns, but at least everything was fresh.  I also experienced my very first snail – nothing like the huge French delicacies, but instead thumbnail sized shells on which you had to suck to remove the hidden snail. Turns out my sucking abilities weren’t quite up to scratch though and after 5 failed attempts I gave up and instead resigned to visiting Paris next year.

While the food was delicious, it wasn’t the highlight of our night by a long shot. I’d been warned that the restaurant we were headed to was a special one, but no further elaboration was made. When I was first greeted by our wait-person though, it became quite clear why the place was so special. All the staff members were ladyboys (no offense intended, this is genuinely how the Vietnamese refer to a trans-gender person). All were dressed in the smallest denim hot pants I’ve ever seen, with tube top accompaniments, I was a little taken aback. Each staff member just screamed Sasha Fierce, oozing with confidence and style and the general atmosphere was a mixture of enjoyment and relaxed flirtation. Their heavy smoking as they worked left a lot to be desired though.  Even though I can’t speak Vietnamese, I found their banter just hilarious to watch, their unintentional performances made my night.

Initially, I don’t know why I was so surprised, I guess I just don’t associate Vietnam with being so open with their sexuality; HCMC is no Bangkok. It is clear though that there is a definite rise in progressive attitudes amongst the locals – only yesterday, one of my 6 years old’s accused his friend of being ‘gay’ (in English nonetheless) just because he wanted to sing a song to me. Similarly, one of my university students has chosen her oral test topic to be about the treatment of homosexuals in Vietnam. I think this paints a very different picture of HCMC, in regards to sexuality, than say, 10 years ago.

For those hoping for photos of my night down by the canal, I regret to say that none were taken; 1) I thought it may have been deemed inappropriate and 2) I forgot my camera (ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA!)

So instead, have a look at this lovely bridge I travelled over today:

Ooooo, Aaaaah

Ooooo, Aaaaah

Don’t fret though; I will most certainly be revisiting the glorious Quán Thúy Linh in the near future, and this time with a camera in tow.

The Running Man

This is fantastic! What a hero!

Dog Eating on the Rise

This is so sad, but so true. A video not for the faint of heart …

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K Pop

k-pop-source As I briefly mentioned in the ‘Retrospective’ episode of my blog, there is a heavy Korean influence in Vietnam amongst the teenage generation. The rebirth of the UK 90s Pop scene in the form of the fabulous K-Pop has changed the face of the Asian music scene. Many Westerners can’t seem to stand the cheesy tunes as it ignites horrid flashbacks to jumpsuits, trouser poppers and centre-parting curtains that we’d all rather keep repressed. But for me, K-Pop has figuratively lightened up my life.

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What female in their mid-twenties wouldn’t want to be presented with 90s Justin Timberlakes, Nick Carters and Gary Barlows as part of their daily life all over again? All those familiar teenage urges come flooding back; constant butterflies in the stomach, imagining every detail of your wedding to Stephen Gately and scribbling your varying married names all over your notebooks; “Mrs Andre”, “Mrs Carter” and the like.

I think I first rediscovered my love for pop when I went to SoundFest last year, a music festival in the heart of HCMC. I went primarily to see the headliner Taio Cruz, not because I’m that much of a fan but just because no one famous actually ever comes to Vietnam (everyone’s still holding on to that Top Gear episode which was aired years ago).

Anyway, Taio’s warm up act was the Korean band Big Bang. Oooof, they were just so blummin’ good. So good that they had to pause their performance to tell all the screaming fans (mainly me) to stop pushing against the barriers as there’d been too many injuries. They are, arguably, the biggest band on the K-Pop scene (some may put them second to Super Junior but their music doesn’t really do it for me to be honest), and if you ask any young Vietnamese girl about their lead singer: G-Dragon (yes, really) they turn into a giggling mush of infatuation on the floor. Personally, G-Dragon isn’t my cup of tea but T.O.P on the other hand, wow. He’s like Kevin from the Backstreet Boys, a bit of a backgrounder, but is nonetheless some fabulous eye candy. He also has tendencies to dye his hair bright blue which appeals to my experimental side. My favourite Big Bang single has to be Fantastic Baby – there really are no words to describe this song, or its video for that matter, so just trust me… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAbokV76tkU (keep an eye out for T.O.P)

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Ooooof!

Other male bands that have caught my attention are MBLAQ with their song This is War which has an unnecessarily violent video, but is certainly a core shaker. Also worth a mention is a band who I can only assume were a bit of a one hit wonder, Shinee. The wonder in question is called Sherlock (so mysterious), the video isn’t quite up to Benedict Cumberbatch’s standard, but it’s very entertaining nonetheless. I also think due credit should be made to their Jacko style moves. For those of you who know me well, you know that I’m a little bit obsessed with Matthew Lewis’ novel, The Monk. You may be wondering why I feel the need to mention this now, but all will become clear when you see Exo-K’s music video for Mama (it’s got a little bit of Labrinth’s Earthquake about it don’t you think?). This song is a strong contestant for the number one spot in my favours. Finally, I feel compelled to mention PSY here too, but he’s become a bit too mainstream for my ghetto music tastes (ha).

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There are also a few girl bands worth a mention too, but you’ll be sorely mistaken if you imagine them to be anything like the Spice Girls or Atomic Kitten. Oh no. These girls are sexy provocateurs, and not in a Baby Spice cutesy way, but in a more Secret Diary of a Call Girl way. I guess the most widely known are Girls Generation who have about a million members. But personally I’m all about the Wonder Girls; their song Like This could be a strong candidate for the Eurovision. Finally, and perhaps the sexiest of the lot, are Sistar. These girls have the sexy secretary look down to a T (and their vocals aren’t too bad either).

Simon Cowell has also extended his hand to the Asian market. The winner of Vietnam Idol wasn’t really anything to write home about (but what am I to know, I’m no Mr Cowell), but other similar shows such as Project Lotus and Vietnam’s Got Talent were quite an enjoyable watch. The former of which formed a band called Blush, who is most definitely the Asian equivalent of The Saturdays. And they’ve even duetted with Snoop ‘Lion’ so they must be successful …

Blush_Snoop-Dogg

In short, I think it’s fair to say that K-Pop has accrued (maybe its first) number 1 Western fan. My good friend Stu, who lives and works in South Korea, may strongly contest this considering it’s through his blog, ‘Kimchi Monster’, that I find out about new releases before they even reach Vietnam. One thing is to be said though, and that’s that my song and dance abilities have significantly improved since moving out here.

Wedding

Today I experienced my very first Vietnamese wedding! My manager handed me the invitation last week and said ‘You will come to my wedding’. A little presumptuous I thought, but there was no way I was going to turn down this opportunity. I got pretty excited in the run up; I’d heard stories of some pretty crazy Vietnamese traditions which I couldn’t wait to witness. An example of which is a game of ‘spin the bottle’, but rather than a bottle, a chicken head, balanced on a stick, is used as the spinning device and whoever its beak points to has to drink. Seriously.

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On arrival at the 5* Hotel (classy!), Tom and I were greeted by none other than the bride and groom and were pounced on for a photo opportunity – all the while being videoed by a family member who was a little too eager to impress. The element of surprise surrounding the bride was entirely non-existent, and while she looked stunning in her white dress, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the traditional Vietnamese Áo dài. I also noticed that the rings had already been exchanged. Turns out, all official wedding duties are conducted months before the actual celebration; including all the wedding photographs which were projected on screens around the ballroom.

Once we were seated, and after a few awkward introductions, the ceremony began on a small stage at the front of the function room – 6 young girls dressed as angels (imagine the nativity outfits worn at a Christian Primary School and you’re pretty much there) began an Irish Jig-esque dance routine. The bride and groom then appeared and introduced the audience to their parents – who sat on thrones (literally) on either side of the couple. After a quick speech by the father of the groom, the couple proceeded to pour red wine into a fountain of wine glasses (just imagine the devastation had some splashed on her dress…).  Next was the cutting of a pretty impressive, multi-layered cake. I’d heard some exciting rumours that usually a plastic cake is used, just for show, as it’s a Western tradition anyway. So I thought the staging of the photo would have been hilarious. But, they actually had a real cake, which excited me greatly until they didn’t share it with any of the guests. How rude.

Angelic Bridesmaids

After a quick speech by the chef (?), the first dish of our 7 course meal was served. The food was delicious and included some traditional delights such as phở and a whole lot of seafood; followed, of course, by a slice of boiled pig skin – because what wedding is complete without a delicious slice of skin? During the meal, and after 2 dress changes, the bride and groom wandered around to each table where we all had to stage a cheering of glasses for the photographer – it all felt a little forced and awkward but at least I finally had my chance to congratulate the pair.

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Once the meal was over, people immediately began leaving. Waiters actually started clearing the tables and the music was, fairly abruptly, silenced. I couldn’t believe it, we’d only been there 2 hours. There was no ‘you may now kiss the bride’, no wedding dance, no other speeches and certainly no confetti. I was just getting into the swing of things, ready for a right ol’ boogie. The waiters had been walking around filling up everyone’s glasses with free beer, so I was certainly on my way towards a raucous time. In hindsight, I now realise why the table next to us kept doing toasts every 10 minutes and downing their beers. At first I thought they were being a little irresponsible, but now I realise that they were just trying to make the most of the free beer – I wish I’d gotten involved with them a little more now.

All in all, it wasn’t quite the traditional Vietnamese wedding I was hoping for, there wasn’t even a chicken head to play spin the bottle! But as far as weddings go, it was a very enjoyable 2 hours. It did however leave me thinking that the £60 I spent on a tailored dress for the occasion was just a little extravagant…

Such a sad read, especially being a British national living in Vietnam, but it is never been so important to raise awareness of human trafficking …

Missing Children in UK

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