Pride and Promise for Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ Community

By: John Mark Harrell

Vietnam is moderately accepting on the international stage.

Queer media representation is increasingly positive in Vietnam.

Thời gian thấm thoát thoi đưa
Thể nào anh cũng sẽ lừa được em
Chàng trai đang sánh bước bên em
Đằng nào rồi cũng sẽ thuộc về anh!”

A chorus of young voices sang this year’s unofficial Vietnam Pride anthem from singer and gay pop culture icon Truc Nhan as they charged up and down Saigon’s iconic Nguyen Hue walking street. Hoisting a giant rainbow flag over their heads, participants broke out into dance, took selfies with drag queens, and some even brought family members to an LGBTQI+ event for the first time. Local papers were there snapping photos, and even some international news outlets in far off countries covered the events of September 14th, 2019. It was only the eighth year in Vietnam’s history that Pride was publicly celebrated. 

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunitySaigon Pride Parade on Nguyen Hue walking street - by cvdvn.files.wordpress.com

What made this day’s gathering truly special, however, was its significance as a platform for the Saigonese LGBTQI+ community to visibly occupy public space - in plain view of their friends and families, their fellow Vietnamese citizens, tourists and expats, and even the police. 

“A western style drag scene has started and grown in Hanoi and Saigon,” says Blake, a Hanoi-based expat and performer. “Pride itself seems to be getting bigger.”

Here in Vietnam, the LGBTQI+ community has only recently begun to occupy a public platform, with the first ever Pride held in Hanoi on August 5, 2012. In a short span of time, Pride celebrations have spread to cities and rural towns all throughout Vietnam, and new ones - like this year’s first ever Pride in Tra Vinh, a sparsely-populated coastal province in the heart of the Mekong Delta - are popping up every year.

Vietnam on the International Stage

The landscape of sexual orientation and gender identity in Vietnam, and more broadly throughout Asia, is a complex terrain from which cultural values, family intradependence, religion, and the tumultuous legacy of colonialism grow and intertwine. As a result, LGBTQ rights vary widely in this part of the world. 

Taiwan is a model of acceptance among its fellow Asian nations, recently becoming the first to legalize same-sex marriage. Its annual Pride celebration in October drew about 200,000 local and international participants, making it the largest in the region.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityHanoi Pride Parade - by facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Malaysia and Brunei have enshrined and upheld some of the world’s harshest punishments for same-sex sexual activity into law, ranging from jail time to caning and, in the most extreme cases, vigilante execution. Though these punishments are rarely enforced, LGBTQI+ individuals receive virtually no protection from the state and are frequent targets of hate crimes and discriminatory police raids.

Among its neighbouring nations, Vietnam sits relatively comfortably on the tolerant end of the spectrum, though perhaps not yet fully accepting. 

“The biggest challenge that we’re facing now,” says Long, a transgender dancer and drag performer based in Saigon, “Is the legal matters of same-sex marriage and the transgender community’s rights to legally adopt their new gender.”

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityHanoi Pride Parade - by facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Homosexuality has never been criminalized in Vietnam, and as recently as 2015, the National Assembly passed a bill that would make it legal for transgender individuals to change their gender on legal documents to reflect their true gender identity; however, guidance for enacting this law has yet to be discussed or passed by the National Assembly, leaving the fate of thousands of transgender individuals in Vietnam to the discernment of local authorities, who are unable or unaware of how to proceed without a clear mandate to do so. 

But perhaps the greatest source of controversy over this bill within the transgender community is that only those who have had gender reassignment surgery qualify for legal recognition.

“Because that law will be defined by surgery and not by someone identifying as transgender, it really should be called the ‘transsexual’ law,” says Linh, director of ICS Center, a nationwide legal advocacy group. “So now the current draft, and older drafts, have been debated even in the trans community...because being legally recognised requires you to have some kind of medical transition, and not every trans person wants to do that.”

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityJS Band at GenderFunk Pride Ball - by facebook.com/GenderFunk

Rectifying this aspect of the law may take some time. The National Assembly, having agreed in principle that this law should be made in 2015, have since given a mandate to the Ministry of Health to work out the specifics of that law, as well as how it should be implemented.

“Though the transgender law is still debated within the transgender community, the main reason that hasn’t been passed is because there have been a lot of new laws proposed in the last two years,” says Linh. “At present, the transgender law is not the Health Ministry's priority. The draft bill has been proposed eight times from 2017 until now but it still hasn’t been prioritised, most likely because this law only affects a small minority of the population.”

Despite this challenge, there is a palpable sense of hope and anticipation within the local community that major progress could be made in the next few years. “I don’t think we’ll never be prioritised just because we're a minority,” says Linh. “It just means we need stronger visibility, to raise our voices and express our needs.”

“I'm positive that Vietnam will be the next in Asia to legalise equal marriage.” 

… says Dan Ni, a Saigonese drag performer whose optimism is shared by many in the Vietnamese LGBTQI+ community.

As public perception warms up to the LGBTQI+ community, mostly through increased representation in the media and pop culture, many Vietnamese citizens maintain a bright outlook for the advancement of gay rights in the next decade.

“We hope to achieve same sex marriage, hopefully in the next 6 years,” says Linh. “I hope that the transgender law will be resolved sooner, since it’s achieved more progress than the same-sex marriage law.”

Media Representation

Public exposure to queer individuals in pop culture, politics, and the media has certainly increased in the last decade. Vietnamese movies frequently depict protagonist, usually gay male or transgender female characters, though their roles have often been relegated to well-known and tired stereotypes. 

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityDrag queen, Sweet Potato, at Saigon Pride Parade on Nguyen Hue walking street - by facebook.com/GenderFunk

“Securing acceptance and respect is important,” says Ana, a British expat and performer based in Saigon. “As opposed to the current portrayal [of gay men] in the media as just jokers or flamboyant comedy characters.”

“In the past 2-3 years, there has been a lot of LGBTQ representation,” says Linh. “Talk shows and reality shows create a lot of positive influence, although most of them are not perfect, and there are still stereotypes and bias. But it does bring different stories to the general public. That is something we appreciate about the media. And we will need all this visibility and much more in order to pass the transgender law in Vietnam.”

Though stigma and harmful stereotypes certainly remain in pop culture, LGBTQI+ representation seems to be steadily increasing and improving. In the Spring of 2019, popular TV game show Người Ấy Là Ai featured a young gay male contestant who shared his story on national television. His parents later joined him onstage and talked about how they had come to love, accept, and celebrate their son for who he is. Former Vietnam Idol singer and transgender pop icon, Huong Giang, is also a regular judge on this show, which has subsequently featured a handful of other LGBTQI+ contestants.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityLove is love - by znews.vn

One of 2018’s biggest viral moments in Vietnamese television that made international waves came in the form of a shocking reveal on Vietnam’s first ever season of The Bachelor, in which one of the female contestants, Minh Thu, broke decorum and declared her love for one of her fellow female contestants, Truc Nhu, and asked her to quit the show in front of a national audience. Later footage would reveal the producers’ shock as the contestants embraced and left the set together, though Nhu would agree to stay on the show until her eventual elimination. After the season aired, the two announced that they had gotten together after the show, and have been the subject of national admiration ever since.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityStill from Truc Nhan’s MV Sáng Mắt Chưa - by yeah1music.net

Just a few weeks after international Pride month this year, Vietnamese singer and pop culture icon Truc Nhan released his latest hit music video, Sáng Mắt Chưa—a wacky, colourful, unapologetically flamboyant rollercoaster ride in which he is depicted “crashing” his friend’s wedding to let her know that her fiance is secretly his gay lover. 

While the tabloid-esque frivolity of illicit sexual affairs may seem like a rather shallow and tacky Pride anthem to the casual Western observer, this hilarious jab at “closeted” gay culture in Vietnam struck a chord with the local LGBTQI+ community for depicting an all-too-relatable scenario, in which many deny their own sexuality to fulfill their parents’ expectations to have a heterosexual marriage and start a family. Indeed, the tremendous pressure gay men face to take up the mantle of their family name and have children of their own is at the root of a lot of the violence, rejection, and discrimination they experience, sometimes in the form of violence from their own families.

Out in Public, Closeted at Home

Many people, particularly in urban areas, lead fairly open lives with their friends, finding local queer spaces when they are available, and of course dating and often getting into serious relationships—but they simply don’t talk about their public lives at home for fear of disappointing their parents, maintaining a precarious separation of the two worlds. It is common, therefore, for LGBTQI+ individuals in Vietnam to be publicly “out” but still “closeted” in their own homes.

This cultural phenomenon is widespread in Asian countries, where three or more generations often occupy a single household, and where adult children often stay with their families well beyond the age of 18. In Vietnam, this is partly due to cultural values rooted in traditional Confucianism, and partly due to socioeconomic necessity, with families functioning as a vital support system.

The legacy of Confucianism, imported by Chinese colonial rule centuries ago, still lies at the foundation of family values in Vietnam and, like many other patriarchal systems around the world, governs familial relationships, and assigns specific roles to women and men. Though Vietnamese women today enjoy a greater measure of independence and equality than in the more conservative, fundamentalist past, they are still typically expected to leave their childhood homes to join their husbands’ families after marriage. 

Traditional Confucianism says little about sexuality, but the structural mandates built on gender and generational hierarchy have historically left no room for homosexual relationships, and in extreme cases, have made homosexuality a de facto threat to the fabric of society and the status quo.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityĐạo Mẫu, or “Mother Goddess” worship - by thanhnien.vn

A notable exception exists in the centuries-old tradition of Đạo Mẫu, or “Mother Goddess” worship, originating in the north of Vietnam in the 16th century as a rebellion against Chinese colonial Confucian gender roles. Instead of relegating women to submissive, passive roles, Đạo Mẫu incorporates numerous female and male deities, and places female deity Lieu Hanh at the center—a symbol of women’s desire for freedom, happiness, and independence. Even more transgressive were the mediums specially chosen to commune with the goddess, who wore the clothing matching the gender of the male or female deity they wanted to commune with, regardless of their own gender. This is, perhaps, the first recorded instance of the performance of gender fluidity in Vietnamese culture. Đạo Mẫu received UNESCO’s inscription in 2016, and has had a cultural resurgence at the Four Palaces in Hanoi, where visitors can witness the colourful and centuries-old ritual practices of the religion in a dramatised way.

Looking Ahead

“There is no secret group of smart, benevolent activists who are going to secure rights and acceptance for you,” says Blake. “If you want things to change, you must be part of the effort. How big your contribution is and exactly what that contribution is, is up to you, but you should not be a bystander.”

Vietnam stands at the precipice of an exciting time for the LGBTQI+ community. Awareness and acceptance is spreading, laws are gradually making their way into the books to secure equality and protection for some of Vietnam’s most vulnerable communities, and the general outlook for the community in Vietnam is positive.

Vietnamese children and teenagers now have access to role models and resources that were almost completely out of reach only a decade ago. Media representation is increasingly affirming and positive. International influence imports a diversity of worldviews and cultures to a country that, up until the early nineties, was virtually cut off from the outside world.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI and CommunityHanoi Pride Parade - by facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Still, there are plenty of challenges that remain. The LGBTQI+ community continues to be ostracised and isolated, particularly in rural communities, and disproportionately affecting trans people. “Coming out” is a hot topic and widely seen as something that is still impactful and consequential for many families. Particularly with the older generation, outdated stereotypes and misinformation through lack of exposure and education persist.

Thanks to the efforts of local initiatives and organisations like ICS, this is gradually changing, and leaders in queer communities throughout Vietnam are becoming more and more outspoken to challenge conventional assumptions and offer support to people who are vulnerable or afraid to be their true selves. 

“Don't be shy, be confident, do everything you can to be confident,” says Phong, a Hanoi based drag performer. “You're beautiful and have the right to exist. When you accept who you are and show your talents, don't be afraid of what other people think of you.”

“No matter what gender you have, you have the right to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing,” says Lolita. “So, choose the right path to discover yourself and do not rush to conclude anything when you do not really understand it.”

“Be you,” says Dan Ni. “Because as Lizzo said, it feels good as hell.”

Vietnam’s LGBTQI and CommunityGuests at Genderfunk - by facebook.com/GenderFunk

Banner Image source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn


The Grass is Not Always Greener...

By: Patrick Gaveau

Better Disposable Income and Working Opportunities?

Better Healthcare?

Better Government?

Why do so Many Expats Love Life in HCMC?

A few weeks back, terrifying news broke out about the 39 Vietnamese who died while suffocating in the back of a truck, in an attempt to seek a better life in the UK. This was a horrifying event and a poor awakening to the reality of many rural Vietnamese. This triggered my interest to find the answer as to “Why so many Vietnamese are still seeking to immigrate abroad?”

Research carried out together with experienced Vietnamese and foreign friends, from here and abroad, identified seven central motivational factors that drives those who believe that a better life is awaiting them elsewhere... 

- Better income, work opportunities, and working conditions 

- Improved education and health care systems

- Safety and security

- Preserved natural environments

- A better government

…all leading to a Better Future. 

I wrote this article humbly, knowing my own limitations, and whilst keeping aware that some issues may be rather sensitive to many. As a foreign resident and lover of Vietnam for the past 13 years, I seek to raise awareness from a migrant foreigner’s perspective and help locals open up to a fresh view on migration challenges and opportunities.

Some will ask “Who is he to discuss what he cannot understand, especially when he is not Vietnamese?” I am just a born migrant who spent his life around the globe as you can see in the table below... 

10 Countries of Residence

Years/Months Lived in Each Country

25 Cities

Vietnam

13 years

HCMC

Cote D’Ivoire

12 years

Abidjan

USA

8 years

Orlando, West Palm Beach, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Phoenix, Seattle

France

6 years

Cannes, Marignane, Aix en Provence, Montpellier, Royan, Bourg en Bresse, Perpignan

Australia

2 years

Melbourne, Sydney, Deniliquin, Sunshine Coast

Polynesia

2 years

Tahiti

Canary islands

2 years

Lanzarote

Canada

10 months

Montreal

Holland

10 months

Wageningen

Spain

10 months

Barcelona

All in all, this amounts to 47 years of living abroad! I have lived on five continents in both the northern and southern hemisphere. And I have resided alongside Asians, Africans, Americans, Maoris and Europeans, some Bhuddist, others Christians or Muslims. I saw the rich and the poor, and experienced a variety of societies and systems with people of all colours and interests. Hopefully, this article enlightens some of those seeking asylum on the up-coming challenges that they will probably face if they effectively find a way out of Vietnam.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: theculturetrip.com

Throughout this article, I will be questioning several motivational factors to see if these are true or false, subjective or objective, or if these factors are even justified. The aim is to identify what gaps lie between each of these assumptions and the reality of how it may be, to see if life truly is better for Vietnamese who move abroad. 

Better Future - SUBJECTIVE 

There is a saying that goes ”the grass is much greener in our neighbour's garden” and this is SO not true. The colour of the grass is only dependent on the capacity to see that it is already green and the will to nurture your garden. The problem is that most people often prefer to look outward, as they dislike what they are and represent. People hope that over there, wherever else this may be, it is better. 

As a foreigner with ample experience in Vietnam, I can honestly say that the future is much more promising here in Vietnam, both economically and socially speaking. The economic growth in Vietnam allows us to feel confident that so much remains to be done here while markets are most often saturated and limited in other western countries. 

Many people are kept apart from their families for years whilst trying to become citizens in other countries. They work hard towards migrating the whole family, who will also eventually aim to gain citizenship. Those who are lucky get to reconnect to their families but this is still not a guarantee of a better life. Most end up living mediocre lives which is not exactly the definition of a “Better Future” is it?

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: italoamericano.org

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to say that all overseas Vietnamese stories don't get a happy ending. This is exactly what a lot of people strive to achieve and it is also where “the big American dream” mindset came from. As always, there is a brighter side to venturing out. 

After the Vietnam war, many Vietnamese moved to the US, making them the largest foreign born population in the country. In fact, almost 80 percent of Vietnamese immigrants within USA were naturalized citizens in 2017. It was recorded that there were over 1.3 million Vietnamese currently residing in the US, making up 3 percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: migrationpolicy.org

44 years ago, many of those who left Vietnam did indeed end up finding more opportunities in foreign countries. Many had successful lives and acquired wealth along the way. Most Vietnamese-born Americans had refugee parents who fled the country as boat people, encountering pirates while sailing through the dangerous South China sea. They set sail to refugee camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, or the Philippines and they would find themselves stuck in those camps for months, even years before immigrating to the US to find greener pastures. But the challenges did not end there. Immigrants then had to face the sudden change of environment, culture, language, and unfortunately, racism.

Today, many of them still strive to return home, as their hearts are still rooted in Vietnam. This is mainly due to the fact that these Vietnamese had to migrate because it was their only choice at the time. It was a time when finding jobs abroad was a lot easier and the requirements were not as challenging as they are today.

Better Disposable Income and Working Opportunities - FALSE

Yes, income is often higher abroad, at least in most developed countries, but we must re-evaluate by accounting for the cost of living in common migration destinations. Did you know that California, Texas, London, Toronto, Tokyo, Seoul, Melbourne, and Sydney rank at the top of the list of the most expensive places to reside in the world? They also rank very well in the list of favoured destinations for Vietnamese to be expatriates.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: assets.bwbx.io

Let's not forget the additional expenses incurred while living abroad. Everything is expensive, especially for daily commodities, so calculate how much discretionary income you may be left with after your everyday expenses such as groceries, rent, utilities, transport, etc. Many Vietnamese immigrants have reported facing financial challenges for a variety of reasons. 

It is common for Vietnamese immigrants to experience difficulty in landing a position/role of the same calibre and status of which they could work at within Vietnam, especially when applying for managerial positions. He/she will often not succeed in their job application due to language barriers, cultural and ethnic differences, or simply because their Vietnamese degree or work experience is not valued as sufficient or considered invalid. 

How much better can any one be with VND 30,000,000 (1200 Euros) per month in Berlin or Paris for example? With that budget (minimum income) you could probably rent a small studio (25 square meters) over 2 hours away from the city center. You would have to commute long distances to work via bus, train or metro and be subject to the daily stress and strain of rush hour. Your budget may allow you to eat out in a restaurant with a loved one or friends only once or twice a month, if you are lucky. As for rice, bread, vegetables, fruits, internet, utilities, plus local and national taxes, VAT and PIT, it would be a hell of a lot more expensive abroad.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: thehunterdoncountynews.com

Unfortunately, residents in America and Europe need to own their own car, as commuting would prove to be more costly and winters are just too cold to ride around town on your bike. You would need to factor in gas and maintenance to support such a large ticket necessity. On the other hand, you may enjoy more affordable schools and you may even have free healthcare in some places in Europe, but if you reside in America, healthcare is an expensive benefit. Without medical insurance, which is a cost in itself, healthcare may be something you simply cannot afford.

Last but not the least, as an expatriate and a breadwinner, your family back in Vietnam will often expect you to send some dividends of your hard earned cash. To do so, you would really need to learn to restrain yourself and count your pennies - is that the “better life” that most expect in the first place?

Better Education Opportunities - NOT ALWAYS JUSTIFIED

In reality, primary schools are not really about what your children may learn, academically speaking. It is more about social development, playing together, and having constructive social interactions with friends and teachers, and an avenue for childcare. To this extent, many would sense that Vietnamese teachers are more suitable simply because they are some of the most kind, playful, joyful, carrying, diligent, and patient people you will meet. Vietnamese women tend to value family and children above all else and their maternal instincts are clearly evident in the way they care for and develop relationships with their students. 

At a secondary level, most western technical or educational systems provide decent opportunities, but if you were based in San Antonio - Texas, you'll be surprised to find that 50% of the adult population is at the lowest two literacy levels, lacking the skills required to graduate from high school. There are other important differences at the secondary level worth mentioning too. This includes the value of "disciplinary systems” and “respect” for teachers; a concept extremely different in the west compared to Asian countries.

Generally, western teenagers are more "wild" and more "experimental" than those in Vietnam. Many, especially those who live among minorities, are exposed to social peer pressure, galavanting with friends, often partying whilst underage drinking and smoking pot - something considered the norm. After four years abroad, most Vietnamese parents report that their well behaved child has become so ”westernised” that they cannot expect them to care for them when they get old anymore - a virtue not present in the western world.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: redcrestcareers.com

At a tertiary level, educational systems in western countries are still often better than in Vietnam. But the question is can you afford it? And if you can, is it worth paying so much for the privilege? If parents spend up to VND 2.2 Billion (100,000 USD) for their child to earn a foreign bachelor degree in Australia, for example, can this be paid back with the average VND 11,000,000 per month salary when the child finishes his/her education?

Sure, foreign education gives you an edge. Your communication skills will come into play as a convenience and your education will develop a better understanding of multiracial concepts and work ethics, but is this enough to justify the distance and monetary value that you'll be sacrificing when these days, all or most things can be learned online and for free? The next important question is, would the current educational system be suited for the future job market? This remains to be seen. But when you consider the current and up-coming technologies, this becomes highly questionable.

Better Healthcare - RARELY JUSTIFIED

If you compare Vietnam’s healthcare system with those in France, South Korea, and America then yes, it is so much better abroad. The issue in the USA, however is always whether or not you can afford it. Being treated well within the American healthcare system usually comes hand-in-hand with the burden of a costly private insurance plan so it’s not exactly “so much better” there once you have considered the cost of good health care treatments. While we all understand its value when needed, fortunately, only a few of us will ever need such advanced modern treatments and facilities for a complex operation. 

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: thealdennetwork.com

It’s not always so easy to get quality modern healthcare for advanced surgeries in Vietnam but Vietnamese healthcare has made lots of progress in the last ten years and it continues to improve. In fact, there are already some operations such as the endoscopic surgery technique of Doctor Tran Ngoc Luong, being practiced in Vietnam that foreigners from all over the world seek to learn and study from. Doctor Luong is the first surgeon in the world to do thyroid endoscopic surgery with the patient not having to be reminded by a long scar on their neck because this technique is done by cutting between the neck and armpit without having to use robots. Other areas where foreign doctors travel to learn from Vietnamese doctors include endoscopic procedures in obstetrics and cardiology.

Better Safety and Security - FALSE

Unfortunately, racism still exists within many communities across the globe. How would you feel if you heard that your 12 year old daughter is being bullied because she was stereotyped as a “bad Chinese” every single day - even when she is not Chinese? From listening to so many first hand accounts of experiences abroad, you and your children may always be reminded that you are something else, a minority. To them, you and your children are simply “different” and “yellow”.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: newyorker.com

How safe would you feel living in a place where shootouts in schools or public places, depression, and suicide rates are well above those of Vietnam? How would you feel living in France where more cars are being burned to the ground every year than in any other country and where weekly riots down the main streets of the city centres are the norm? 

Children are always exercising their misguided liberal ”western” freedom, and their parents are too busy working double shifts just to get by. Truth is, petty crimes are common in most of the world but the actual risk of being robbed or getting mugged are much greater abroad than here in good old safe Vietnam.

Better Environment - TRUE

Respect for the environment is often better in well off countries. If you ever see westerners eating in our restaurants or hanging around on our beaches, you may notice how most of them pack away their dishes and pick up their trash. And water in most first world countries is usually well maintained and drinkable straight from the tap! Oh what a luxury.

Fresh air is more common as most of their populations consider their carbon footprint to be lower and more environmentally friendly. Carbon emissions from factories are regulated and modern public transport networks keeps traffic - and subsequent air pollution - to a minimum. Not to mention the access and availability of eco-friendly automobiles. In mainland China, major cities such as Shanghai have banned regular motorbikes and enforce the sole use of electric powered scooters. This is greatly improved the air quality in a short number of years.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: hikers.shop

The garbage collection and processes are also more sustainable, efficient, and some even find ways to turn these into renewable energy. Natural parks and forests are also well protected, and all of that results in better overall air quality. Australia and Japan, for example, spend millions on enforcing strict recycling laws, and through the education system, children are taught from a young age the strict importance of recycling waste, saving water, and sustainability.

Many complain about the traffic in Vietnam. The endless sea of mopeds, fumes, and honking horns. The truth is that traffic is just as bad if not worse in larger foreign cities. You can get jammed during peak hours in Los Angeles, stuck in a standstill for hours at a time - something we rarely get in HCMC. Traffic is often equally as painful in Hong Kong and the CBD area of Sydney. This is a reality that people who have never been in other parts of the world do not realize.

Better Government - RELATIVE

Many local Vietnamese assume that France is a democracy and has a better government rule, but when you look at it from an economical perspective, we can’t really say that the French government is any better than Vietnam’s. “Better” is always subjective but for what it's worth, here in Vietnam, the people have hope even though a lot still remains to be done. Local Vietnamese love entrepreneurship and are always seeking opportunities and their survival and success is only possible due to the stability that the Vietnamese government has delivered for the past 20+ years. 

If you want better roads, schools and health care, think of how much this equates to the government’s capacity to raise taxes. Better infrastructures often means greater taxes. As an expatriate, you’ll get even more heavily taxed because you are in a foreign country. In highly developed social societies such as Sweden or Denmark up to 70% of your total income would be taxed! And do you realize that VAT which is 7-10% in Vietnam is at least double in all of the EU? Would you really enjoy feeling like you are ”working for the government” because they get a huge chunk of your hard earned salary? 

Opening your own business anywhere outside of Vietnam usually means that you can expect extortionate rental and utility fees, not to mention the high cost of multiple licenses required to start up and continue running your own business. Although strict with its rules and regulations, Vietnam is a nation that welcomes and encourages business startups, with rental and management fees, as well as licensing and labour costs much lower than those enforced within other countries.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: indonesiaexpat.biz

In many developed countries outside of Vietnam, corruption is commonplace. Corruption in Western societies is usually disguised under a variety of names such as political campaign donations or lobbying activities. Most Western countries also have their own off-shore haven where people can avoid paying taxes, and corruption payments or bribes are constantly exchanging hands under the radar.

Now, discussions regarding governments are complicated and hugely subjective. So let's just say that each of us may have different perspectives, and you are all entitled to them. I will leave it at that.

The “Illusion of Life” in a virtual world

Have you ever heard of living double lives? No, this is nothing shady but many of us live a false projection of our lives on social media when compared to what is reality. Our social media ”face” is often different from how life truly is. This is neither healthy or makes life any easier. It becomes a standard of living now, an illusion of a greater and grander life. Something we unnecessarily stress ourselves to achieve.

New immigrants are naturally proud of having achieved “freedom”. They post often on Facebook and flaunt their new lives to their friends, families, and followers. Their digital connections look up to them, envy them. Families insist that you share often about all the “great news” and what it’s like to live in such a modern place but they also assume that you’re earning so much and live an amazing, happy, and fulfilling life.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: studybreaks.com

This is the bright side of the coin, the other side shows that material gains do not shed light on what is truly within you. You’re living in a foreign nation and you’ve learned to live with your loneliness and sadness too often, it has become the norm. You are now integrated into this new society where people are most often sad themselves, you are behaving just as them. You think you have become one of them, a better version of what you could ever have been back in Vietnam. And then you wake up one day not recognizing who you see in the mirror. You must be thankful for all you have, send only the good news, and money when you can, and you're ”all good” now. But is this the reality?

You talk about good food and post beautiful photos but the fact is that your palate and love of home food has you craving and yearning for a slice of home. Your favourite ingredients and dishes are not readily available and you may have to adapt to local food and this may not always be as healthy as what you want or need. And we're just talking about food here. What about how hard it really is to make ends meet and how lonely it gets in new and strange environments?

Millions of Vietnamese share the same dream, strive for the same holy grail - to live in Canada, France, USA, Australia, Japan, anywhere else outside of Vietnam. If all migrants began sharing how challenging it really is to move to a new country, a place where you have no friends, no understanding of the language, traditions or culture, many might reconsider the challenge of emigrating and leaving the comfort of their home and loved ones.

Okay, so I acknowledge the problems here in Vietnam, like the traffic, corruption, and the seemingly “poor” environment but it does have a lot of charms. Western countries have slums and seemingly “poor” places too. Maybe they are just not as exposed as what you see here but once you get there, you will see that not everything in the movies or on social media is true. 

The grass may look greener on the other side but in reality, there’s more to what you see on the surface. Just like your own backyard, it has roots and weeds too. These are the things that you have to consider before heading out to a different country to seek greener pastures.

Why do so Many Expats Love Life in HCMC?

Life as an expat here is something many enjoy. We are pleased and fortunate to experience a vibrant city like no other. The rush, the colours, the noise, the palpable energy, the food! This is Saigon, the Pearl of the Orient. It has always been known to be a great place to be. There is nothing like it elsewhere, at least economically speaking. An exotic eldorado.

A city where its people have beautiful souls, are gentle, fiercely respectful, and always loyal. A place where when you smile, they smile back. A place where we can dress the way we want without feeling the weight of looks or judgement. This is a place of emotional freedom where we all live well without racism or religious conflict. A place where we can always find support when need be. A country where hope of a better future is rooted in its genes, its history. A young population that is eager, talented, and hard working. 

HCMC is a land of opportunities and it is the place to be. Many expats from around the world come to live in HCMC because life is great, and cheap! Let's not forget to mention the food here rocks and the tropical fruits are amazing! People are generally friendly and respectful. Life is good and we can lead a good life with a lot less. Besides, the sun shines all year long, isn’t that lovely?

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: ctfassets.net

When it comes to safety, I am definitely safe in Saigon, as long as I am careful when passing through some places after 11 pm. The rest of the time, you’ll be fine. Rarely have I heard, in my 13 years here, that someone I know got his bike stolen, or lost his car or got a broken window. There is theft like everywhere else on this planet, but here, no one bears arms except for the police.

Having gone through all of these factors, as an immigrant who has lived in almost all corners of the globe for so many years, I, along with thousands of other expats are left to wonder, ”Why are so many Vietnamese keen to immigrate to the countries we escaped ourselves?”

Banner Image source: vak1969.com


Ikigai: Understanding Ourselves to Find Purpose

By: Patrick Gaveau

Why does having purpose even matter?

What is Ikigai & how do we find it?

“The real test of knowledge is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us.” - Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens”

Part 1: WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE PURPOSE

For as long as I can remember, I have always been working towards a goal or a dream. As soon as I managed to accomplish one of my objectives, a desire to target the next big thing would start forming. The process of working towards these goals has been a large part of what I feel has given my life meaning and purpose.

IkigaiImage source: unsplash.com

Early on, I attained my dreams through trial and error. Fortitude was one of my strong points, so even when the path wasn’t easy I prided myself on never giving up. Yet, as I got older and I gained wisdom I realised something: the forward motion I felt while working towards a goal was really only part of the deeper experience. There was a bigger question looming beneath it all.

Why Does Having Purpose Even Matter? 

This primal question had no immediate answer. Other animals are content finding purpose by simply surviving. Humans seem to need more than that. But why?

IkigaiImage source: tripsavvy.com

I began by asking myself the following questions: 

- Why was I motivated to wake up every day?

- Are we rational beings?

- Is searching for purpose rational?

- Can the lack of purpose be what damages us the most?

Some of these questions were easy to answer. I knew what motivated me was to inspire and share with others in order to create a better world. In Part 2 of this essay, I will discuss the concrete ways I go about doing just that. However, before I could continue on my quest, I needed to know what made the desireto succeed at my self-imposed goals burn so bright? And, perhaps even more importantly, what might be holding me back?

The Rationale for Being Irrational 

Let me be blunt and provocative. For starters, humans are, in essence, irrational beings living in non-existent societies. By this, I mean that societies have been created by us. They are essentially figments of our imaginations. Certain things that we know to be true, like the fact that France borders on Switzerland, are actually human creations. Animal and plant life don’t see any difference between the two countries on either side of the Alps, yet, we insist on creating invisible borders. Humans are masters at creating stories and then deeply believing in them to the point that an alternate reality can no longer exist. 

IkigaiImage source: businessinsider.com

Storytelling is what humans do best. We’ve created stories to explain and organise what we perceive to be real for millennia. It has allowed us to create complex and vast ever-changing systems that bind us together so that we can easily dominate other species. Without such a remarkable capacity to create fiction that makes us believe in Government, Money and Religion, we humans could not be at the top of the food chain. The ever changing stories we build over and over are the actual cement of our societies and cultures

Yet, despite our deep-seated beliefs in our stories, there is also something within us that thrives on paradox. To put it more clearly, can we all agree that when we say/think something, we often end up doing exactly the opposite? Is this as true for you as it is for me? Do you think that accepting such behavioural patterns as “normal” is rational?

If tobacco has repeatedly been proven to result in cancer, why do we continue to sell it? To smoke it? If healthy food is essential to a healthy life, why do we continue to make the decision to eat so poorly? We can all agree that if we continue to abuse our plastic consumption that we put ourselves, our children and all life on Earth at risk of extinction. Yet, how many of us have managed to decrease our plastic use? … and the list goes on.

IkigaiImage source: pregistry.com

At heart, we are all irrational beings and this implies that humans have an incredible capacity to find comfort in contradictions. It is important to realise that our basic need to seek meaning in life is also irrational. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less essential.

What Holds Us Back From Our Goals? 

I hope that I’ve demonstrated two important things by now: our irrational capacity goes well beyond beliefs, and created fictions are a powerful force. Yet, what does irrationality have to do with needing to find purpose? 

Video source: Improvement Pill

Our quests for purpose are simply another part of our personal storytelling. They are built upon generations of fabricated knowledge. So if purpose was invented and therefore irrational can’t it also be limitless? In light of this, why can’t each of us create a beautiful story that resembles us, so that we can each strive in our imaginary world, and be exactly as successful as we choose to be?

Part 2: FINDING YOUR PURPOSE 

Anyone who has made it this far into this article might find some inspiration in the beautiful Mandy Hale quote that states that... 

“Sometimes all we can do is to embrace the uncertainty. Focus on the wait, enjoy the beauty of becoming. For when nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

IkigaiImage source: runnersworldonline.com.au

Knowing that your options are truly as broad as your imagination can be liberating but it can also be overwhelming. Initially, I too struggled to have a clear view of my ultimate purpose until, while researching, I stumbled on an ancient Japanese concept called IKIGAI

Ikigai literally means “A Reason for Being”. Not only does this concept help define who a person truly is, it also creates a framework for what that person should strive to become. Joseph Campbell poignantly explained this concept when he wrote... 

“People say that we’re searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think that is it at all. I think that what we are seeking is an experience of being alive.”

Ikigai is a simple, practical and effective way for anyone looking to have a deeper and more meaningful experience more in their lives. Ready to begin? 

A Lesson in Ikigai 

IkigaiImage source: Toronto Star

Take a look at the four central questions featured in this conceptual framework and address each one with a verb, name or concept that relates to how you see yourself. List as many elements you hold for each question. If you use the same words in several questions as in the below sample, this is fine. Be honest with yourself, and take your time, do it over and over. It may take weeks to nail down the true essence of each personal category. 

Once you’ve completed your list, review the chosen words. Now it’s time to be truthful—you’ll grade yourself on how you truly excel at each concept. To do this, rate yourself on how proficient you think you are compared with a random group of 100 people. Take a look at one of my client’s sample tests. The word “creativity” appears repeatedly under each question category. He gave himself a score of 100%, meaning he felt strongly that he was a master at being creative. Finally, classify each word by order of importance. If a word scores below 80-85%, you may choose to remove it.

As you work, you may realise that some verbs are similar and can be grouped. For example, negotiating and persuading have a close enough meaning that they can be summarised by one word such as “influencing”. If you’re still unsure about the right verbs/skills/capacities and its ratings, ask your partner, your mother or someone else who knows you very well, and validate your findings together. 

IKIGAI

A Japanese term for "Reason for Being. "The word ‘Ikigai’ usually refers to the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile.

What I can be paid for

What I am good at

What I love to do

What the world needs most

Ratings

Keyword

Creativity

Creativity

Creativity

Creativity

100.00%

 

 

 

 

 

 

TO INSPIRE (MENTOR-COACH-HEALER-ENTERTAINER)

Laughing

Laughing

Laughing

Laughing

100.00%

Breathing

Breathing

Breathing

Breathing

95.00%

Talking

Talking

Talking

Talking

95.00%

Public Speaking

Public Speaking

Public Speaking

Public Speaking

95.00%

Persuading

Persuading

Persuading

Persuading

95.00%

Questioning

Questioning

Questioning

Questioning

90.00%

Exercising

Exercising

Exercising

Exercising

90.00%

Conceptualising

Conceptualising

Conceptualising

Conceptualising

90.00%

Resolving

Resolving

Resolving

Resolving

90.00%

 

MISSION

What I love to do

What the world needs most

Ratings

Keyword

 

 

 A personal mission statement, which offers the opportunity to establish what's important to you. It can also help guide you towards a decision in a particular job, company, or career field.

Spontaneity

Spontaneity

100.00%

 

 

 

TO GROW

Introspection

Introspection

95.00%

Philosophy

Philosophy

95.00%

Psychology

Psychology

95.00%

Sincerity

Sincerity

95.00%

 

PASSION

What I am good at

What I love to do

Ratings

Keyword

 

 

 Represents a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm or desire to do something. 

Improvisation

Improvisation

100.00%

 

 

 

TO FLOW

Waterskiing

Waterskiing

100.00%

Driving

Driving

90.00%

Skiing

Skiing

90.00%

 

PROFESSION

What I can be paid for

What I am good at

Ratings

Keyword

 

 This is an occupation, practice, or vocation requiring mastery of a complex set of information and skills through formal education and/or practical experience.

Persuading

Persuading

100.00%

 

 

TO LEAD

Interviewing

Interviewing

95.00%

Marketing

Marketing

90.00%

Managing

Managing

85.00%

 

VOCATION

What I am good at

What the world needs most

Ratings

Keyword

 

 

 What am I destined to become? A vocation is not something that you can switch like a profession or a career.

Spontaneity

Spontaneity

100.00%

 

 

TO BE CONSCIOUS

Straight-forwardness

Straight-forwardness

90.00%

Adaptation

Adaptation

90.00%

Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy Lifestyle

85.00%

Your next step is to search for one word that can effectively summarise the other verbs, names or concepts that have been identified within each section. This word should be written on the right side of the table and should truly describe the essence of who you are. 

For example, “To Flow” is my client’s Passion. He arrived at this word because of his skills of waterskiing, skiing, driving and improvisation. All of these talents require the ability to focus and react promptly as well as effective navigation capacities within the flux of the environment, whether that be flying through the air above a lake or sailing his way through a speech in front of a room full of business colleagues. He felt that the epitome of those skills was his ability to effectively “flow” through any situation. This is the same process of self reflection that he went through for each section.

Once completed, you’ll know what words are the most important to you. These words, though extremely specific, will also be general enough to cover a wide variety of activities in which you can choose to partake. Your next step is to identify which activities will serve you best within this framework.

My client discovered throughout the process that his Ikigai is “To Inspire”. Striving to inspire others requires “Consciousness” of thoughts, words and actions, which describes his Vocation. In order to find new ways to inspire others, he also needs to constantly continue to learn and to “Grow”, which is his Mission. As a business owner, “Leading” is a necessity. It is also an essential part of his character, making it his Vocation. Last but not least is his Passion for “Flow”. He is constantly seeking new ways to maximise his creative flow, in order to remain as long as possible in his most productive state. Reflecting in depth on these keywords helped him to narrow down his career paths to being a Mentor, Coach, Healer or Entertainer. 

IkigaiImage source: vpr.org

For me, my Ikigai has become my compass. The gained knowledge of realising that my possibilities are limitless in the human construct of our society, along with my deep beliefs in creating my life story with this guidance have provided deep and long lasting fulfilment.

Discovering your own IKIGAI, Passion, Vocation, Mission and Profession is not as easy as it may seem. It may be more evident for some people than others. It often relates to each person’s capacities to reflect inwardly. If you face difficulties, ask for the support of a wise analytical mind and/or a wordsmith. Believe me, with sustained concentration and sufficient time, you’ll find it too, and once you do, you’ll be able to guide your storytelling path towards true meaning. Remember, your purpose in life may evolve over time, thus it is important to continue to re-examine your Ikigai every few years or so.

The next time you find yourself needing to make an important decision concerning your life or career, ask yourself if doing so will serve your Ikigai? This will guide you, and give you strength to pursue your goals with a newly gained sense of purpose. Afterall, when you are living a passion-filled life you are living on purpose, and that is the purpose of life.

Banner Image source: unsplash.com


Visibility and the Exploding Growth of Vietnam’s Queer Spaces

By: John Mark Harrell

Vietnam’s lô tô troupes are one of the first safe spaces for the trans community.

A growing number of venues and grassroots organizations are creating new safe spaces for Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ community.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ community, like others around the world, has gradually stepped into the light and become increasingly visible and accepted, largely thanks to increased media representation that has spread awareness and helped normalise gender fluidity and non-heterosexual relationships. While there is much work to be done, safe spaces for queer individuals to gather and seek support have been growing and flourishing in the country’s major urban centers, and even in the countryside thanks to the decades-long existence of Vietnam’s well-known lô tô troupes.

Lô Tô: A Safe Haven for Vietnam’s Trans Community

Many LGBTQI+ individuals hide their sexuality or true gender identity from their families, but for many in the transgender community (particularly for those who choose to transition), this luxury may not always be afforded to them. While transgender people are increasingly visible in positive media representation and pop culture, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations, in collaboration with Hanoi University of Public Health, has found transgender discrimination to be rampant, with over 60% of transgender people in Vietnam having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetimes. 

“Part of the problem is the limited way of thinking in the heterosexual community,” says Phong, a Hanoi-based performer. “Claiming that everyone has to live according to the gender assigned at birth.”

While transgender women experience the misogyny, abuse, and erasure that is devastatingly common throughout the world, transgender men (and more broadly, anyone assigned female at birth or AFAB) currently have very little access to sexual health resources. Fortunately there are growing grassroots movements, like FTM Vietnam, who are working to organize events like Trans Dot and spread awareness of issues specific to this underserved queer community. In addition, a recent initiative by ICS to provide quality sexual health education to students across Vietnam has concentrated a majority of its resources on the AFAB community.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/transdotvn

Beyond basic sexual health, professional medical help is another scarcity in the limited pool of resources for the local trans community. Few doctors in Vietnam are qualified or knowledgeable about gender confirmation surgeries or hormone therapy, leading many trans people to buy their hormones on the black market and inject them without knowing the appropriate dosage for their body type. Those who are fortunate enough to have support networks and sufficient resources travel to Thailand for their medical procedures—but if any complications arise after returning home, transgender people may find it next to impossible to find treatment even in major cities like Hanoi and Saigon.

Transgender people in southern Vietnam have historically banded together and formed their own communities as a survival mechanism. In the early 1980s, coupled with the rising popularity of Bingo which had been imported by the French during the colonial era, the nomadic lô tô“ troupes first appeared, comprised of mostly transgender drag queens who travelled from town to town, throwing carnivals and Bingo games for local communities until their licenses to operate expired, or they could no longer attract enough customers, or they were forced out by the local community. 

Though once merely regarded as a sort of “freak show,” this tradition has become a weekly staple at Rubik Zoo in Saigon performed by a local troupe of performers called Sài Gòn Tân Thời. Lô tô itself has transformed from a local novelty into a part of the country’s unique cultural heritage and, gradually, a positive representation for transgender people. Sài Gòn Tân Thời have recently been featured at a performance arts festival in Taipei, Taiwan, and have even had a go at investors on an episode of the Vietnamese version of Shark Tank

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: phunuvietnam.mediacdn.vn

For many transgender people in Vietnam, working as entertainers or in lô tô troupes is the only means to survival, as their legal gender doesn’t match their true identity or appearance, leading to difficulty applying for other kinds of jobs or integrating with society in ways cisgender people take for granted. Though change is inevitably on the horizon, it is only recently that transgender people have begun to be heard and seen beyond their capacity to entertain.

Safe Spaces for Queer Folks

ICS is a nonprofit organization that works throughout Vietnam to advocate for LGBTQI+ rights, educate local communities, and help organize local Pride events. Originally comprised of volunteers who met on internet forums, they eventually become organized and officially registered as a company in 2011. In 2012, they organized Vietnam’s first ever Pride celebration in Hanoi, and have since expanded to cities and towns all throughout the country.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

The Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) is another local advocacy group that also works more broadly for gender justice and protection of ethnic minority groups and has been advocating for social justice since before ICS was founded. The Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) has been around since 2001 and works more broadly for women’s and girls’ rights throughout Vietnam. In addition to these more established organizations, an increasing number of smaller grassroots organizations have grown to address the needs of smaller and underserved queer communities or needs and concerns specific to certain demographic regions, like NYNA and NYNO, Unigen, Hanoi Queer, Saigon Queer, and Bau Troi Xanh

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Thanks to these grassroots organizations working in their local communities, the word is spreading and public perception is gradually shifting.

“[Public perception] has improved quite a lot; those within the younger generation don’t discriminate at all and those from the older generation are softening up,” says Long, a transgender dancer and drag performer based in Saigon. “Parents of those within the community are starting to accept how their kids identify themselves and understanding that it’s natural and normal.”

In addition to advocacy groups, a growing number of queer-specific parties and events have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, giving the increasingly visible LGBTQI+ community opportunities to express themselves, make new friends and connections, and simply have fun. 

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

GenderFunk is a collective of queer artists and performers who have been organizing some of Saigon’s biggest queer events since summer of 2018. Their Saigon is Burning series, which has expanded to include Hanoi is Burning (as well as a GenderFunk-inspired “Is Burning” event in Grenoble, France), is a drag competition inspired in part by the original New York City ballroom scene which is the subject of the groundbreaking 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. 

GenderFunk aims to promote queer art, create safe queer spaces and, in the words of founder Ricardo Glencasa, “to explore and express your gender, however the f*** you want!” GenderFunk has also organised several gender and sexuality workshops for universities in Saigon and worked with ICS through charity fundraising events to finance close to 100 million VND for initiatives for leadership training and inclusive sexual education in schools throughout Vietnam.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/GenderFunk

Before there was GenderFunk, there was Full Disclosure, which pioneered the first inclusive drag night for both locals and expats in Saigon. Full Disclosure, founded by Gavin Sealy (also known as drag queen Joy Oi), started in 2017 and still organises events featuring local and international talent in a laid back environment where attendees can simply be themselves and have fun. 

Full Disclosure has also worked closely with the Tipsy Unicorn, one of the newest additions to Saigon’s gay bars, to put on weekly events and create safe spaces for the LGBTQI+ community in Saigon, ranging from trivia nights to weekly Rupaul’s Drag Race viewing parties. In addition to bringing the local community together for more informal gatherings, these events consistently provide a platform for the city’s newest drag performers to experiment and gain valuable experience.

In addition to these newer queer spaces, many existing performance troupes and drag shows have existed for the local community over the past decade or so, including the legendary JS Band, a group of fashionable transgender drag queens who perform regularly at venues around town (as well as GenderFunk & Full Disclosure) founded by activitist and mentor Jessica Ca in 2012. Bang Trinh team is another blend of trans and cis drag queens who frequently perform at local clubs and venues and spread awareness of LGBTQI+ issues in Vietnam—not only entertaining their audiences, but educating them as well.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: kenh14.vn

Ongoing club nights in Saigon like Republic and more upscale events at Skyxx are long-established venues for local and international drag performers, though they cater to high end crowds looking for a nightclub atmosphere. And perhaps one of the most popular unofficial-but-everyone-knows-it queer spaces is at Thi Bar on De Tham street in Bui Vien, which is consistently packed on the weekends and a favourite gathering place for local Vietnamese gay men.

Further to the north, Hanoi’s queer scene is expanding and manifesting itself in new ways that many in the local community never thought they would see.

“We have drag in Hanoi, which is crazy,” says Phong. “And it’s been nothing but support from everyone. Hanoi Pride caused lots of attention, good and bad but hey...that’s progress!”

Local queer collectives Peach and Wet organise numerous drag performance events and queer parties at venues all over Hanoi. One of Peach’s highlight events, “Singalong Social,” features a unique format where drag queens lead the audience in singing along to some of their favourite tunes. They also put on regular performance events and have recently hosted their own drag competition show for Hanoi Pride called Queen of Hanoi. 

Peach has worked closely with GenderFunk in Saigon to co-organize events in both Saigon and Hanoi in the past year, and an exciting blend of Vietnam’s diverse cultural communities in the North and South, as well as the mixture of international visitors and expats, has created a unique new kind of queer community in the country that expands beyond borders to a movement that is gradually having an international impact.

Beyond clubs, bars, and drag shows, there are a growing number of safe spaces for queer folks together in Saigon and Hanoi, like iSEE’s multi-functional meeting space, Gõ LGBT Shop, and the ICS Hub Cafe. Hanoi Queer recently organized Queer History Month in conjunction with Hanoi Pride in September 2019, with a stated goal of “communicating the presence of the LGBTQ community and contribute to the celebration of diversity as part of the larger goal of pushing for the society’s recognition of LGBTQ people.” The Hanoi International Queer Film Week hosts queer film events in a major festival once a year and smaller recurring events throughout the year. 

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/VietnamQueerHistoryMonth

As more and more members of the community raise their voices and make themselves heard, the demand for queer spaces and queer gathering places has increased dramatically in the last decade. There are now more safe spaces and grassroots organizations than ever before in Vietnam’s history, though for now they are mostly concentrated in major urban centres like Saigon and Hanoi. 

Here and around the world, there is certainly much to be done in the struggle for equality, but in Vietnam there is a palpable sense of hope in the local LGBTQI+ community. A hope that inclusivity and acceptance of “alternative” gender identity and sexuality will soon become the norm, rather than the exception.

Banner Image source: starsinsider.com


Keeping your digital camera clean

By: Vinh Dao

Destinations to clean your digital camera

If you are traveling throughout Vietnam, you’ve probably brought your camera along. If you didn’t, I would be shocked as this country is picture perfect for shutterbugs. Other than the obvious problem of dropping your camera, there is another less obvious problem that can arise with camera gear.

Lens fungus is the bane of camera lenses and occurs quite often in Southeast Asia due to the high humidity and oppressive heat. Lens fungus is caused by moisture trapped inside or on the surface of the lens and looks like a small spider web on the surface. Caught early enough, it can be cheap to fix and won’t affect the image quality of the lens. If you leave it for a few weeks, you might have a serious problem on your hands.

The best way to avoid lens fungus is to keep your camera and lenses cleaned and in airtight containers with bags of silica gel, which helps absorb moisture. Also, another preventative measure is to place your camera in a sealed ziplock bag when going to and from areas with vastly different temperatures. This prevents condensation from building up.

If you’ve happened to drop your camera or it just stops working, there are a plethora of shops around the Dong Khoi area that offer camera repair but aren’t authorised camera repair shops. Canon and Nikon owners are in luck as there are authorised repair centres in Hanoi and HCMC. These shops are the recommended fix but will be pricier than other repair shops.

However, if you have an older out of warranty camera and just want to extend the life of it until you get back home, we have located a couple of places in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that have English-speaking technicians.

But when you go to these non-certified camera shops, just remember the adage: Caveat Emptor!

 Canon Hanoi

No.130A, Giang Vo, Ba Dinh District
Phone: 04 3771 1966

Canon HCMC

No. 10A, Tran Hung Dao, District 1
Phone: 08 3838 9383

 Non-certified repair shop in HCMC - Huy Camera

No. 29 Huynh Thuc Khang, District 1
Phone: 09 0927 2818

 Nikon Hanoi - Viet Hong Building

2nd Floor 58 Tran Nhan Tong, Hai Ba Trung District
Phone: 04 3909 3843

 Nikon HCMC - Vietnam Business Center

No. 57 – 59 Ho Tung Mau, District 1
Phone: 08 3422 4883

 Non-certified repair shop in HCMC - Pham The

No. 11 Le Cong Kieu, District 1
Phone: 08 829 5888

 Non-certified repair shop in HCMC - Cuong Thinh

No. 145 Cao Thang, District 10

 Non-certified repair shop in Hanoi - Vu Nhat

No. 20 Thang Thi, Hoan Kiem District
Phone: 04 826 5161

 Non-certified repair shop in Hanoi - Nguyen Long

No. 17 Ba Trieu, Hoan Kiem District
Phone: 09 1260 6066

Things not to do in Vietnam

By: Quang Mai

Following the post about “Tips to spot and avoid scams and pick pockets”, City Pass Guide provides a list of things not to do in Vietnam that can secure visitors and help them to make their trip in Vietnam enjoyable.

On the street

To avoid being robbed or becoming victims of pickpockets, we highly recommended travelers not to carry more money than they need when walking around the streets, especially when you are alone. Wear as little jewelry as possible, as even fake jewels attract unwelcome attention from would-be robbers. In fact, thieves and drive-by snatchers do not have time to decide if jewelry is high value or not; they simply take whatever opportunity comes their way through a moment’s carelessness.

When taking a ride by xe om (motorbike taxi) make sure your bag, if any, is not on display or easy to grab. Bag snatches, although relatively rare, are probably the most likely crime a tourist will encounter, and it the risk is increased enormously if your prized camera or laptops are clearly visible.

Cultural issues

Wearing large amounts of jewelry is considered impolite because it seems to be flaunting wealth in public.

Don't wear singlets, shorts, dresses or skirts, or tops with low-neck lines and bare shoulders to Temples and Pagodas. To do this is considered extremely rude and offensive. Don’t be surprised when you notice some local ladies wearing them. Such dress is actually being criticized in many official and unofficial discussions in both online and print /media. You should not create any chances for locals to lay the blame on western culture.

Never sleep or sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards the family altar when in someone's house.

Never lose your temper in public or when bargaining for a purchase. This is considered a serious loss of face for both parties. Always maintain a cool and happy demeanor and you will be reciprocated with the same.

Physical displays of affection between lovers in public are frowned upon. That’s why you may usually come across couples holding hands while very seldom you can see a couple give kiss to each others in the public area. In fact, you may catch some couples hugging or even kissing to pose their selves in front of a camera. They are actually a part of the new generation of Vietnamese who are open-minded and affected by film and entertaining industry.

Ethnic minorities

Avoid giving empty water bottles, sweets and candies or pens to the local people when trekking through ethnic minority villages. You cannot guarantee that the empty bottles will be disposed of in a correct manner, and the people have no access to dental health. If you want to give pens, ask your guide to introduce you to the local teacher and donate them to the whole community.

Never take video cameras into the ethnic minority villages. They are considered to be too intrusive by the local people.

Political issues

Blogging is acceptable if your content stays steer clear of sensitive stories about the government. It is OK to share your personal experiences and review accommodation or restaurants but nothing else. Talk about anything like corruption in the government or even the Vietnam War can lead to a negative reaction on the part of the authorities. Therefore we definitely highlight this important point. It’s better to forget the term of “Freedom of Speech” while travelling in Vietnam.

Do not try to take photographs of military installations or anything to do with the military. This can be seen as a breach of national security.

Anything that depicts pornography is highly illegal. Prostitution also happens to be illegal. If you love bars and nightclubs, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi probably can serve your interests. But always keep in mind that sharing a hotel room with a Vietnamese of the opposite sex is generally not permitted.

Trading in or possession of drugs is illegal and a capital offence in Vietnam. As in other countries, drug abuse costs a lot in terms of prevention or even reduction, but it seems that it can never be completely eradicated. Therefore, don’t ever carry drugs with you while you are travelling in Vietnam.


Other articles:

Top 5 tips for crossing the street in Vietnam

Top 5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

Top 5 tips to rent a motorbike in Vietnam

5 tips to manage your online reputation on Tripadvisor

5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

5 tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

Tips to spot and avoid scam and pick pocket

Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

The art of bargaining in Vietnam


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