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


Special Flowers for Tet 2019

By: Robert Fouldes

Every Tet holiday we also celebrate and enjoy the arrival of spring. Everyone looks for the best flowers and ornamental plants to decorate their homes, to provide a striking visual effect and to create a feeling of freshness, helping us to look forward to a new year filled with luck, happiness and good fortune. Some of the popular flowers for this occasion are yellow apricot blossom, cherry blossom, kumquat, chrysanthemum, orchid, and narcissus. We find great joy in decorating our homes with flowers for Tet, raising our feelings as well as beautifying our homes, we also find ourselves expressing ourselves through personal tastes and communicating something of ourselves through the aesthetic of our style and decoration, in some cases hoping to mark ourselves as a connoisseur or arbiter of taste.

Let us consider what flower varieties are the hottest choices in this New Year / Tet 2019?

1. Chaenomeles japonica

This is a kind of flowering shrub that visually combines the cherry blossom of northern Japan and the southern yellow apricot blossom. Chaenomeles japonica is also known as Maule’s quince, belonging to the rose family with a short woody bush growing to about 100 – 200 cm. The shrub is slender and graceful, rich in colour, the flowers have broad petals, grow to be evenly sized, with cleverly arranged petals 3 - 5 cm diameter. The petals open by day and close at night and can be expected to be in flower for up to 2 months. The flower shows a diverse range of colour, bright red, crimson, red-orange, red rose. When in bloom, this flowering shrub is like a red fire, symbolizing wealth, peace, virtue and the common good. It is usually cultivated as a bonsai, and will also bear fruit. The shrub produces apple-like fruit, green until turning yellow when ripe, it appears quite like a pear, is fragrant, hard and usually sour, but it can be used to make preserves.

The price of Chaenomeles japonica varies from 1 to 10 million VND depending on the shape and size of the tree.

special flowers for tetImage source: giahuygarden.vn

2. Prunus mume Sieb

Prunus mume Sieb is a kind of white apricot blossom. It is a woody species, belonging to the rose family. The more rough and hardy the tree trunk is, the more beautiful it is considered. The flower buds are pink, but when blooming they gradually become white with very tight layers of petals. When the petals are shed, the remaining calyx (that protected the flower bud) gradually changes to red looking like a new flower, then this too falls away after a period of time, because of this, the flower has another name “twice apricot blossom” meaning that the flower blooms two times. Prunus mume Sieb symbolically represents the honourable man, for principles and values of virtue. The three most favoured silhouettes of the Prunus mume Sieb are the triangle, the straight and the slantwise. The triangle is also known as 3 elements: sky – earth – human with a large root and three branches forming the tree trunk. The straight upright appearance is straightforward, honest and strong. The slantwise is also known as the silhouette of a waterfall, leaning to one side, the shape often bending as would a tree growing on a steep mountain slope, which means reverence to the superior, the master.

Most of the Prunus mume Sieb cost from 2 to 15 million VND depending on the shape, silhouette and age.

special flowers for tetImage source: sohanews.com

3. Camelliathea amplexicaulis

Also known as Japanese Red Camellia (and has been called the Japan Rose), the flowers possess a conspicuous beauty and exude a beautiful, elegant and gentle scent (tea being a variety of Camellia). Camellia can be considered a gourmet plant with an added reward of flowers. Wherever you place the tea flower, the whole area will benefit and become refreshed and brightened as the flowers exude their wonderful aroma. Tea flowers come in many different colours such as reddish brown (deep tea), dark pink (pomegranate tea), pink rose (royal tea), white (white tea), yellow (gold flower tea) and sometimes hybrid combinations of white and pink stripes, red stripes, speckled (octagonal tea). The flowers are large and conspicuous usually with 5 to 9 petals. The Tea flowers will bloom for 5-15 days. The flowers symbolically represent perfection, loyalty, humility, dignity and grace.

Flowers cost from 500 thousand to 120 million, depending on the colour of the flower and the age of the tree.

special flowers for tetImage source: blogspot.com

4. Camellia sasanqua

The flowers are fresh and vibrant, but they do not overpower us with a dazzling feeling, but radiate our senses with a feeling of warmth. The petals are broad, curved, and gently embrace the yellow stamens, the fragrance is very light. These flowers include two varieties, one with single petals and one with dual petals. The colours are quite diverse with white, pink, dark pink, yellow, with the most popular being crimson. Blooms can last up to 20 days; the flowers are often very thick and cover trees with a high density. Camellia sasanqua represents harmony, joyful life and friendship of the family (in Chinese, the name of the flower is synonymous with the big house, the main house).

Flowers cost from 500 thousand VND to 100 million VND, depending on the shape, age and age of the tree.

special flowers for tetImage source: kenhhomestay.com

5. Hibernation Rhododendron

According to the ancients, the rhododendron flower is a symbol of gentleness, peace, prosperity and reunion. For some European countries, this flower is considered a symbol of glory and pride. Rhododendrons can also have another name: Azalea. Possessing a brilliant beauty with warm colours, azaleas are commonly dark red, dark pink, pink, purple, orange, white. Every time the flower blooms, it fills the space around it with vitality. An interesting aspect of the rhododendron is its hibernation, in cold dry periods the plant will reduce its water content, but the cells will remain alive, in Autumn / Fall, the tree will slowly fall into hibernation with the appearance of dry branches. When the water supply at the roots resumes, after 2 days the tree will wake and on the third day will bud and the flowers will begin to sprout. On the 7th day, the flowers will begin to bloom, and after 15 days the buds will fully bloom with brilliance.

The price of hibernation rhododendron is quite low, from 150-500 thousand VND / bunch of 30-50 branches.

special flowers for tetImage source: kenh14cdn.com

6. Classic Rose

Classic Roses are always loved for their beauty, romantic association, elegance and luxurious appearance. In addition, the number of blooms on each bush/tree is usually quite large. The rose bush also radiates a broad gentle fragrance that adds to its attraction. Classic Roses are a diverse and widely cultivated species. The flowers have many varieties such as Van Khoi Rose, Sapa Rose, Lipstick Rose, Bach Xep Rose or imported pink called Tree Rose, all with various colours: white, pink, dark pink, yellow, red, purple or veined stripes. Rose blooms usually last for 7-10 days, with some types of super long lasting blooms persisting for a whole month.

Classic roses are priced at VND 1.5 - 250 million depending on the origin and freshness.

special flowers for tetImage source: vuonhongvanloan.com

7. Peony

Peony was dubbed the king of flowers with a beautiful, noble and gorgeous bloom. Charming and delicate as roses, the petals are narrow, smooth, layered from the centre to the outside, giving a full shape, but the size is much larger (20-30cm) than a rose, making it stand out in every space. It also possesses a passionate and charming scent along with various striking colours such as pure white fawn, a noble and fresh pink, an attractive bright red, a charming high purple, a warm golden shine, a keen purple, and a charming pink colour to a unique reddish purple. The flower symbolises wealth, prosperity, beauty and wisdom and is a popular gift all around the world. The Peony will bloom for 7-10 weeks in suitable conditions.

Peony flowers cost between VND 500,000 and VND 8 million.

special flowers for tetImage source: tronghoa.vn

8. Winterberry

Winterberry is a shrub that grows wild in many countries such as the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. The tree is tall, beautiful, with slender glossy green leaves, it produces small white flowers, then clusters of berries along its branches, appearing as yellow then ripening to a striking red; these berries are also a favourite food of birds. The tree is at its most beautiful in the late winter and early spring, a clear sign of the New Year. Europeans have long used the Winterberry along with other flowers to decorate and bring a feeling of warmth to the home in the middle of the cold winter season. In the climate of southern Vietnam, fruiting branches can be kept fresh for 7-10 days. If the climate is as cold as in the north, they can be kept for months.

Winterberry prices are quite expensive because of their origin, incurring import and storage fees. Each branch will cost around 200-400 thousand VND, a large collection for about 5 - 50 million VND.

special flowers for tetImage source: wikimedia.org

9. Forsythi

This flower blooms in early spring; the blooms are a bright yellow colour, like the apricot blossom in southern Vietnam. However, Forsythi blooms in clusters, with the flowers clinging along the length of its long slim branches. The flowers have 4 long petals stretching out to hug the pistil. The Forsythi grows as a wild-flower in many European and American countries. They also have the name "Easter Tree " or "Golden Rain", and are often grown as fences/hedges or in parks. The plants often shed their leaves before flowering. Each flower cluster appears to possess great intricate beauty, but close observation reveals quite a simple structure, but it remains visually dominating. The yellow colour always raises one's spirits, inspiring and bringing joy wherever they are found. The flowers can stay fresh for about 15-20 days.

The prices range from 300-500 VND / branch, depending on the height. A large plant is available for about VND 4 - 15 million.

special flowers for tetImage source: amazonaws.com

10. Hybrid Orchid

The Orchid is still the first choice for many flower lovers, but the type of orchid most sought after recently is the Hybrid Orchid, even though their prices are quite high, from several million to nearly ten billion VND. The Flowers have a very distinctive appearance with different colours, diverse shapes and width of petals. There are many types of orchids such as Rhynchostylis gigantea, Dendrobium anosmum, White Dendrobium Nestor… each species having a unique appearance, in fact, all are unique. For example the Paphiopedilum parishii orchid or “mutant beard”, originated from Germany, its shape is intriguing as it appears to be adorned by two long beards, it holds the price of 4.6 million VND / plant. Dendrobium anosmum orchid is marked by broad, thick, firm but not too long petals, costing from 5 million VND / plant. Rothschild: an almost extinct orchid species with only a small number remaining in the Kinabalu region of Malaysia - dubbed the "gold of Kinabalu", blooms only once every 15 years, the flowers costing upwards from 110 million VND. To get these orchids, collectors must order a long time in advance, and sometimes there will be no guarantee that they will receive them at a given time, such are their rarity, but for many flower lovers and collectors, the investment is worth both the time and money, for them to attain the object of their passionate desire.

special flowers for tetImage source: ytimg.com

Banner Image source: ynghiahoa.net


Nui Tuong Project

By: Zornitza Natcheva

Create sustainable change in a safe and supportive environment.

The importance of community.

Everyone is welcome to visit!

Global support towards an inspiring cause..

A remarkable story about a small rural Vietnamese community and its heartwarming transformation.

Nui Tuong is one of the poorest communities in the Dong Nai province where the main source of living is farming. Unlike some other provinces in Vietnam, Dong Nai has limited resources and English is not taught at primary school level. The Nui Tuong Project began in May 2016 when Hang Le returned back to her place of birth. 

Nui Tuong

Hang was born into a family of accomplished farmers. Having graduated with an English degree, life took Hang to the city where she spent years in Saigon working on a variety of projects and teaching Vietnamese to foreigners. Over time, Hang found her life to be unfulfilling and empty. She was always drawn to her roots and wanted to find a way to give back to her people. Upon returning to Nui Tuong, Hang immediately saw that little had changed for most families in her community since her childhood years. The severe poverty weighed on the community, they had low self-esteem and small hopes for a better future.

Finding Opportunity in the Darkest of Places...

With a passion to lead her community towards a brighter future, Hang realised the huge potential in sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism, as Nui Tuong is mere walking distance from Cat Tien National Park. Not long after she returned back to her village, the head of the ward asked her to teach the local children English in one of the small community houses available. She accepted enthusiastically and quickly saw how smart and inquisitive children of the community were. Hang recognized that in order to continue their development and create sustainable change, she needed to foster an environment where local children could learn, conduct experiments and share knowledge, in a safe and supportive environment.

Nui Tuong

With her own money, Hang founded Nui Tuong Project which is now a social enterprise. It presently sits on a 2000 square metre plot of land, nestled along Dong Nai River and has grown to have four large wooden bungalows for accommodation, additional dormitory for volunteers, a spacious and open dining and kitchen area and a library where children gather for their lessons and study activities. Nui Tuong project is unique as it blends agriculture, eco-tourism and education in a creative and innovative way and Hang strives to expand each area to its full potential. 

Cultivating Community...

At present, there is one permanent staff, Ms. Celine – a French national – who plans to remain at Nui Tuong for two years and is in charge of agricultural development. Her expertise and passion lie in permaculture, organic produce and sustainability and she has devoted her time to both managing the farm as well as creating workshops for the children. The long term goal is to have plants, fruits and vegetables all year round and to entrust the farm operations to the local children. Celine and the children learn about how to create small and large scale farms and about the local challenges in their production processes. The children are encouraged to develop solutions, experiment with new and more suitable crops for the climate, make organic fertilizer, teach farmers not to use pesticides and learn about current methods and machinery used in modern farming. 

Nui Tuong

Hang dedicates most of her time to engaging with the parents in the village. She organises music nights and other events to bring the community closer and build trust in her teaching methods. During community nights, Hang encourages the parents to have trust in their children and to allow them the independence to develop new skill sets and build their confidence. She also guides children on how to develop an open communication with their families about their hopes and dreams. 

Hang emphasizes the importance of having practical skills in addition to just good grades in school, which is what most parents usually focus on and what is promoted in traditional education systems. By promoting “learning by doing” Hang aims to strengthen the childrens’ abilities in performing independent research and having a solution driven, proactive mindset.

Nui Tuong Village Welcomes Everyone!

Of course, Nui Tuong Project would have never been possible without the help of international volunteers and visitors, which Hang has been actively engaging with in the last two years. In Nui Tuong village, eco-tourism is suitable to be experienced by anyone who loves nature, especially families that live and work in big cities. As a guest you pay a small fee for accommodation in one of the bungalows and you can use the bicycles from the farm to explore the nearby surroundings as well as tour Cat Tien National Park. One can enjoy the rice fields, the farm, eat and live like locals within the commune, learn about country life and experience its simplicity while feeling part of a big family. 

Nui Tuong

Additionally, the project organises Summer Camps where children from local schools and English centers in Ho Chi Minh City can join local kids on the farm and stay between 1 - 4 weeks. Most of the activities are determined by the volunteers and a typical weekly program includes: playing the guitar, practicing martial arts, and drawing. The program also covers subjects such as English, Science, History and Regional Geography. Children attending the camp are involved in weekly workshops on farming and nutrition, making jam and wine, planting flowers and fruits and even yoga! Children are taught how to run projects, manage finances and how to utilise social media for promotion and marketing. Hang loves to observe and discover the potential of each child through these activities and once she recognises certain talent within each child, she will change their role in order to fit their skills and personality, which in turn gives them the courage to develop in the right direction. Hang shares as her personal motivation for this project...

“To see a positive change in a human, to see them understand and trust themselves more and more every day, to have the opportunity to inspire them to be leaders.”

Global Support Towards an Inspiring Cause...

Schools which have joined in helping the project are Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Students and staff from FPT University in Vietnam visited and prepared dinner for over 100 community members. Even visitors from Hong Kong are making their way to Nui Tuong village, where 30 students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology built a soccer field for the whole community to enjoy and taught the children experiments about aerodynamics and engineering. Students from National University of Singapore have also visited for two consecutive years to build additional classrooms and facilities and implement solar lights for the amenities on the farm. 

Nui Tuong

Hang feels happy now, even though her life and community responsibilities have become increasingly demanding and complex. She aims to continue to expand and accommodate more children from her community, nurturing and improving each of their native talents and strengths. Hang sees Nui Tuong Project becoming the perfect social enterprise model for anyone to pick up as a valuable case study and implement in their home towns and communities.

Within the next five years, most of the current children will leave to study abroad, the farm will grow to cover five hectares of land and there will be a small factory to produce wine. There will be additional housing for guests and volunteers, as well as housing for lecturers and scientists, with a fully equipped lab for them to conduct experiments. This is how Hang envisions the development of her project, as she believes her efforts will bring continuous change in the local community, for a better living environment and a stronger local economy. 

Now Hang is focused on the actual day to day work with the children, which she considers the most rewarding human experience. Her most substantial need is to bring more awareness to Nui Tuong Project, and to inspire organisations and companies to support with donations and volunteers. 

Nui Tuong

As Nui Tuong Project grows, it will soon need four additional interns and an education coordinator, as well as volunteers in the fields of Technology, English and Farming.

How can you and your organisation support Nui Tuong Project?
Contact Hang Le directly: +84 978 888 185
nuituongedu@gmail.com

Image source: Nui Tuong


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



Facebook redesigns business pages with new look

By: Emilio Piriz

Facebook redesigns business pages with new look

After redesigning its news feed personal accounts last week, Facebook announced that it will roll out a new look and feel for business pages. This affects the Online Reputation Management (ORM) service that we at City Pass provide to premium clients in the Travel and Hospitality sector in Vietnam; therefore we should take these changes into consideration to get the best out of the new features.

The remake means good news to all users of this platform. Even Facebook calls this new appearance a more ‘streamlined’ look. The new design includes two columns similar to the old version, but the right column is now the Page’s timeline while the left includes information about the brand or business (e.g., map, business hours, phone number and website URL). Previously, both left and right columns used to display posts as users would scroll down the page.


Facebook New
Two distinct columns in new design

This major rearrangement makes Facebook Business Pages look a lot more like a personal profile. In a post on the official Facebook for Business blog, the company explained, “We’ll begin rolling out a streamlined look for Pages on desktop that will make it easier for people to find the information they want and help Page admins find the tools they use most.”

The redesigned layout comes with several changes for City Pass's Social Media management services – part of our ORM package – as Page admins. Stats such as page likes, the number of ad campaigns, post reach impressions, and notifications will appear in a tool bar in the right column. Therefore, administrators now have this information readily available in one place without having to navigate through numerous menus.

The new appearance actually makes the desktop version look more like the mobile version. This offers a more unified experience for your visitors no matter what device they’re using to follow your feed. Additionally, the ‘face makeover’ comes less than a week after Facebook updated the look for news feeds. This is a fairly minor change that includes larger photos and new icons and fonts.

How do you like Facebook’s latest redesigns? Do you think they will achieve their primary goal in improving the user’s experience?



Posts run on both left and right side in old design

The Do’s and Don’ts For Vietnamese Funerals

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Funerals are events that you would prefer not to ever have to experience. Depending on where you’re from, they can either be viewed as a sad event or a celebration.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: vncdn.mvpviet.com

Here in Vietnam, there are certain age-old practices and routines that you may not yet be aware of. Take note of these rules and suggestions to make sure you remain respectful and beyond reproach during this delicate mourning period.

Do’s and Don’ts at a Vietnamese funeral

Here’s a quick guide for what to do and what to avoid if you’re invited to a funeral in Vietnam.

Bring a Gift: This is a sign of respect for the deceased and his or her family members. The most common gift is flowers and in Vietnamese culture, the most appropriate flowers to gift during funerals are white flowers.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: allenfamilyfuneraloptions.com

One of the most beloved flowers in Vietnamese culture is the white lotus, which is used as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life, symbolising purification and regeneration.

Show up in Black: Since family members wear white, others in attendance are expected to wear black. Besides being one way to distinguish family members from guests, white is also worn by family members because they believe it will earn merit for the deceased and the family.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: kenh14.vn

Stick to Odd Numbers: This might seem a little puzzling for foreigners but in Vietnamese culture, certain procedures are done in odd numbers. For example, when lighting incense, go for one, three or five sticks, with three being the most ideal.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: 24h.com.vn

This also applies when you bow your head in front of the coffin. Hold the incense sticks in your hands and bow once, thrice or five times.

Vietnamese believe that odd numbers are ‘lucky’ at funerals. However, be aware that holding three incense sticks at any other time might be considered macabre or unlucky. Take, for example, the residential towers formerly known as Thuan Kieu Plaza. To the Saigonese, the three towers closely resembled the incense sticks one might burn to honour the dead and thus were cursed for failure from architectural conception.

Now here are things you should NOT do at a funeral in Vietnam

Do Not Attend if You’re Pregnant: The Vietnamese believe that during cremation, the spirit of the deceased is freed from the body and may enter the unborn.

Do Not Smile: This may seem like a no-brainer but it is very important to note that funerals in Vietnam are a sombre event. Therefore, it is best to avoid smiling or laughter as it will be considered extremely rude.

Do Not Make Any Noise: Be as silent as possible and speak only when spoken to. Keep your volume low and ensure your phone is set to silent. The last thing you want is to attract unwanted attention to yourself, especially when you’re a guest.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: afamilycdn.com

Watch how the other local attendees behave at the funeral and just follow what they do. Most of the time they will guide you on the steps and procedures so you will have nothing to worry about.

Do Not Light Incense if You’re Menstruating: Another one that may seem odd to a non-Asian. It is believed that lighting incense while you’re menstruating will bring bad luck to the deceased. What you can do, alternatively, is to stand in front of the coffin, hold your palms together and bow your head an odd number of times.

In Vietnamese culture, the deceased are accorded the same respect as the living, this is why it is perfectly alright to take pictures during Vietnamese funerals, an act that is frowned upon in most western societies.

Because of the many different ethnic groups in Vietnam, there will be some differences in terms of customs and procedures. However, most of them share some similar practices, which will be listed below.

Step 1: The Final Bath: The body will first be cleaned by a professional, then dressed in a new set of clothes, before the body is put into a casket. If at that point, the casket is not available yet, then the body will be placed on the deathbed with a small knife positioned on the stomach. This is meant to protect the spirit while waiting for the casket to be prepared.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: gappingworld.com

Another practice is to put a pinch of rice, with three coins in the mouth of the deceased. This is based on the belief that “being born from the earth, one must return back to the earth”.

When the casket arrives, it will usually be placed near the centre of the house, ideally in the living room. An oil lamp will then be placed under the casket throughout the entire duration of the wake. This act is meant to keep the spirit warm.

Step 2: The Broadcast: Black and white flags will then be hung, lining the route between the deceased’s home to the closest main street. The flags will be placed about 50 to 100 metres from each other. These flags serve as an ‘announcement’ to the neighbours, as well as to nearby spirits that someone in the vicinity has passed away. It also serves the practical purpose of marking the route to the house for the wake attendees.

Step 3: Entering The Coffin: Also known as nhập quan, this stage consists of a final clean-up or beautifying of the body before it’s placed in the coffin. Water and alcohol are used for this process before the body is then dressed in new white clothes.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: farm5.staticflickr.com

Relatives of the deceased will be dressed in funeral clothes consisting of a white robe, oversized pants and a pointed hood.

After the body has been placed in the coffin, relatives will then slowly circle the coffin for a final time. If the deceased was a Buddhist or has no specific religion, a bowl of rice and an egg will be placed on the coffin. If the deceased was Christian, there will be a card with the name of the deceased displayed on it.

Step 4: Arrival of The Guests: At this point, the coffin will be ready for viewing and the guests will arrive to console the family, as well as to offer a final prayer. Guests usually don dark coloured clothing, and they will bring flowers and money to help with the funeral costs.

The wake typically lasts around three days, during which friends and associates can come at any point to pay respect to the deceased and the family. They will usually bring a pack of incense, and an envelope with some money in it. These two items are given to the family as a form of contribution to the funeral process.

After that, they will light up an incense stick, offer a prayer for the deceased and bow. Two of the mourning family members will stand at both sides of the casket during this process and bow in return.

There will be a small area allocated nearby with some light food and tea so that the visitors can sit and talk after. Close friends usually stay and help with the funeral as much as they can, including running errands or helping to wash the dishes. If the deceased worked for a company, they will usually send flowers, which will then be placed around the casket and brought along to the burial site.

Step 5: The Final Goodbye: At the end of the third day, a team of about ten men will facilitate the next step, four of the ten will act as pallbearers.

First, the men will perform a ritual to seek permission from local spirits to move the casket. The casket will then be moved into a funeral car—a vehicle customised with large windows so that the coffin is visible from the outside.

This vehicle will be part of a convoy made up of friends and family, and, depending on the popularity of the deceased, it can stretch up to a kilometre or two.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: cdn.baogiaothong.vn

The convoy will consist of a ‘lead’ vehicle carrying two family members. One family member will hold a portrait photograph of the deceased while the other holds the incense bowl.

Upon reaching the destination, another ritual will then be performed by the same men before the actual burial process. Belongings of the deceased, such as clothes, will be burned near the gravesite, along with flowers and the mattress that was used as the deathbed.

As the convoy disperses, some close friends and the people who worked throughout the funeral will follow the lead car back to the house, making sure to follow exactly the same route as the earlier journey. This is done to ensure the spirit of the deceased will not be lost. This is also why the route is planned in advance to avoid one-way streets.

When they arrive back home, the house will have already been cleaned up and the furniture put back in place, usually by close friends who stayed to help, and the incense bowl will be placed on the family altar.

Meals will be offered to those who worked during the funeral and to the men who performed the rituals.

Step 6: The Mourning: Depending on the deceased’s position in the family hierarchy, the mourning period can last up to three years. During this period, there will be several restrictions imposed on the family members, including being forbidden to marry. This is usually more common among the more conservative families, but not as strictly adhered to by the rest. The white clothes worn by the family members will also be placed near the altar and will be burnt after an allotted time to signify the end of the mourning period.

Vietnamese funerals can be a very eye-opening cultural experience if you take note of the do’s and don’ts to avoid unwittingly offending your hosts and the dearly departed.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: ngotoc.vn

Banner Image source: v3.news.zdn.vn

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