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Thomas Wanhoff: blogging and social media in Vietnam

November 4, 2009

“Are we willing to embrace this new communication age in Vietnam?”

Such is the question posed to web guru Thomas Wanhoff, who takes time out to talk about the presence of social media here and just how far blogging has come among expats.

(I’ve given up the ghost with Youtube and switched to the excellent Vimeo)

Having built up a social media presence, through Twitter, Facebook and his very own blog, Thomas is somewhat of an expert in new technology and everything web orientated. Having relocated to Vietnam from Phnom Penh over a year ago, Thomas is one of the main organizers behind the forthcoming Barcamp Saigon 2009.

Keep in contact with Thomas by following his excellent blog and following him at twitter.com/thomaswanhoff.

Giving Back

October 29, 2009

Not all expats come to Vietnam to take advantage of the great weather, cheap food and luxury living. Some actually come here to make a real difference.

Carly Hood, of the Disabled & Disadvantaged Children’s Charity of HCM City, is no stranger to hard work. Helping to raise money and awareness for some of Vietnam’s most needy people, Carly’s work helps to better the lives of the many suffering affects from the dioxin Agent Orange.

Carly takes the time to talk about her own role within the organization and what others can do to help.

Driving Events and Culture Forward | AnyArena.com

October 27, 2009

Most web developers agree that driving traffic to a site can be a tough job. Saigon event site AnyArena.com, however, is making it look easy. It’s popular blogs, events listings and music, art and fashion content keep the crowds coming back again and again.

The site’s founder Jonathan Glaser, takes time out to talk about the site, it’s concept and just how much the Saigon scene has developed in terms of culture and events.

Xe-Om Diaries

October 26, 2009

What happened when two westerners hit the streets to become xe om drivers for a day? They learned not to quit their day jobs.

Chilling with the competition

Chilling with the competition

As two western journalists do, we decided to research the public transportation industry in Saigon to find out employment opportunities for foreigners, how to get started and where to find potential clients to build up business.

I Am Will, Your Xe Om Driver

Ever since I’d arrived in Vietnam (a grand total of twelve months ago) I’d noticed a particular niche market. What would happen if a frail-looking white boy took to the streets offering rides to all the tourists walking around? It was a question that had nagged at me for a while, always rearing its ugly head each time I took a ride with the men in blue jackets.

Then came the day. My assignment – find out what it’s like to be a xe om driver and, if you can, try to make more money than Nathaniel “Chet” Liedl. So I started out the day scoping out the competition by taking a few rides myself (or, more truthfully, getting to work after having my own motorbike repossessed by the authorities).

Early impressions were that this would be easy. I speak better English than this guy, I thought, as he began to litter the streets with fluid from his mouth and nose. I’m maybe a little more presentable, too. So we’re off, out of the starting blocks and hitting the streets. My steed? A sleek silver Yamaha Nouvo. An upper-hand, how many xe om drivers have this?

Location Scouting

My competitor gets a ride

My competitor gets a ride

A spot is chosen opposite Allez Boo and my comments book (any good xe om must have one) is out in force. I have a single entry forged from the imagination of my editor. She writes: “He didn’t know where to go, but was patient enough to look at the map.”

With a comment as endearing as this, how could I fail?

Standing alongside my muscled brute of a competitor, I suddenly realised I’m going to have to hustle like there’s no tomorrow. A tourist bus rolls in from Phnom Penh, to which I welcome two newly arrived Americans with ferocious enthusiasm.

“Where you wanna go?” I scream, my voice retorting to a freakish caterwaul. “Nowhere with you,” they reply. That hurt.

Soon after, the freak show that had been congregating around us began to play out their sordid games. I’m fooled into taking a xe om driver masquerading as a customer to Ben Thanh Market only to have him scream at me to stop 15m down the road. Another person asks me where my blue jacket and insignia is to which I point hastily at my home-made label reading, “Hello, my name is Phuc, how can I help you today?” The first few hours go by without any takers.

Time for relocation opposite Go2. The sun’s beating down and the boredom’s excruciating. Suddenly the Sozo cookie lady walks by, I give her the old English charm and I’m in. I’ve got my first ride and I’m elated. I whisk her off and deliver her back at Sozo’s door. I’m beaming like the chivalrous knight who delivered his damsel two minutes down the road. I have VND5,000 in my pocket and I rub it in Chet’s face.

The rest of the day, however, plays out like time in purgatory. I take a rather plucky young English journalist out to Phu My Hung (for free as something to do), almost perishing in the path of an oncoming truck. Later I return to the same spot only to engage in long and tiresome conversations with shoe sellers, sunglasses salesmen and hookers. This gig isn’t so sweet. A seven-hour day and only VND5,000 to show for it. Then it’s home time and I’m left to reflect on the day and my loss to Saigon’s “premier English-speaking xe om” Chet. But not all is lost as a dream has finally been lived and it’s not the untapped goldmine I thought possible.

My final advice to any half-interested motorcycle entrepreneur? Trim your nails and don’t quit your day job. The boys in blue have it covered.

Lightweight

October 25, 2009

There’s more to boxing than simply flooring an opponent. It’s a great way to reduce stress and keep fit. And now, thanks to increasing popularity and accessibility, it is a sport that newcomers are flocking to.

A trainee gives her best shot at trainer David Minetti.

A trainee gives her best shot at trainer David Minetti.

“Yeah, I’m pretty trim,” I think to myself gazing in the mirror of my unpretentious flat. But admittedly I’m a little blind. What really reflects back is the trembling body of an adolescent. A scrawny 23 year old in skimpy black Y-fronts, body all goose-pimpled from a faltering air con unit and frail from decades of geekery. Today I’m going boxing for the first time. Will I come back a broken man? Probably.

A Little Rumbling in the Jungle

Bound for the ring, I arrive to meet David Minetti, owner of K1 Fitness and despite his lack of height, a cumbersome boulder of a man. I catch a quick glimpse into my potential place of rest. Heaving men are smashing the full weight of their bodies into the punching bags while nodding gracefully to hip-hop music at 100 decibels. My organ literally shrivels in my pants. “This is where the big boys come to play,” I say to myself.

Minetti, although fearsome in appearance, is a very congenial man. I rub up against him like a mouse does to an elephant. His shirtless tattooed physique puts my pale white body to shame, while his shaven head makes me feel considerably effeminate. His brother Francois Xavier is almost his carbon copy, if a little taller. Either way I want to go home.

But as he welcomes my slender frame with an open but firm handshake I realise he is a man of a courteous nature. We begin our appointment by discussing just why boxing is on the rise in Vietnam.

“It’s a very good way to get out stress and keep in good shape,” he explains, as we observe his brother forcing a man into painful body crunches. “It’s grown a lot in the six years I’ve been here, thanks to TV, film and the Internet.”

In fact, 90 percent of David’s customers are newcomers to the sport, attracted by its strict cardiovascular regime and emphasis on body conditioning. “Forty percent of our clientele are women,” he says, “who have found kickboxing to be a very effective way of keeping slim.” Kids and teenagers are even getting in on the action; K1 offers weekend and nightly classes in mixed martial arts, boxing and Krav Maga. Taking on a kid, I might stand a chance, but these flexing hulks? I think not.

Float Like a Butterfly

But boxing is the order of the day and box I shall. Having been assigned Francois-Xavier as a coach I receive a typical beginner’s introduction to the discipline. He hands me a jump rope and I look at him disgustingly. “What am I to do with that,” I think to myself, associating skipping, rather incorrectly, with girls.

“Do this for five minutes,” he challenges me, throwing down a seemingly easy gauntlet. I start swinging and my bony little arms appear as if they’re about to snap. I make the rookie mistake of going too hard too early and end up leaping several inches off the floor with each jump. Two minutes later I’m panting heavily and being asked to move. Having kept shuffling back continuously I have rather innocently taken up the floor space of the four brutes behind me.

Three minutes later and I’m gasping for breath. But at least I’m displaying some technique. He shows me where to rest my hands as a guard, the correct boxing stance and I even had a go at my first jab. At the moment its shadow boxing but I’m hoping to soon graduate to the ring. Francois-Xavier reaches for the eight ounce gloves and has to strap them on for me. He puts on some pads and asks me to pummel him.

Sting Like a Mosquito

David Minetti takes another punch

David Minetti takes another punch

He teaches me how to jab and hook and their differing combinations. I get a sense of real euphoria in letting off steam and begin to realise the lure that boxing casts over newcomers. After about twenty minutes, the gloves come off and I hit the canvas for some serious conditioning. Francois-Xavier pushes me hard, laughing at my whimpering efforts to do a push up. We squat and crunch before hitting the dumbbells which he incorrectly assumes I can lift with ease.

My ability is pitiful, three squat reps later and I’m begging for relief. He agrees to call it a day, having given me my allotted 45 minute session. My face is deathly white and I want to puke. The guys at the gym are all very accommodating and encouraging throughout this ordeal.

“Don’t worry, all beginners find the first class tough,” they assure me. Did I enjoy it? I couldn’t move the next day but I’m very keen to go back. I can certainly see the intensity of the training paying off. The best thing for me, however, is unlike Evander Holyfield I came out with both my ears intact.

For more information about boxing in Saigon visit K1 Fitness Centre, 346 Ben Van Don, Q4. Or go to www.teamminetti.com.

What Needs To Be Done | Saigon’s Live Music Scene | DJ Mark Jolly

October 24, 2009

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British DJ Mark Jolly has been entertaining the Saigon crowd for many years. Regular slots down at Lush, Vasco’s and Cage, have put him firmly on the map as one of the cities top vinyl spinners. Ahead of his forthcoming show, Déjà vu: UK in da House 2, Mark takes takes the time to talk about the Vietnam scene.

Q: Mark, thanks for talking to us. You’ve been playing for over eight years here, have you seen the music scene improve?

A: Has the scene got better? I have no idea, has it got better from several years ago? Sure. There’s a lot more people around and lot more variety.

Q: What do you make of the live music you’ve seen here? Does it compare to back home?

A: I went to a lot of gigs back when I lived in London. But I have no desire to see bands here. Granted there are some decent musicians around but they are very different from genuine artists putting their music out there. When the Handsome Furs came over, you could just see how it is, the way they presented themselves was so different from anything here, they just got up and did their stuff and you could tell that it was their own and they owned it. There’s no one like that.

Q: What obstacles does the Vietnam live music scene face?

A: Those involved in bringing acts in now, they need to keep it rolling and get this placed established as somewhere on the Asian tours of big bands. All the bureaucracy gets in the way, it scares a lot of promoters, from the management side they think: “I’d love to bring these people over but am I going to get a licence? And if I do, is it going to get shut down half way through?” It scares promoters into making that effort.

Q: Are locals enough to pull international acts here?

A: There are enough of them but they are a tiny proportion of the populous. Where a tiny indie band in London might connect with 10 percent of the population in the UK, here that band would only attract 0.1 percent. Out of 80-90m people, yes there are enough to fill venues, but it’s getting through to them. It’s about getting the kids involved, not the old people. There are more and more kids who like Slipknot and bands like that and are rebelling against the old stuff. The problem is these are the kids getting laughed at in school because they’re different.

Q: How do we sell live music here? What needs to be done in terms of ticketing?

A: The way its done here is through sponsorship, hooking acts up with the liquor companies. People aren’t used to the idea of buying tickets for things, and more and more clubs are charging on the door and people are getting used to it. It’s about getting the liquor companies to realize they can market themselves by associating themselves with emerging music trends, not just by projecting the image of a beer.

Q: Finally, what can be done to improve the scene?

A: To get the scene going we should do the following. On the small scale it would take someone putting together a venue that’s suitable and waiting for the scene to develop. To start an underground club or live music venue it would take an owner with a lot of money prepared to take the risk, someone with the money who can afford to take the risk and also pay the right people to get the licenses.

There are a lot of bar owners who claim to love live music but no one is doing anything that is specifically tailored for it, places like Acoustic and Yoko, are, but really its just local or expat people getting up with a guitar. What we’re talking about here is getting international acts in and getting actual talent who are already here creating and writing good quality music that can be played live.

To find out more about Mark, and to hear about upcoming gigs, check out his Facebook page here.

The Vietnam Jazz Scene | Tran Manh Tuan

October 22, 2009

Most residents of Vietnam are aware of the countries burgeoning pop and rock scenes, but what about jazz?

Vietnam’s most celebrated musician, the jazz saxophonist Tran Manh Tuan, has made quite a name for himself internationally. Having played with legends like Herbie Hancock, Denis Mininfield, Dave and Don Grusin and many more, Tuan has played over 50 countries and released more than six full length albums.

Taking time out before performing at Saigon jazz venue Sax N’ Art, which he launched in 2004, Tuan talks about the Vietnam music scene and the highlights of his own 30 year career.

To find out more about Tuan and his phenomenal career visit www.tranmanhtuan.com

Life at The Word: Meet the Journalists

October 21, 2009

A lot of people ask what its like working as a journalist in Vietnam. How do we cope with the language barrier or the rules of government?

Sarah Johnson, writer at The Word and editor of tourist guide Citipass talks about her experiences.

What Needs To Be Done: Saigon’s Live Music Scene | Virgin Radio Thailand’s Rob Graham

October 20, 2009

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Rob Graham, creator and co-founder of Xone FM, Vietnam’s first youth FM music channel, takes time out from his new post at Virgin Radio Thailand to talk about the Vietnam scene.

Q: Rob, thanks for talking to us. How is the live music scene in Vietnam and has it improved from a year ago?

A: Yes I’d say it definitely has, but it has a long way to go. The beginning of last year we were lucky enough to have My Chemical Romance come through Saigon, which was sponsored by Tiger Beer who paid for the production. At the gig there were around 15,000 to 20,000 people packed in at the army football stadium. For a band that was relatively unknown it certainly proved there was a lot of pent up demand for live music in Vietnam.

Q: Is there an interest from promoters to bring bands here?

A: There are a lot of promoters in the region who have now got their eye on Vietnam. I get a lot of inquiries from these people about their bands who are on their way to Australia for the summer festivals, asking me about the possibility of stopping off in Vietnam to do a concert.

Q: What events are leading the scene in Vietnam and is there room for more?

A: Loretofest and the MAG Music Festival in Hanoi are gaining a lot of popularity so I think there’s heaps of potential for live music events here. I think there’s going to be enough music coming through to fill those bigger venues.

Q: What are the primary obstacles in establishing a strong and sustainable live music scene?

A: It depends on the size of the event and where it’s coming from. The main questions I’m asked by overseas promoters are three fold – but all financial. The first question is about ticket sales and trying to set a price that is affordable to the Vietnamese but also makes it worthwhile to fly in a plane load of cargo, a stage and a lighting rig and everything else. The second thing is the venues. Now there are more but in the past they didn’t have things like uninterrupted power supplies, some also have hospitals nearby which is handy from an insurance point of view. The third is infrastructure, which is improving in both Hanoi and Saigon, but in the past this wasn’t the case.

Q: So are there any good live music venues and what makes a good venue in Vietnam?

A: Generally from an infrastructure point of view a good live music venue depends on the size. You need air-conditioning, an uninterrupted power supply, it must be safe and it must have proper fire exits. If it doesn’t have these things its difficult to get the event insured. Acoustics are always important, there are some venues in Vietnam that are not the best acoustically. In terms of venues there are some really cool little small venues like Acoustic and Yoko’s.

Q: How do you make the local audience interested in international live music?

A: Locals are already interested. The Vietnamese audience is actually quite savvy for a market that has not been exposed to much international music over the years. The kids are on the Internet and know what’s going on. 15% of MTVAsia.com’s traffic comes from Vietnam. I just attended an event in Perth and had about five promoters asking about Vietnamese audiences interested in putting their artists on stage for 50% less of what they’d normally charge in other countries if only  to see what happens. So for these young kids of Vietnam there’s a bright future for them because good live music is certainly on the way.

Q: What about local music?

A: There are some amazing Vietnamese artists that should be on stage more but again that becomes an issue because they don’t have management because that’s an industry that hasn’t got off the ground there yet.

Q: What must be done down the road to ensure a vibrant live music scene?

A: I think when we scratch the surface you will find a very vibrant scene in Hanoi and Saigon and its very diverse. A lot of kids at school learn music from a very young age, and music is something that is inherent in their culture. Granted it may not be appreciated by all of us from the west but I think Vietnam is actually a very creative nation but for one reason or another that creativity has yet to fulfill its potential.

Rob Graham is currently working on breaking new acts inside South East Asia as well as continuing to promote the best in new music across the airwaves. Enjoy the fruits of his labours over at Xone FM.

What Needs To Be Done: Saigon’s Live Music Scene | Sheridan’s Michael A.Forsyth

October 19, 2009

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Most expats have passed through the doors of Sheridan’s Irish Bar during their tenure in Ho Chi Minh City. And as one of the cities most prominent live music venues it continues to attract. But what does owner Michael A. Forsyth think about the live music scene in Vietnam and does it have anything to offer for those contemplating a visit?

Q: Michael thanks for talking to us. Sheridan’s has been running for over 9 years, and has been promoting and showing live music for almost as long. What do you think of the current live music scene here in Vietnam and has it improved?

A: The scene has definitely improved and there’s more bars doing the live music thing now. The acts have improved, they rehearse more and they’re moving onto other venues around town.

Q: A lot of people criticize the scene stating its lack of variety. What obstacles does the scene face here?

A: There are three principle groups involved in the music scene here. The Viets, Filipino singers and the foreigners. Basically the foreigners are doing it for fun and relaxation, the Viets, and to a certain extent the Filipino’s, are doing it for a living and to make the revenue they need to stay here.  We need to bridge these gaps and make everyone work together to better complement the scene. In regards to Sheridan’s we’ve never had a problem with attracting bands because they know its one of the key scenes here.

Q: Aside from Sheridan’s where else in the city provides good live music?

A: Vasco’s, The Cage, Alibi, they are all good venues showing good quality music on a regular basis. There isn’t really a place for big bands however and for that we need a bigger venue. Acoustic Bar and Yoko’s are primarily for the Vietnamese and they are all quite small venues in terms of catering to crowds. There’s lots of pubs and sports bars but as of yet there’s no purpose built music bar.

Q: What makes a good live music venue and specifically one that would work well here?

A: A good live music venue? First you have to have bands that regularly appear because then they will gather followers. These people will then come on a specific night to see that specific band, so the regularity of their performance is important. Promotion is key also, if an act can’t make it you have to let people know about it via social networking, word of mouth or whatever.

Q: Are Vietnamese music fans enough to drive international acts here?

A: We’ll see. Just recently the Australian band Air Supply came so it is happening. The problem is though that the average Viet outside the city has their own concerns and bringing musicians in to the city also takes a lot of organization, sponsorship and money. Another limiting factor is time. Because venues have to close at 12pm, there’s no lock-in or gigs that can go on until two in the morning.

Q: How do we charge to see live music? Must venues re-think their strategies?

A: Pricing? It’s something that drives me crazy when you have people coming in and just enjoying the music without really supporting the venue. We have to have people spend money to support the bands. If they come here and have one drink it isn’t worth my while as they take up space. What we’re thinking of doing is incorporating an entrance charge and a couple of drinks so it works a bit better for us.

Q: Finally, how can the live music scene improve in Vietnam?

I think assistance from the Tourism Department would help. Promoting different cultures and its music is of assistance to Vietnam. People from other cultures will come and not always want to listen to traditional music and will instead want a broader option of music to see and listen to. If we can get the powers that be to recognize that fact then it will benefit the scene. They are starting to do it now for festivals and have started to promote big bands and foreign bands coming to the city a little more. But if they can encourage it further it will be better for people and better for tourism, and it will also lead to a better scene.

For more information on Sheridan’s and it’s live music nights visit www.sheridansbarvn.com or check out its Facebook group.