Argentinian ambassador to Việt Nam Luis Pablo Maria Beltramino writes to Việt Nam News on the country’s National Day (May 25)
2023 is a very special year for Argentina and Việt Nam. Both countries are celebrating this year the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, and the Comprehensive Partnership, established in 2010, has never been as consolidated as it is now. Argentina was the third Latin American country in establishing diplomatic relations with Việt Nam and, thus, one of the firsts in the region to do so before the reunification of the country in 1975.
A crucial milestone that boosted bilateral ties was the opening of the Embassy of Việt Nam in Argentina in 1995 and the opening of the Embassy of Argentina in Hà Nội in 1997. Since then, the relationship of the two countries has developed steadily, not only strengthening the links between the governments but also between the people of the two countries.
The bilateral relationship between Argentina and Việt Nam is founded on three main pillars.
The first pillar is the excellent political dialogue at the highest and all levels. Indeed, the opening of the Argentine Embassy in 1997 was also the beginning of High Level Delegation exchanges between both countries. In February 1997, President Carlos Saul Menem visited Hà Nội to inaugurate the newly established Argentine Embassy. Later on, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and President Mauricio Macri visited Việt Nam in 2013 and in 2019, respectively. Likewise, President Trần Đức Lương in 2004, Chairman of the National Assembly Nguyễn Văn An in 2006, Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng in 2010 and, most recently, Chairman of the National Assembly Vương Đình Huệ also visited Argentina accompanied by large delegations. These high level visits illustrate how significant and strong the relation between our countries is, despite the geographical distance.
Bilateral trade is the second pillar of the Argentina-Việt Nam relationship. Over the past 10 years, bilateral trade has grown by 700 per cent and reached almost to US$5 billion in 2022. Việt Nam is Argentina’s sixth largest trading partner in the world and Argentina is Việt Nam’s third largest trading partner in Latin America. One of the main reasons that explains this outstanding performance in commerce is the fact that both economies are complementary and do not compete for the same markets. Argentina is a trustworthy supplier of raw materials and agro-industrial products that Việt Nam incorporates in its production chain, while Việt Nam mostly exports consumer goods with high added value. As such, both countries are looking forward to keeping, increasing and diversifying this solid and sustainable trend and speeding up the market access process of agricultural products.
The third pillar of the bilateral relationship is Technical Cooperation. Việt Nam is the country in Asia with the highest amount of technical assistance projects provided by Argentina through the South-South and Triangular Argentine Cooperation Fund (FOAR). Argentina has actively shared and transferred agro-industrial working methodologies and technology to improve the production and productivity of many key Vietnamese products, such as rice, corn, soybeans and dairy products, among others. Argentina has also provided assistance in the control and mitigation of foot-and-mouth disease and has transferred know-how and good practices to contribute to human resources training for the identification of the Martyrs of the War.
In the international arena, Argentina and Việt Nam share a common vision and values in many areas such as peace and international security, the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity and how to face global challenges. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Việt Nam donated 20,000 masks to Argentina. In return for such generosity and when the vaccines where developed, Argentina made a donation of 500,000 doses to Việt Nam.
Both countries also consider that people-to-people exchanges are a crucial aspect of the relationship, especially in the field of culture. For many years, Argentina has had strong cooperation with Vietnamese universities and many cultural events have been organised in Việt Nam to connect with the people. On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary, the Argentine Embassy is organising two very important cultural events with the objective of bringing Argentine Culture closer to the Vietnamese audience. As part of the celebrations, the renowned Argentine pianist Mirian Conti, who is also a teacher at the Juilliard School in New York, will perform at the Hà Nội Opera House on May 25 and at the Hồ Chí Minh Conservatory of Music on June 1, along with Vietnamese musicians. The photo exhibition “50 Years 50 Images” of famous Argentine photographers is also taking place this month in Hà Nội at the Complex 01 Art Space Centre.
Despite this sustainable progress, Argentina and Việt Nam have a huge unexploited potential in a wide variety of topics and sectors. That is why the “50th Anniversary” gives us the opportunity to think about how we want to outline the bilateral relationship for the next 50 years for it to keep contributing to the development and growth of both countries and to the increase in the quality of life of the Argentine and Vietnamese people. VNS
In Vietnam, man gives artifacts a second life
Old artifacts are not only valuable, but also a keepsake for many families. Many people would be extremely sad if an artifact was damaged for some reason. In such cases, they may eventually find their way to an expert like Nguyen Khac Duy.
Ten years ago, the man, now 34, who lives in Sa Dec City in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, returned to his hometown after completing his military service and assisted his family business in trading artifacts.
Noticing that the supply of artifacts was dwindling over time, Duy thought of finding solutions to repair damaged items, which would allow his family to sustain their business for a long time to come.
Giving old things a second life
In the early days of trying to repair damaged artifacts, Duy’s lack of confidence meant he only fixed his own artifacts for fear of further harming customers’ precious items.
However, after some time, as the artifacts he repaired became more common, more and more collectors came to ask him to help them mend their damaged pieces.
“To repair broken artifacts requires many phases. The first is mixing the glue to stick on the lost part of the piece,” Duy explained.
“Only when the glue has dried can I begin to restore the shape of the lost or broken parts.
“In the next stage, I use a sander and sandpaper to remove the preserved glue and make the glued parts look like the original state.
“In the next step, I cover the attached part with paint and trace the patterns of the lost section.
“In the final stage, a layer of paint is applied to protect the pasted part and make it match the rest of the artifact.”
While some people think Duy’s work is easy when they see the artifacts that can be restored to normalcy after a few steps, the man said it is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention and patience.
According to him, every single step in repairing a valuable broken artifact is equally important. Mixing the glue, for instance, entails an appropriate amount so that the broken parts stick well to one another and do not fall out easily when physical forces act on them.
It is also necessary to be gentle when brushing with the sandpaper so that the solid parts can be polished smooth and in the best condition.
According to Duy, the step of mixing colors is the most time-consuming, as he has to try to find the color that is most similar to the original.
The only way is to mix the colors little by little until he has the one that suits his needs. His experience has been that when the paint goes from wet to dry, it can change into a different color and then he has to start all over again.
Depending on the damage to the artifact, Duy would need a day or more to fix it. Each of the old or antique objects has its own interesting story, which always reminds Duy of fond memories.
“There was a customer who brought me a vase dating back to the 19th century that was completely broken. The artifact did not seem to have its original spirit when you looked at it at the time. When I was able to restore it to its original state, I could give it a second life. When they received the repaired artifact later, they thanked me and presented me with many gifts,” Duy recalled.
Duy said he regrets seeing the broken or damaged artifacts, so he often thinks of finding ways to restore them. He is happy that he can make a small contribution to protecting the ever-shrinking world of artifacts by returning them to their original state.
“I am so happy to be able to return the damaged artifact to its initial values, both emotionally and physically. An intact artifact shows its own spirit, which also benefits the owner when it is exchanged or sold,” said Duy.
|The artifacts that were repaired by Duy. Photo: Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre|
Promotion of timeless values
Looking at the artifacts repaired by Duy, it is hard to imagine that they were damaged in the past. The way Duy takes care of the ancient artifacts shows a great passion that drives him to do this extremely specialized work.
“I take the damaged objects from the customers and do my job. Then, when I look at them after they have been perfectly mended, I feel like I have overcome another challenge,” he said.
“As you know, no two things are identical. For example, today I have to repair a bowl that is broken in two, and tomorrow a kettle with a shattered spout. It is the customers that make me train myself to cope with the different requirements, so I do not feel bored.”
In fact, few people know how many skills an expert like Duy must have to give an antique a second life. As a case in point, chemical knowledge is needed to mix the chemical ingredients in the reshaping and color design phase.
Moreover, such experts must be artistically talented to redraw the lost patterns or details, and they must have archeological understanding to create the ‘color of time’ which resembles that of the past. All these requirements make the number of experts in this field shrink over time.
“To do this job, you have to be patient, skilled, and esthetic,” Duy said.
“If you do not have any of those, it will be difficult for you to do it. For instance, you have to be patient when waiting for the glue to dry, which I often have to give up because of failure.
“I suffered many failures before I was successful. For example, in the color mixing phase, I never succeeded in combining the color the first time. Instead, I tried many times, adjusting a little each time until I had the color I wanted. Often, I tried almost ten times and failed until I had a color that was most similar to the original.”
Duy recounted that local authorities had offered him the opportunity to hold events at his home for visitors, hoping to promote the local tourism industry.
But the expert admitted that he easily loses concentration when working in front of crowds. Besides, cleaning the artifacts raises so much dust that it may not be good for health. Therefore, Duy has temporarily declined this offer.
However, he still spends time greeting people and explaining what his special job entails to anyone interested. In fact, the pundit also wants to pass on the ancient value that lies in the old items.
“I am always honest in my work. When I took the damaged artifacts from the customers, I told them that I could restore the objects to their original condition, not perfectly, but about 80-90 percent,” Duy said.
“Fortunately, the customers eventually accepted the artifacts I repaired, although the fixed objects may not look like the originals. Besides, I suppose I work in the culture sector, hoping to preserve the old values and convey them to the people of today.”
According to him, today’s market for artifacts is quite complicated, so many people refuse to accept the process of mending or repairing.
“Also, sometimes repairing is used to cheat others and turn a damaged antiquity into a valuable one. I always remember to keep my soul pure, light, and enthusiastic in my daily work,” he said.
Refusal to help cheaters
Q.T., a collector of ancient artifacts who lives in Sa Dec City, speaks highly of Duy.
“Duy is an admirable person because he is so honest and says only what he knows,” T. said.
“When he repairs a damaged artifact, he only takes the amount of money that corresponds to his work instead of paying attention to the owner and the value of the object.”
“He has frankly refused to take orders from people who wanted to make fake items to earn illegal profits.”
Former drug addicts find new life
(Additional reporting by Minh Phương)
Though they are three strong men leading normal lives with happy families, few people know their dark past as chronic drug users.
The men are now utilising this valuable experience to help other drug users quit addiction.
“I started using drugs in 2010, just after I entered the university,” Trần Trung Anh told Việt Nam News. “I was afraid at first, as I knew a little bit about its harm. But my friends kept challenging me. They said: ‘Are you scared?’ All boys try drugs at least once. So I tried.”
Anh said his first try only brought some uneasy feelings, but after using it many more times, he became addicted. He doesn’t even know when.
“I just know that I spent all my money buying drugs with my friends,” he said.
Lê Ngọc Hiền, likewise, behaved badly in his childhood. In 7th grade, he spent nights playing with his friends and racing bikes. In 12th grade, he started taking drugs, although heroin and methamphetamine are banned by the state. When he graduated from the College of Science and Technology, he was already a heavy addict.
Hiền remembered his mother often insisting in vain: “Please give me back the child I gave birth to.”
Both men struggled to break free from drugs for years as their bodies got weaker. They tried to kick out the habit through faith, at the Nguồn Phước Protestant Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Hà Nội.
“I was a nice child, but drugs changed me into a bad person,” Hiền said. “I did not care about anything, neglecting my parents and my family. Drugs were the only thing I would care for.”
“I realised finally that the liking I had pursued was opposite to what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted my family to be happy, but drug addiction destroyed my body and my life.”
In December 2019, Hiền decided to go to a rehab centre to make a new life.
Anh could not stop using drugs even though he wanted to. He was so lost in drugs that he was expelled from university in 2012. Then he came back home. To get money to buy drugs, he started to rob and steal.
Once he was arrested by the police, and called his mother and told her if his family did not help, he would be jailed.
His mother soon persuaded him to enter the rehab centre after she helped him out.
It took the men a year to get clean, and now they are both drug-free.
“All my first wishes to God were like challenges,” Anh said. “Things like: God, please bring my wife back to me. And he did. Gradually, God won my trust.”
Grateful to the centre, the two men decided to stay to help others quit the bad habit. Anh now teaches music to the inmates at the centre and hopes he can inspire them.
“Now these boys call me ‘teacher’,” he said. “I feel I don’t deserve that title. But I feel my life has more value. I’m respected and loved. I no longer depend on drugs, and I can help many people.”
Hiền now manages a rehab centre in the northern province of Bắc Ninh.
“All drug users want to change, but they don’t know where and how to start,” Hiền said. “What I have received from other brothers, now I give to others.”
He stays awake with the addicts under treatment at night, massages them, encourages them, prays with them, and utilises his belief to change them.
Hiền said he appreciated his odyssey of being additive to drugs, as without it he would not be able to understand the current addicts and help them start new lives.
“Belief in God now is like a lifebuoy for drug addicts, who have often been ignored by their family and society,” he said.
Rehab centre based on trust
Phạm Đức Chung, a former centre inmate, decided to multiply the detoxification model and founded another Nguồn Phước rehab centre.
Nguồn Phước now runs 14 centres in six localities in the country, which also takes care of needy children with parents in jail.
Drug addicts come there to lead a simple life, away from drugs and means of livelihood, practising physical exercises and learning the Christian tenets. They pray several times a day. The centres can host hundreds of drug addicts at the same time.
“We have helped rehabilitate many young addicts,” Trung said. “They return to their families and do good things.”
Among his staff are 35 volunteers, who are former drug addicts.
“That’s what brought me happiness and meaning,” he said.
Mẫn Thị Hường, Hiền’s mother, said she could never have imagined this day.
“Before, my family had only sorrow and suffering,” she said in a trembling voice. Thank God. Without him, my family would never have today.”
Hường is willing to share her family’s story with others, especially drug addicts’ families, to help people in their quest to beat addiction.
Nguyễn Thị Vân Anh, wife of Anh, strongly recommends Christian institutions to drug addicts for rehabilitation.
“Such an environment is good,” she said. “People love one another very much.”
Former drug addicts like Chung, Hiền and Anh have now found new purposes in their lives – bringing hope to lost brothers like they once were.
Commenting on the rehab centre model based on Protestant values, Hoàng Bá Hai, an official from the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, said he appreciated the model.
“Using a belief to guide people to do good for society is worth encouraging. In this case, faith in God can help drug addicts to quit bad habits and live better for the community,” he said. “The rehabilitation model has been recognised by the whole society. I think it sets a good example.” VNS
In Vietnam, centenarian does daily push-ups for good health
Living in a house nestled in a rubber forest in Long Ha Commune of Phu Rieng District under Binh Phuoc Province, located in southern Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Ket, 101, wakes up early every morning and does push-ups, her favorite exercise.
“My mother loves doing physical exercise. She does it twice a day to improve her health,” Nguyen Thi Hien, who is the elderly woman’s daughter-in-law, said happily.
After spending 30 minutes warming up, she does 30 press-ups every morning, but she shows no shortness of breath or exhaustion.
She is seldom sick.
After doing exercise, she washes her face and has breakfast, and then goes to her garden to take care of a chicken flock and a grapefruit tree.
“My mother frequently tells us that she remains healthy and strong, so she needs no help to hold her while she is walking,” Hien, 68, said.
“Last year, she often wore a helmet and stood in front of the house to ask someone for a lift to visit relatives and acquaintances.
“They asked her how she came back, she just smiled and replied that she would return home by herself.”
Ket said, “I live with my oldest son and his wife. They go to work in cashew farms every day, while I stay at home to cook, feed chickens, and do housework.”
Once Ket scared her family.
“In 2019, my mother slept in a hammock for two days and two nights, frightening us a lot, and we took her to hospital. After medical check-ups, doctors concluded she was suffering no illnesses,” Hien recounted.
After such a long sleep, Hien and other family members looked after her more carefully.
On a weekend, her children and grandchildren gathered in the home. Thuy, Ket’s granddaughter, happily massaged her grandmother’s hands and back, while Ket was caressing her grandchild’s cheeks.
Their laughs warmed the whole house.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Bang, Ket’s 56-year-old daughter, and her son returned home to visit their mother on the weekend.
Bang boasted that she had bought a fish to cook tasty dishes for her mother.
Bang said that though her mother is old, she always follows the etiquette of polite behavior.
She often tells the adult children moral stories, Bang recounted.
|The 101-year-old visits her garden and takes care of a flock of chickens every day in Binh Phuoc Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre|
A role model for family members
One of many things Ket’s family members admire about her is her excellent memory.
Telling stories about her life, Ket said that she moved to Binh Phuoc Province for work in 1978 from a northern locality.
On deserted land, she and her husband built a house, grew rice, and landed several jobs to nurture eight children.
|The elderly woman (L), named Nguyen Thi Ket, poses for a photo with her family members in Binh Phuoc Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre|
“A few years later, my husband was ill and passed away, so I had to bear the burden and became the breadwinner,” she recalled.
She still remembers all stories clearly, while her adult children admitted that they could no longer recollect the details.
“My mother can remember all the wedding presents in our wedding parties, and put a name to any of her grandchildren and relatives,” Bang said.
|The 101-year-old remains healthy. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre|
Her children and grandchildren see Ket as their role model, and they are following her behavior, lifestyle, and moderate exercise.
“My mother is warm-hearted. She often gives money to her neighbor, who is a victim of Agent Orange, when he visits her home though she has little money,” her daughter said.
Regardless of her age, she takes a bath by herself every day without any help from her family members.
Furthermore, she made banh tet, a glutinous rice cake, to celebrate the 2022 Lunar New Year holiday.
Her family members are often delighted with her recitations.
“Last year marked her 100th birthday, so she was presented with a strip of red brocade fabric by the state president. She was highly excited,” Bang said.
“My mother got the strip of fabric made into two ao dai [a Vietnamese traditional costume] and one ao ba ba [a traditional garment of people in the southern region],” she added.
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