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Bird raiser roams Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to pursue passion



For 30 years, an aviculturist has helped to build and restore aviaries in the Mekong Delta provinces of Vietnam. From the first attempt at drawing birds over, he has turned bird raising into his lifetime career. 

Birds of all kinds were roaming an area of the Vi Thang melaleuca forest in Vi Thuy District, Hau Giang Province.

Herons, darters, gallirallus, and many more were making loud noises as they flung themselves into the foods from the aviculturist – 62-year-old Le Danh Cuong.

Birds in the wild

One morning in the Vi Thang forest, the birds were crowding the place, sending a hustling aura over all those present.

Certain ‘strangers’ showed up, appearing as confident as the locals.

In response to the fish crumbs for breakfast, the birds seemed nervous and were keeping the bird raiser at arm’s length.

When they saw Cuong, however, they came down like ducks to water.

Some well-built members were quick to snatch the better bites, leaving the weak standing on the side.

Cuong was well aware and briskly scattered more food for ‘the miserable.’

“In the bird world, there are the strong and the weak, the villains and the bullied,” said Cuong.

“The newcomers often have a hard time getting a good bite, but soon they will mature and will even pick on the older members.

“If this is not seen to, the weak birds will get hungry and may leave due to frustration.”

The local birds made friends with others from faraway places during their regular trips.

It is interesting to see all these visitors coming home with the birds nesting in the Vi Thang forest.

The birds were so overwhelming their numbers that the indigenous people had to switch their types of trees, lest the birds may destroy all the melaleuca available.

Once they have established their territory, the birds act as king of the Vi Thang forest. However, they listen to Cuong.

The bird keeper sometimes saves their lives. He provides them with food, shelter, and healthcare.

For the last 30 years, the birds of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam have gotten so used to the image of the person who feeds and protects them.

They must be in debt to him as he gave them a home when they almost lost their places.

From soldier to professional aviculturist

Cuong was a soldier in the war against the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and on another battlefield in the north of Vietnam afterward.

In peacetime, Cuong was assigned a post at Lam Vien 19-5, a small forest located in the heart of Ca Mau City on the southern tip of Vietnam.

It was this stopover that gave him the chance to connect with the birds.

At that time, Lam Vien 19-5 was managed by Le Thi Lieu, whose husband Pham Huu Liem was head of the department of forestry there.

They were both born and bred in wartime and have dreamed of a way to make their local culture and nature known to the younger generations as well as tourists.

They chose the bird enclosure as their point of focus as it signified the uniqueness of the place.

A bird cage in the middle of the town was built. Amid public doubt and pressure, Lieu and Liem managed to realize their passion.

It was a struggle, but Lieu had a supportive team, including her lead aviculturist Cuong, who made sure her efforts become the home to wild birds.

Part of their plan was to tame an initial group of birds, which will then be released back into the wilderness.

These first-generation members somehow ‘marketed’ their habitat and lured other wild birds over.

As the new birds found this place a comfortable zone with available food sources, they themselves called more over, creating a snowball effect.

Very soon a considerably large number of birds were making their nests.

Le Danh Cuong helps to restore the famous Bac Lieu bird enclosure in Bac Lieu Province. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Le Danh Cuong helps to restore the famous Bac Lieu bird enclosure in Bac Lieu Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Cuong burst out in tears when he first learned that wild birds were coming to his aviary.

This gave him confidence that their team can turn the forest nearby into a potential natural habitat.

Lieu sent Cuong on a field trip into the forest. There, he was studying the birds and guarding them against bird thieves.

More and more wild birds popped up, but Cuong considered all of them his family members.

He could get close to them without inflicting any sense of doubt or fright.

In return, he treated them like friends.

“You have to love them, then they’ll come to you,” he said.

As the time went by, Cuong got attached to the wild birds without realizing it.

He could even intuitively count the birds. He should know if a single one of them does not make it home on any random day.

Thanks to the bird population, Lam Vien 19-5 has attracted large influxes of tourists and news coverage.

Following the call

Pham Thanh Tri, former president of the People’s Committee of Ca Mau Province, recalled that the provincial high-rank officials made time to escort VIP guests around the bird sanctuary every time.

The authorities in Tien Giang Province contacted Tri and asked for expert help in establishing a bird shelter in the Tan Phuong melaleuca forest there.

“I thought that they really wanted to do it, so I sent Cuong to help them,” Tri said.

It was a mystery what Cuong did there, but not long afterward Tri got a thank-you phone call from the Tien Giang authorities, saying they had successfully put together an aviary full of wild species.

“It was great to hear that. I went there once. The birds were everywhere,” he said.

Cuong’s fame spread. He traveled here and there to build more aviaries.

He came to Bac Lieu City under Bac Lieu Province to restore an old enclosure.

From there, he came to Vinh Long Province to make an aviary inside a fruit plantation, at the request of the owner of the Vinh San tourist area in this province.

This time was a real challenge, but he followed the call and everywhere he went, the birds were after him.

Cuong was most pleased with the one he built in the Tan Lap Floating Village in Long An Province.

It was a naturally rich area with lots of birds. It could be called the bird capital.

Following that, he went on to work at a forest in Vi Thang at the request of a big corporation.

“Tri and other passionate bird lovers have appealed to the provincial leaders in paper. They have sought permission to restore three legendary bird enclosures, namely Cha La, Dam Doi and the Ca Mau City aviary,” he said.

“Tri said that they had got the green light.”

For three decades, Cuong has no idea whether the birds have been following him, or vice versa.

His life has been tied to the tireless wings.

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Your Vietnam

Tech savvy duo create map of shops selling essential goods in HCM City



The map suggests locations of nearby shops and the nearest routes to the shops. — Photo

Khánh Dương

HCM CITY — Two young technicians in HCM City have put the locations of 3,000 shops along with their phone numbers, and opening and closing times on an online map so that shoppers can find nearby stores more easily.

The map is built based on a database provided by the city’s Department of Industry and Trade of 3,000 venues providing essential goods while the city is under social distancing restrictions.

Trần Thanh Tuấn, 28, and Nguyễn Hữu Đạt, 31, created the map together after meeting online.

Trần Thanh Tuấn, one of the map’s creators. — Photo courtesy of Tuấn

Nguyễn Hữu Đạt said the map will help local people move from place to place and save time reducing their potential of coming into contact with the virus. — Photo courtesy of Đạt

Tuấn said the full list of 3,000 shops in the city was shared with the public in an Excel file which made it very difficult to follow.

Tuấn and Đạt wanted to make it simple and easy to understand to help those struggling to find food stalls. Immediately after the department released the list the new friends spent time marking the map on Google Maps.

It took them only 36 hours to finish and upload at where it has been accessible since July 11.

During the social distancing period in HCM City, only essential services are allowed to operate. Users can search for shops selling essential goods in each district and ward on the map and receive suggestions on the easiest way to get there.

The map will save people time and reduce their chances of being exposed to the virus, Đạt said.

Developing the map on the Google Maps Platform API, Tuấn and Đạt faced a number of challenges including restricted integration of Google Maps into the Vietnamese system.

“When we contacted Google to ask for help to increase the data limit, we were denied. In the end, we decided to pay an extra fee to quickly get the project done instead of waiting for Google’s support,” Đạt said.

After solving the Google Map Platform API problems, the young technicians encountered another challenge: how would they optimise the display for mobile phones?

After a considerable amount of time spent researching and programming they were able to overcome this problem.

Now users can access the map smoothly on both computers and smartphones, Tuấn told Việt Nam News.

“Since the website was launched, a lot of people have accessed it, mostly from mobile devices. That makes us very happy because we know that our efforts have been paid off and we can help everyone,” said Tuấn.

More than three weeks after its launch, the website now has about 9,000 to 10,000 users per day with the number of recurring users reaching up to 200-300.

“Users have reported to us that some shop locations are inaccurate or the opening and closing times are not accurate.”

“In the information section of each shop, we have a box for reporting so that users can give their feedback on the location and other details. Our volunteers cross-check and double-check the information many ways to complete the data,” said Tuấn.

A vegetable stall opened in front of a grocery shop in HCM City. As many as 3,000 essential goods shops are operating in the city during the social distancing period. — Photo

Many users have contributed to making information on the website more accurate. Tuấn said it was not only a project for helping people in the pandemic, he wanted it to become a humane project which spreads love and social responsibility among the community.

“Now it is a project of not only two people but many.”

“I think the current number of 3,000 essential goods shops remains quite humble if we look at the population density of HCM City.

“We hope to receive data on more shops from the community and businesses to add more locations to the map,” said Tuấn.

In the future, the map’s creators want to call for assistance from people who use the map every day.

“They will help us check inaccurate locations and make changes on the maps or report to us locations in lockdown.”

“We will try to connect with goods suppliers or shop owners to update goods in stock at the shops so that users can check whether the shops have what they want or not and make a decision on going to that shop or choosing another,” he said.

The map will not only provide locations of essential goods shops but in the future, it will update users with locations of nearby pharmacies, venues selling face masks, venues offering free meals or zero đồng markets for disadvantaged people. The data will be updated with the help of the city’s Department of Industry and Trade, businesses and people doing charity works, Tuấn added. — VNS


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Baby full-month celebration of the Thai



The Thai in the northern mountainous province of Son La organize a full-month celebration for a new-born baby with a simple ritual and minimal cost, but great cultural significance.

Baby full-month celebration of the Thai
The cradle that the paternal grandfather weaves for his grandchild.

Customarily, the mother and her new-born baby sleep next to the wood stove in their stilt house for 5 to 10 days before moving to a bedroom.

The idea is to make sure they stay warm in the days following delivery, particularly in winter. Then, when the baby is one month old, the parents invite a shaman to conduct a full-month celebration.

80-year-old Tong Van Hia talked to us about this custom of the Thai people in Mong hamlet Hua. 

“One month after a birth, we must organize a soul worship ceremony for the mother and child. We pray for the mother’s health so she can continue to care for her baby. We pray that the baby will eat well and grow well. We make a carrier and cradle for the baby. We do all we can to ward off misfortune for the child,” Hia said.

Before the ceremony, the maternal grandmother makes a baby carrier from indigo brocade fabric and embroiders colorful patterns on it.

Baby full-month celebration of the Thai
A carrier that the maternal grandmother makes for her grandchild.

The maternal grandfather makes a bamboo cradle which is strong and spacious. The paternal grandfather weaves for the baby a little bamboo bottle called a Tay, which the Thai believe can hold a person’s soul.

The Tay is hung on the wall and, from above, it protects the baby throughout its life. There are male and female bamboo bottles. The male bottles are attached to a miniature arrow, a bag, and a fan.

Counting the bottles near the ceiling of a Thai stilt house will tell you the number of members the household has.

Shaman Tong Thi Vinh in Mong hamlet explained the worship offering. “The offering should include clothing for the parents and the child, a chicken, eggs, fish, pork, betel leaves, areca nuts, incense sticks, a baby carrier, a cradle, and a Tay bamboo bottle. All these things are placed in the sleeping room. We believe the baby carrier and the cradle have souls that will protect the baby,” Vinh said.

After the ritual, the mother carries her baby on her back, then places the baby in the cradle, which is hung by ropes from the overhead beams. The Tay bamboo bottle is hung on the wall, where it remains until the individual’s death.

After all procedures have been completed, relatives and neighbors are invited to come enjoy a meal and welcome the baby.

Shaman Tong Thi Vinh said, “We pray for the mother and child’s good health. We thank the cradle deity for putting the child to sleep and the carrier deity for holding the child securely. We pray for the child’s protection as it grows, becomes capable of eating a chicken egg, and is carried on its mother’s back to the field. I hang the Tay bamboo bottle on the wall. From above it will protect the baby throughout its life.”

Source: VOV5


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Wonders of the North: Huổi Cang and Huổi Đáp caves



The landscape around Huổi Cang, Huổi Đáp cave. — Photo Facebook of Huổi Cang, Huổi Đáp scenic monument.

By Lâm Giang

Huổi Cang, Huổi Đáp caves in Pa Ham in Điện Biên Province have been likened to an artistic masterpiece with a variety of unique features including its topography, geology, geomorphology, climate, biology, ecology and environment.

Pa Ham is a highland area, nearly 80km from the centre of Mường Chà District. Pa Ham has a very poetic landscape with majestic mountains and beautiful rivers.

Its magnificent beauty holds many mysteries for people who want to explore and conquer like Huổi Cang and Huổi Đáp caves. 

During the war to protect the country’s northern border in 1979, these caves were used as a place to evacuate people and for State agencies to hide food, weapons and ammunition for the military and people of then Lai Châu Province (now known as Điện Biên Province).

Huổi Cang and Huổi Đáp caves are located in a limestone mountainous area, about 480m high above sea level. The mouths of the two caves are about 450m apart, and face south-east.

Huổi Cang Cave has a total length of more than 1km. The cave entrance is only 1m wide and 1.5m high and located where two hills meet. The cave is divided into three main compartments and many small niches. The floor of the cave is soil and rock.

The cave complex of Huổi Cang and Huổi Đáp has a unique ecosystem. — Photo

The first compartment is about 15m from the entrance of the cave. On the ceiling and on both sides of the cave are stalactites shaped like sharp claws. In other arc-shaped niches, there are stalactites shaped like bamboo shoots, Buddha statues and giant mushrooms. The stone pillars are about 4-5m high, 1.5-2m in diameter, covered with yellow and white stalactites. On the wall, there are strips of pure white or golden stalactites that have formed like waterfalls.

The second chamber is sunk deep into the ground. There are many stalactites with strange shapes and long ledges connecting the ceiling of the cave to the ground. There are many coral strips 8-10m long and nearly 10m wide.

On the walls and ceiling of the cave, stalactites fall down like silk ribbons. In particular, on the ceiling, stalactites clump together like clusters of crystal chandeliers with bells. Many stalactites are shaped like gold and silver waterfalls pouring down from above. Other stalactites look like animals such as rhinoceros and crocodiles.

The third compartment has a length of nearly 300m. At the entrance is a giant egg-shaped stalactite. This compartment is divided into two large alleys and small alleys. In each niche are stalactites with diverse shapes such as bells, sea lions and birds. On the ceiling and sides of the wall are yellow, white, and gray stone clouds that blend together.

Meanwhile, Huổi Đáp Cave has a total length of 350m, divided into three main compartments. Its mouth is 3m wide, 1.5m high, and 7m deep.

The first compartment has a length of about 100m. The widest place is from 25-30m and the dome is 15-20m high.

The amazing beauty of stalactites on the wall in Huổi Cang Cave. — Photo

In this compartment, there are many bats, birds, spiders and forest snails.

The second compartment has two entrances and is divided into three small niches. Inside the nooks and crannies are stalactites.

The third one has a length of about 100m. To get inside, you have to lie on your side to crawl through, then stoop to explore.

It is divided into two small niches. The first one is 50m long, deeply rooted in the ground. The arch of the cave is low. The walls and floor of the cave have yellow, dark gray stones linked together into smooth, seamless blocks from start to finish. The second niche is about 2m lower than the first. The structure of this niche is like a smooth trench and has a distinct beauty.

According to the Department of Culture and Information of Mường Chà District, the cave complex of Huổi Cang and Huổi Đáp is a unique cultural heritage. It contains important vestiges of the historical formation and development of the earth as well as the ongoing geological process, the formation of the landscape and the unique features of topography and bio-geomorphology.

There are many water basins inside Huổi Cang, Huổi Đáp caves. — Photo Facebook of Huổi Cang, Huổi Đáp scenic monument.

The cave complex was recognised as a national scenic relic in 2019.

With a system of pristine stalactites, and rich images that have been created by nature over thousands of years and are still being created today, Huổi Cang, Huổi Đáp caves are truly beautiful. This is a proof of how wonderful the northwest can be and when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, you should visit at least once. — VNS


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