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Christmas can be a time of both joy and struggle



Visitors pose for photos in front of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hà Nội. VNA/VNS Photo Tuấn Đức 

Seán Nolan

HÀ NỘI – The most wonderful time of year is just around the corner, and while some of us might be far from home, that doesn’t mean the season’s spirit should be any different.  

Although Christmas is not a public holiday in Việt Nam, it is celebrated by many Vietnamese people. Christmas decorations appear in shopping malls and restaurants in big cities during the festive season. 

Catholic churches across the country conduct Christmas mass, and carols are sung to mark the occasion. Popular symbols of Christmas include Santa Claus, reindeer, angels and stars, which can be seen on decorations hung alongside traditional lanterns.

For most (myself included), the biggest part of Christmas is dinner. Eaten on Christmas Day, it is a celebratory occasion featuring traditional dishes such as roast turkey or ham, gravy, roast potatoes, vegetables, and Christmas pudding for dessert, with copious amounts of mulled wine and mince pies. 

Many of these dishes can be hard to find in Việt Nam, but none amount to the biggest thing missing from Christmas dinner – family. 

Christmas dinner is traditionally a time for families to come together and enjoy a special meal as they celebrate the holiday season. Living away from home means making sacrifices, though perhaps the hardest is being away from home at this time of year. 

Christmas can be a difficult time for people who are feeling lonely. The holiday season is often associated with togetherness and joy, and for some, it can remind them of their solitude. 

There are a few things that people who are feeling lonely on Christmas can do to make the day more bearable. For family and friends further afield, make sure you set a time to connect with them via phone or video call. 

Reach out to your friends in Việt Nam too, as many of them will undoubtedly feel the same way. Arrange to spend Christmas with them, and bring something from your own Christmas tradition to share with them. 

Finally, it can be helpful to find activities to do on Christmas that bring joy and a sense of accomplishment, such as cooking a special meal or watching a favourite holiday movie.

Christmas is special for many people. For most, it is a time to come together with family and friends and celebrate the season’s spirit. For others, it can be a difficult time. However, it should never be forgotten that Christmas is a time for joy, celebration, and togetherness. VNS


Your Vietnam

Young woman weaves brighter future




WONDER WEAVER: Phạm Thị Y Hòa is pictured in a Hrê traditional dress. Photo courtesy of Phạm Thị Y Hòa

By Lương Thu Hương

Like many Hrê ethnic youths in Teng Village in the central province of Quảng Ngãi, Phạm Thị Y Hòa is overwhelmed with pride when she wears the distinctive traditional brocade costume of her ethnic group.

The 31-year-old’s social media feeds are constantly updated with photos of the Teng handloom weaving craft, which has been recognised as a national intangible heritage since 2019.

Besides traditional products like clothing, scarves or shawls, Hòa has also woven contemporary goods like handbags, ties, áo dài (traditional Vietnamese long dress) and wedding dresses, helping more customers learn about the Hrê’s unique craft and inspiring locals to take part in preserving their ancient heritage.

“When I create a new product, I usually share it on my personal page to receive feedback and suggestions from friends and customers. It is also a way for me to improve my work and meet the market demand,” she said.

Hòa’s and other Teng villagers’ efforts to promote their ancient craft have paid off, even going beyond borders. At the EXPO 2020 in Dubai, UAE, two of their handloom fabric products were showcased in the VIP area, together with 13 representative products of 10 other ethnic minorities from Việt Nam.

Hrê brocade appeared in an impressive fashion show within the international exhibition. Five creations by renowned fashion designers Lý Quý Khánh and Chula were meticulously woven by Hòa’s talented hands, impressing many fashionistas attending.

MODERN TWIST: A creation by designer Lý Quý Khánh manually woven by Hòa. — Photo courtesy of Phạm Thị Y Hòa

“After receiving orders to create the handloom fabric for the designers, I was overjoyed and determined to carry out the task,” Hòa told Việt Nam News.

“It was my first opportunity to receive an order from renowned fashion designers and to showcase my works at such a big international event. I did my best so that my artisanal fabrics – the heritage of the Hrê people would be present at the expo.”

‘Unique beauty’

She said the designers requested that typical Hrê patterns account for half of the fabric used for their designs at the fair, which demanded extreme care. She can only weave around 20cm of fabric a day, so it took nearly two months to complete.

ALL SMILES: Hòa was taught to weave brocade at a young age. — Photo courtesy of Phạm Thị Y Hòa

Hòa has been able to weave since the age of 14. As a 9th grader, she earned pocket money from creating her first complete products and selling them to residents in Ba Tơ District where she lived.

Growing up, Hòa realised that the ancient weaving craft of her ethnic group, despite its unique beauty, was not widely known and losing interest from consumers, particularly the young people, due to its low price. She decided to return to her hometown in 2018, after studying away from home, to focus on commercialising Hrê traditional fabrics.

“I aimed to raise awareness about Hrê handloom fabric, and preserve the weaving craft as an indispensable cultural aspect of our lives and also as a source of income both for me and my community,” she said.

According to Hòa, the handloom fabrics of different ethnic groups often share vibrant and eye-catching colours, but the unique characteristic of Hrê fabric is undoubtedly the traditional colour palette, which consists of three main colours: white, red and black.

“However, Hrê fabric has incorporated a variety of colours these days. This is due to customers’ preferences and the influence of modern trends. Nevertheless, the dominant three colours are still preserved, and the weaving techniques remain unchanged,” she added.

ETHNIC ELEGANCE: Hòa is pictured in ‘áo dài’ (Vietnamese traditional long dress) crafted from Hrê fabric. — Photo courtesy of Phạm Thị Y Hòa

Initial struggles

At first, Hòa encountered many difficulties in the preservation of her ethnic group’s identity and cultural heritage.

“I had to re-explore everything about the craft, starting from the source of materials. The Hrê used to use cotton fibres, and now they have replaced them with synthetic fibres. I had to research and find the lowest possible price to reduce costs, the issue that most local weavers are concerned with,” she said.

“The next issue is finding the market, or more precisely, understanding the needs of customers within and outside my community. I have to understand what they like, what they need, and what is the most reasonable price to entice them.

“Finally, it is about teaching the skills so that the weavers can understand and become familiar with innovative products and have colours that are more suitable for current trends.”

Hòa is one of the first Teng villagers to promote their products on social media and e-commerce websites instead of passively waiting for customers. She has also actively introduced the craft at many trade fairs and conferences in Quảng Ngãi and beyond.

Thanks to Hòa’s keen mindset, the handloom fabric items woven by Teng villagers have gradually won much favour from customers.

UPDATED: Hòa has modernised and diversified products made from Hrê handloom fabric to attract more customers. — Photo courtesy of Phạm Thị Y Hòa

Hòa’s products have not only been sold in Quảng Ngãi but in many other provinces and cities throughout the country. Moreover, they have been selected by the Provincial People’s Committee as local souvenirs for distinguished guests, and travelled to many countries worldwide, including Switzerland, Italy, the UK and Germany.

Hòa is nurturing a plan to build a stilt house of her own where she will exhibit Hrê cultural heritage to all visitors to Teng Village. VNS







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Your Vietnam

Vietnamese workers’ lives in lay-offs: Surviving a week on $4



One day in early August, an unusual silence reigned over Alley 58 on Street 5 in Tan Tao District, Binh Tan, known as the ‘rental housing center’ in Ho Chi Minh City.

Many workers had to return the lodging to the homeowners after they were laid off.

Notices about rooms for rent were posted more densely accordingly.

However, in the eyes of the workers who stay, there are great concerns.

In recent months, their working hours have been cut and they have no chance to work overtime to earn more money.

Trying to make ends meet

Nguyen Thi Thao, 35, from the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, sits sadly on a row of stone chairs outside a room for rent and says that in all the 17 years she has been a worker, she has never received wages as low as they are at the moment.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of overtime hours she works has gradually reduced.

As an employee of PouYuen Company, a Nike and Adidas shoe supplier in Binh Tan District, Thao no longer has the opportunity to work extra hours. In addition, Fridays and Saturdays are now days off.

Although she is still employed, Thao is really worried about her eight-year-old child’s school fees and other needs in light of the reduced and uncertain salary.

According to tenants who live nearby, there have been many going-away parties recently, as many workers have had to return their rooms after being laid off time and again.

In an effort to avoid returning to their hometowns, many unemployed workers have had to find alternative jobs, such as working on construction sites or as waiters in restaurants and the like.

Not only workers but also merchants and lottery sellers are struggling because they cannot sell as much as they used to. 

“In the past, the demand for rental housing here was so great that many people could not find a vacant room. But many sit empty now,” Thao says, looking at the row of rental rooms where she lives.

Thao shares the difficult living conditions with Tran Van Hoa, 55, who dwells in the same alley as her.

Hoa’s workshop was closed on May 20, leaving more than 70 percent of the workers jobless, while the remaining 30 percent were transferred to another workshop, he said.

Hoa is still lucky to keep his job, but he can only work four days a week because the working hours have been cut.

“There is not even enough work for the workers during normal hours anymore, let alone asking them to work overtime,” Hoa said, adding that his wife, who works at the same company, has run into trouble as well.

The couple left the north-central province of Thanh Hoa for Ho Chi Minh City to find work when they were young.

After working for PouYuen Vietnam Company Limited for over 15 years, they spend all the rest of their salary after deducting living expenses on their three children’s education.

While about ten years ago, working as a laborer only made Hoa physically tired, now he also lives in worry and anxiety because he fears losing his job one day and cannot predict his total monthly income either.

Thuy Linh saves every penny to send money to her mother, who lives in her hometown, to pay for her children’s school fees. Photo: Dieu Qui / Tuoi Tre

Thuy Linh saves every penny to send money to her mother, who lives in her hometown, to pay for her children’s school fees. Photo: Dieu Qui / Tuoi Tre

US$4.2 to survive for a week

Living far from Hoa in Alley 44 on Bui Van Ba Street in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, 26-year-old Thuy Linh from the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang and her husband scrape a living.

Linh is employed by a firm that manufactures fans for export at Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone in Tan Thuan Dong Ward, District 7. 

Since the beginning of July, she has been coming home from work every day around 5:00 pm since her company is lacking in new orders.

In past months, she worked overtime until 9:00 or 10:00 pm.

Linh is even luckier than her husband, who has been out of work since the beginning of the year and has not been able to earn enough income for himself.

He was rejected after applying for a job several times since then, as many companies have to downsize their staff.

He got a gig but had to quit it after two months as the employer recommended postponing payments, citing an ‘extremely difficult situation.’

Linh is now the breadwinner of the family and bears all the financial burdens, including rent for the house, living expenses, and money sent to their hometown to raise their children.

The woman said if she works extra shifts, including Sundays, she can earn about VND11 million ($462) a month; otherwise, she receives the basic salary of VND5.5 million ($231) and a few hundred Vietnamese dong in allowances.

After paying the rent, she puts aside only VND1 million ($42) to cover all living expenses in one month.

She sends the rest of the earnings to her mother, who lives in her hometown and takes care of her children.

Next year, Linh’s oldest child will start preschool and she needs to prepare to pay for the child’s tuition.

Last month, Linh and some other staff were transferred to work in a workshop in Long An Province, outside Ho Chi Minh City.

Thanks to her two hours of overtime every day, she was able to earn VND7.2 million ($302).

Unfortunately, she could only receive the basic salary together with a small allowance this month and had less than VND1 million for a month.

Linh said she can only spend VND100,000 ($4.2) a week at the moment.

“I still prepare meals at home to take to the workshop, but I choose cheaper food, reduce meat and fish, and eat less. I bought the rice variety whose price is VND11,000 [$0.46] per kilogram. Sometimes I ate instant noodles because I ran out of rice,” Linh said.

“I carry a small bag of tea to make water that I can drink throughout the day without having to buy the water outside. I do not eat snacks during the day either.”

Data from the latest survey conducted by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor showed that 2.2 percent of Vietnamese workers have never heard of buying formula milk for their children.

Linh is one of them.

Her husband is jobless and cannot earn money. Their second daughter has had to drink fresh milk since she was six months old, when Linh had to return to the workshop and could not continue breastfeeding her child.

Saving every penny

To have additional sources of income, Linh used to try to sell goods online. She had to give up the job because she could not survive in the online market with numerous sellers like her.

“I tried everything possible to make money, but it was extremely difficult to earn it,” Linh said.

Currently, she is trying to keep her job at the company, thinking that she is still lucky to have an income.

“I am waiting for October, when a workshop that makes calendars for the Lunar New Year vacation is expected to recruit staff for another part-time job. Then, after working at the workshop that makes fans till 5:00 pm, I’d continue working at the calendar place from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm,” she told of her plan.

“If I work four hours, I can earn VND100,000. So every month I’d make an additional VND3 million [$126], which would be truly helpful for me and my child.”

In more challenging times, Hoa reminds his wife to save as much as possible to prepare for when their jobs may become more unstable.

“Rumor has it that another lay-off is due in September. For me, there’s no point in worrying so much now so I’ll try to work when I still have a job. When I’m unemployed, I’ll return to my hometown to farm and raise cows,” Hoa added.

Looking for part-time work

It is not just blue-collar workers who have to look for part-time jobs; white-collar workers are also in a difficult situation looking for additional sources of income.

Do Hoang Duy, 25, who lives in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City, is an employee of a media company and has received a reduced salary for the last five months.

He had to look for some part-time jobs, such as image design and making video clips for small businesses.

However, there are few jobs like that right now, as many firms have to cut back on marketing costs.

Many of Duy’s friends have to find side jobs, such as selling goods online or working with friends to open a store selling coffee to go.

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Disabled Vietnamese swimmer opens free English class



Growing up unable to walk, Nguyen Thi Sari overcame a lifetime of obstacles to bring home a victory at the Southeast Asian Para Games (ASEAN Para Games), but despite her athletic success, she still considers running a free English class to be one of her top achievements.

After finishing high school, Sari, a resident of Can Duoc District in the Mekong Delta province of Long An, opted out of attending university in order to find a job and help support her family.

The next several years were spent battling a series of obstacles: returning to academia as a university student, earning a degree in English, and competing in international swimming competitions despite having only limited use of her legs.

Still, she overcame all those obstacles and has even added one more achievement to her list: opening a free English class in her community.

The classroom where Sari teaches is only about 10 square meters, but every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 5:45 to 7:30 pm it is full of smiling students eager to learn and make use of the room’s board, desks, and chairs.

Now, in the seven years since she opened the class, Sari has taught over 100 underprivileged children from Can Duoc and the surrounding districts English, math, and literature.

“[When I first started learning English], I had no basic knowledge of the language, so I was worried that I would not be able to keep with up my classmates. I also didn’t have enough money to pay for extra lessons,” Sari said.

“This class is a way for me to upskill underprivileged students so they can have a smoother path than I did.”

Poor students attend Sari’s free English class in Can Duoc District, Long An Province. Photo: Supplied
Poor students attend Sari’s free English class in Can Duoc District, Long An Province. Photo: Supplied

Pleased to be called ‘teacher’

Sari earned a Bachelor’s degree in English studies but has no a pedagogical certificate, only a dream to help students in need.

In order to balance teaching and swimming for the national team of disabled swimmers, Sari often asks the boss to allow her to leave early.

Van Huynh Nhu, a junior at the Van Hien University in Ho Chi Minh City, said that she joined Sari’s class when she was younger. Now, when she returns to her hometown, she visits Sari to ask questions about English grammar.

“I was taught by Sari for four years. I loved learning the language from her. Sari is very devoted to teaching,” Nhu said.

An excellent disabled swimmer

Nguyen Thi Sari, a veteran member of Vietnam’s national disabled swim team, has earned 26 gold medals, 13 silver medals, and one bronze medal during her time on the national team.

At the ASEAN Para Games, she has won five gold medals, 10 silver medals, and four bronze medals.

She was honored as the best swimmer at the ASEAN Para Games 2009 after winning three gold medals.

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