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Creative and funny guide book for expats to explore Hà Nội



The Hanoi Digest is for tourists to Hà Nội looking for a travel guide that is creative and funny. — Photo courtesy of Lê Kiên Trung

Lương Thu Hương

Newcomers to Hà Nội can find information about the capital city through various channels and guidebooks, but for those seeking something a little different, The Hanoi Digest is just the book for you.

Containing hundreds of hilarious comic drawings and jokes about Hanoian culture, people, destinations, food and drinks, The Hanoi Digest is a new kind of guidebook. It blends specialist local knowledge with humour and interesting facts on every page.

The book is a result of years of hard work by 30-year-old author Lê Kiên Trung. Thanks to his local knowledge and research, the pages have come to life, with stories such as the legendary 175-year-old turtle, why President Hồ Chí Minh or Uncle Hồ has become the greatest man in Việt Nam, and what Hanoians love or hate about foreign visitors.

Trung is pictured with his first English guidebook The Hanoi Digest. — Photo courtesy of Lê Kiên Trung

“We have a lot of travel guidebooks/sites about Hà Nội on the market, and many of them are very informative, namely Lonely Planet or Hanoi Budget Travel Guide, and I am sure that the authors of these guides really put their heart into making them happen,” Trung said.

“Unfortunately, most of them just simply work as a guide or include too many advanced words, and lack entertaining elements. So I wanted to make something that is not only informative and useful but also simple and funny. It should be friendly to many types of audiences.”

At the beginning, he was just looking for something fun in English to read about Hà Nội, the city where he started his university life in 2011. He joined a Facebook group founded by some Hà Nội expats to help any newcomers to the city adapt to life here – Official Hanoi Massive.

Trung added: “I am a big fan of Hanoi Massive because this is where I can not only learn about many aspects of life in Hà Nội, but also learn real life English which keeps me away from boring English textbooks. Plus, many group members have a great sense of humour, leaving so many useful and funny comments.”

The idea for The Hanoi Digest came to Trung in October 2016. He wanted to compile all of the useful Facebook threads in the group so he could share on Hanoi Massive so that new members didn’t have to scroll down thousands of posts to search for valuable information. It would save them a lot of time and make sure they won’t miss any valuable information about the city.

The 30-year-old author finally got his first ever file ready to be released in early 2018, which he posted on Hanoi Massive. He has received many constructive comments from its members and expats, particularly from a friend named Bruna Dall’asen, a Vietnamese Italian who came to Việt Nam for her internship.

He said: “She was amazed and thankful about how much it had helped her adapt to life in Hà Nội. But she also honestly pointed out some things that I could have made better, by adding my personal ideas and photos to describe things like many other travel guides, making it look like a book with chapters and each of them talking about one particular thing so that it’s easier for tourists to follow. And I took her advice.”

To make the guidebook more entertaining and different from others, Trung drew the illustrations himself instead of taking photographs. His simple but humorous drawings are greatly inspired by the series The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and an English learning channel on YouTube named EngFluent which attracts a lot of audience with a simple drawing style. 

Trung’s illustrations in the book are inspired by the series The Diary of a Wimpy Kid or an English learning channel on Youtube named EngFluent. — Photo courtesy of Lê Kiên Trung

Trung added that one of his major obstacles in writing his first English book, besides the drawings, was the language. As he is not an English native speaker, he doubted himself about whether or not he could write an English book.

However, thanks to the support of two British friends, who he describes as “kind, supportive and skilful, he finally finished his book. One is a English teacher who has settled in Hà Nội with his Vietnamese wife for years, and the other is a British woman who has lived in the city for nearly two decades and worked in the culture and tourism sector. They were all willing to help edit the manuscript without any compensation.

The first 500 copies of The Hanoi Digest were officially published through Thế Giới (World) Publishers few days after the 2020 Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday. But then COVID-19 came and affected Trung’s initial plan to market his book. However, he spent almost three years making his book better by improving the drawings, manuscript and design.

By late 2022, the second edition of guidebook was published with 2,000 copies, and has been well received by many readers. Local people buy it for their kids. Expats buy it for themselves and as a welcoming or farewell gift for their friends and relatives who are coming in and out of Việt Nam. And tourists have started to figure out that reading this book could be one of their outstanding entertainment during their Hà Nội trip.

“I bought one of the books just for a nice read – I read it in one sitting. I love it so much I’ve bought three more to my family as a gift on arrival when they come to stay with me! Such a lovely informative little book and very nicely written Easy to follow and not get bored,” commented reader Non Williams from the UK.

The Hanoi Digest can bring a smile to the faces of tourists during their trip to Hà Nội. — Photo courtesy of Lê Kiên Trung

The young writer revealed that although he was happy with this edition, as it “has become good enough to make people like it and they are willing to buy it”.

He says he will try to improve more in the next edition, like adding more illustrative drawings to these current chapters, and creating new chapters featuring more tourist attractions of the city like Long Biên Bridge, the Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long and Việt Nam Museum of History.

He also plans to make guidebooks about other big tourism cities in Việt Nam.

“As long as my work keeps being well-received by the audience, I will keep going this way. It would probably take me less time to make them happen than it did with The Hanoi Digest, but it’s hard to talk about the future. I would say it would keep creating content little by little every day. If it happens, it happens.” VNS


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Yoga Song Khoe partners with Kamal Mana Academy to train yoga teachers



HÀ NỘI — Indian Kamal Mana Academy has signed a memorandum of understanding with Việt Nam-based Yoga Song Khoa Academy to share knowledge and experience to bring yoga closer to yoga lovers all over the world.

The document was signed by Vũ Hồng Yến, President of Yoga Song Khoe, and Dr. Kamal (Suresh Kamal Srinivash), General Director of Kaya Mana Academy.

The two academies will join forces to give student professional yoga training.

“We hope Yoga Song Khoe and Kaya Mana will together reach new development targets at the international level and bring wonderful experiences to learners in Việt Nam and all over the world,” Yến said. “Above all, we hope to help more people explore the strength and happiness of yoga.”

Dr Kamall (first right) and Vũ Hồng Yến (second from left) at the signing ceremony. The cooperation between the two academies will bring professional training courses to international yoga learners. — VNS Photo Huy Khôi

Dr. Kamall is a yoga master from India who won the Yoga Brahma Prize in 2015 at the 15th International Ayurveda Conference in the US. He has acted as an advisor of Yoga Alliance International and is an advisor on Ayurveda in Kerala Ayurveda in the US.

Being one of the eight greatest Indian yoga masters in the world, Dr. Kamal started practising yoga at five years old. He has created his own style of yoga called Kryoga, or lessons of yoga Kamal.

He will join a mass yoga performance of 500 people on June 3 and 4 at Vinhomes Ocean Park, Hà Nội, which will be hosted by Yoga Song Khoe Academy to celebrate International Yoga Day on June 21. — VNS


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Nature’s bounty: ginseng farm aims to go global



By Công Thành

PLANTING FOR THE FUTURE: Nguyễn Hữu Quý Khang (right) introduces ginseng saplings at the mountainous Ngọc Linh ginseng farm in Quảng Nam Province’s Nam Trà My District. VNS Photo Công Thành

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Nguyễn Hữu Quý Khang, 31, a construction engineer, found himself unable to return to his work in Japan, and instead found a temporary job at a Ngọc Linh ginseng farm in Nam Trà My District of Quảng Nam.

He soon fell in love with work on the mountainous ginseng farm, tending and nurturing the ancient medicinal herb believed by some to have almost magical qualities.

Khang’s new role saw him explore the natural conservation of Vietnamese ginseng (Panax vietnamensis), growing strongly and sustainably in the primary forest.

At first he found being away from Japan difficult, but the work on the Sâm Sâm Company ginseng farm soon grabbed all his attention.

“It’s a turning point. I thought I would just be working on the farm while waiting for Japan-Việt Nam air services to resume after the pandemic. However, the wild nature of my homeland soon fascinated me,” Khang said.

“I restarted as a beginner in farming. It was quite different to engineering work that I had experienced in Japan. I loved exploring the co-existence of the flora habitat and ginseng. It was like caring for a newborn baby.”

HERBAL LIFE: A worker checks the quality of ginseng saplings at the Sâm Sâm Company’s farm in Quảng Nam Province. Photo courtesy of Sâm Sâm Company 

Khang said he spent most of his time on the farm observing ginseng seeds sprouting. Saplings are very sensitive to any small temperature changes in the foggy mountain air, where sunlight hits for just a few hours each day.

“We built up a scrutiny process to watch the saplings at every moment in the forest canopy farms, while arranging long-term nutrition and pest protection. Ginseng sprouts die if they suffer from plant fungus at any time. Rodents are also a threat,” he said.

As a technical manager of the farm, he also trains local workers on how to develop ginseng as a sustainable crop for the community, rather than lazily making money from illegal logging and hunting.

Khang said the farm had developed on one-hectare pilot plot before expanding as a high-yield business and community joint-venture farm.

Hồ Văn Khuyết, 40, a member of the Xơ Đăng ethnic group in Trà Linh Village, said he was trained in sustainable agricultural practice at the farm for two years.

“Most local villagers lived by exploiting forest products including animal hunting for food in the jungle, but the strict rules of forest protection stopped us from living this life,” Khuyết said.

“We had to do odd jobs in urban areas instead. However, we struggled with poor education and skills in urban and industrial parks. Our forest-based experience was always our best skill.”

He said the ginseng farming project offered an opportunity for ethnic communities to improve their income with their traditional forest knowledge.

BOTTLING IT: A female expert introduces a ginseng sampling produced in-vitro at Sâm Sâm company’s R&D centre. About 5 million of saplings will be produced by the company in the near future.  VNS Photo Công Thành 

“It took me one year to complete training in ginseng farming. We can earn well from working on the ginseng farm, while protecting the forest, our spiritual ‘home’, for future generations,” he said.

Global value

In building a national high-quality ginseng brand, Sâm Sâm has grown 500,000 ginseng plants on a 200ha farm in Trà Linh mountainous village.

The company has put into operation the first Ngọc Linh ginseng production facility – a major high-tech processing factory combined with a nursery and research centre – at Tam Thăng Industrial Park in Tam Kỳ City, producing 200,000 capsules and 5 million Ngọc Linh ginseng saplings by in-vitro every year.

GREEN GOLD: Ngọc Linh ginseng blossoms at a farm in Nam Trà My District of Quảng Nam Province. Photo courtesy of Xuân Thọ 

The sustainable ginseng farm has been listed as one of 20 safe and one of eight Asian projects jointly assessed and financially supported by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD).

Experts from the DFCD and WWF-Vietnam recently paid a field trip to inspect technical and financial support for the project. The DFCD has approved a support grant for Sâm Sâm, seeking to scale up its production in one of the country’s poorest regions. The money will help the company to acquire seedlings, seeds, earthworm compost and land for expansion.

The project is aided by the World Wide Fund for Nature Netherlands together with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation to nurture new projects for the investment fund. With the approval of the grant, the WWF plans to sign a 275,000-euro grant agreement with Sâm Sâm.

Huib Jan de Ruijter, senior expert from the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Ban (DEDB), said the project developed by Sâm Sâm offered benefits to the local community, particularly in terms of protecting the forest and mitigating climate change.

Aart Jan Mulder, portfolio manager from DEDB Bank, said the ginseng project was unique in the well-protected primary forest as it helped conserve nature, while creating benefits for both business and the indigenous community while reducing the damage caused by climate change.

WINDOW TO SUSTAINABILITY: A check-in spot in Ngọc Linh ginseng farm in Trà Lĩnh Village. The forest canopy ginseng farm expects to promote eco-tour service in the province. VNS Photo Công Thành 

Stuart Beavis, regional lead at WWF Asia said: “Sâm Sâm has the potential to be an amazing project. It grows ginseng under the now protected canopy of the forest and works closely with the locals, adding to their skill set and income. The company is also perfectly aligned with the national government’s vision for this commodity.”

The chairman of the company, Nguyễn Đức Lực, said the combined investment of farm-production plant R&D and the in-vitro centre would help build global production chains for the national brand and boost sustainable development of the Ngọc Linh ginseng not only for Quảng Nam, but nationally.

“We have been building a long-term strategy for a national brand of high-quality Ngọc Linh ginseng production from seed selection, planting and harvest, to storage and processing,” Lực said.

He said at least 80 per cent of natural forests were well protected by local farmers who joined the ginseng farm as the plant could only develop well under forest canopy from 1,400m to 2,500m above sea level,” Lực said.

“As ginseng can die by chemical fertiliser, the ginseng farm is fertilised by organic earthworms. The farm will help contribute to Việt Nam’s zero carbon targets.”

The ginseng farm will also be recruiting and training manpower from the Xơ Đăng, Ca Dong and M’ Nông ethnic communities across several local villages, hoping to develop more medicinal herb farms. — VNS


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Nursing homes more than a question of cost



Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Việt Nam has one of the fastest growing ageing populations in the world. In 2019, those above 60 made up 11.9 per cent of the country’s population. This number shall rise to more than 25 per cent in 2050.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, from 2036 Việt Nam shall be classified as an ageing society, where the elderly make up a large and influential part of society.

This is the result of the country’s successful drive to lower birth mortality rates dozens of years ago and the consistent decline in the birth rate. 

In about a dozen years, Vietnamese society will have all the issues of an elderly population: lack of a working age population leading to the extension of the retirement age and the needs for healthcare for people of advanced years. More nursing homes are likely to be built.

The longevity of the elderly can be a wonderful blessing for an extended family, where the younger children and grandchildren can take care of their clan’s eldest. 

“My grandmother is 104 now,” says Đặng Thắm, a mother of two teenagers. “She’s in great health and as much as I love her, I cannot visit her as much as I could. Once a month is ideal, but I still can’t make it sometimes.”

But her grandmother lives happily at her son’s home, with his family and the adult son’s family, which means the great-grandmother is being taken care of by six other people, including grand children. 

A popular Vietnamese saying goes, “A mother can raise 10 children, but 10 children cannot take care of one mother!” At times, this is painstakingly true.

In a recent debate, popular film director Lê Hoàng and actor Quyền Linh spoke on TV about how to take good care of one’s ageing parents. 

Quyền Linh prefers the Vietnamese way of taking care of elderly parents at home, living in the love of their children and grandchildren. He feels strongly about taking good care of one’s mother and believes a family shall be cursed if children do not show filial piety to their parents, one of the cornerstone of Vietnamese desired qualities of being a righteous man/woman.

 “No, you cannot send your parents to a nursing home if you have a home!” he said.

Lê Hoàng opposed the idea of keeping grandparents at home to stay with their children and grandchildren.

“The elderly must have their own life, their own joys and happiness. Their joys need to go beyond that of their children! If you can afford it, sending your parents to nursing homes can be a relief for both the parents and children,” he said.

The fight can go on forever, as each side has their own reasons and arguments. One can never give a proper answer.

“My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years,” a friend and middle-aged mother of two told me recently. “She started to have symptoms, and we took her to doctors for help quite early on.”

She had her mother living with their nuclear family for 10 years, having domestic helper at the time, until it became too exhausting for both sides, as the mother did not recognise anyone, nor was she aware of what she was doing.

She resorted to sending her mother to an expensive nursing home, where she was quite well taken care of until she fell and broke her hip. 

It was a long, painful journey for the woman, who kept wishing her mother could recognise her again, even just once. The memory-losing mother also kept telling her husband, “Who are you? Why are you so kind to me?”

Many of the elderly say they rather stay home to see their children and grandchildren every day. But some disagree and say they would feel like a burden if they sold their home and moved in with one of their children.

Taking care of ageing parents needs not only love, but also understanding, knowledge about elderly health concerns as well as untiring efforts.

“Having just finished one’s meal, they then say their children didn’t feed them,” is a Vietnamese saying about the decline or loss of short-term memory in the aged. Anyone with elderly parents must bear this in mind. It is important to be patient and loving.

If you are in your 50s and 60s taking care of your parents, it’s already a stretch because you’re still working. If you’re in your seventies taking care of centenarian parents, then it’s a blessing for you. Though in your seventies, you may have more time, your health may not be up to the task. 

In a packed room on a busy main road at a small home appliance business, I recently heard a busy woman telling her mother (or in-law) sitting in a wheelchair to move over as she did not have enough room. The house was literally packed up to the ceiling, and the lady in the wheelchair couldn’t move anywhere else. There was a room upstairs, but she wanted to stay downstairs, so she could see other people.

Anyone managing that little space, balancing her business and family while taking care of an elderly person, could lose control and end up being less than exceptionally polite, even to their own mother.

Many would say, send her to a nursing home, where she can be taken care of, meet friends her age and get a health check every day. Children could come and visit when they have time.

If the family can afford nursing home costs, they may choose to do so. The parent may be in better physical health, but not getting to see familiar faces may eventually lead to emotional health issues. 

An elderly woman, Thu Phan gave her thoughts about the matter online: “I’m 69 years old now, and I took care of my grandchildren when I retired at 55. When they were little, I took care of them, and when they went to school, I would help them with their homework at night. For me, I feel happy because I have not wasted my life. I feel happy, healthy and useful. But later on, when I get older and need help, whether I’ll get help depends on each person’s blessing.”

Even for the very elderly, a home can have its benefits. They will need to push themselves every day, which will not deteriorate their health but, on the contrary, give more strength, not only to cope with everyday life, but also to strengthen them generally, as long as they are willing to try. 

And for us children, we only wish we can do our best to earn enough money to have our parents living with us when they want to, and also be able to afford a nursing home for them if they want it.

Đức Dũng, a middle-aged man, added to the online discussion, saying. “I’ve been assisting my elder sister to take care of our mother, who has had Alzheimer’s for 14 years and has been bedridden for seven. It is my wish to take care of my mother and be by her side when she leaves us. But my wife and I have been saving so that later, we can both go to a nursing home because we don’t want our two daughters to suffer taking care of us. 

“Then if they insist, we would be thankful to God and to our children. It would be wonderful if they can manage their own families and us. But as our grandparents said, ‘Each tree bears its own flower, each family has its own issue’.” VNS


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