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Swedish family share their good fortunes with Vietnamese people



Lê Hương

Residents in Hội An are very familiar with the charitable activities of the Wandi family, made up of Kawa, Nishte and their triplets Alexander, Leah and Joline, from Stockholm, Sweden.

Since 2017, the family has been on a journey through many countries in the world, helping all kinds of people through their charity the Wandi Union, which is mostly based on their own financial sources.

They arrived in Việt Nam in February 2020, just before the pandemic forced the closure of international borders. They decided to remain in Hội An.

“During the pandemic, we saw the situation in Việt Nam become harder for many families,” Kawa Wandi told Việt Nam News. “Many lost their jobs in the tourism industry. We decided to reach out to help those in need.”

Kawa Wandi hands some gifts to a local elder.  — Courtesy Photo of Kawa Wandi

“We did not feel good about seeing the Vietnamese people suffer, he said.

Kawa said locals in Hội An have been kind and respectful to him and his family.

“The country has welcomed us with open arms. Việt Nam is very dear in my hearts,” he said as he explained why they have stayed so long. 

They have faced no difficulties in living here.

“Life is simple and nature is amazing,” he said.

Kawa said they do charity work almost every day. Usually, they give out food packages, to cover the needs of a family of four for a week.

Nishte Wandi joins in cooking meals for poor people. — Courtesy Photo of Kawa Wandi

The package contains rice, noodles, oil, preserves, vegetable and more.

They also sometimes cook food and distribute it among the poor in the city.

“Sharing your bread with your fellow human beings is the best experience we can have. We have worked in charity for many years. We are happy to be able to share the blessing we have had in our life with other people,” he said.  

Wandi said one of his most memorable moments was when the team reached a remote village in Tây Giang District to install a water purification system for a village of 400 people.

They didn’t have clean water. Instead, they had to go kilometres every day to get drinking water. This machine produces 200m3 clean water an hour.

“Seeing the kids running after the car cheerfully when we left them with all the joy and hope that gave us strength and love to continue,” he said.

Kawa poses for a photo by the water purifying system he helped install in Đông Giang, Tây Giang District of Quảng Nam Province. — Courtesy Photo of Kawa Wandi 

The family has made many friends that help out with the charity work. After a serious storm last year in the central region, the team carried out a series of charity activities in flood-hit areas like Quảng Trị, Quảng Bình, and Quảng Nam.

He said local authorities have also been helpful in their charity activities. They sent trucks and volunteers, allowing the Wandi Union to send big donations.

In Quảng Trị, the team had to travel by boat from one house to another to give locals essential things.

“It was a risky trip. I left my family alone in Hội An,” he said. “It was with great happiness that I returned home after such a dangerous trip.”

Trang Quốc Trí, a restaurant owner in Hội An who joins Wandi’s family in many charity activities, said he was really moved to see Wandi walking with his bare feet in the flood, giving essential things to locals in Quảng Trị.

“He was so moved by lonely elders in flood areas that he gave them millions more as extra gifts,” Trí said.

Trần Tấn Dũng, Chairman of Hội An City’s Vietnam Father Front Committee, said local authorities and people have been moved by the donations from organisations, enterprises and individuals.

“We highly appreciate the gifts from the Wandi family and other sponsors,” he said. “Many families have had to overcome difficulties during the pandemic. This is a great source of power for us to fight back the pandemic.”

Children are the focal points in his projects. — Courtesy Photo of Kawa Wandi

Wandi said because of the COVID-19 situation, they have not been able to drive up to the mountains. They have a few projects up there that they had to put on hold up until the roads open and things get easier.

In Hội An, the team plans to support three schools. They will continue with the food distribution.

“Kids have always been the focal points in our project,” he said. “Our children are our future in society. Investing in them is the best thing that one can do. Their families are in need in Hội An and Quảng Nam so we will continue to support as long as we are healthy and able to.”

“We want to thank our friends from around the world and our families for helping and supporting us to make it possible,” he said.

Second home

“Việt Nam has a rich culture and beautiful landscapes, from small towns with a lot of charm to cities like Hà Nội and HCM City.

“The best thing for me is Vietnamese people, who always keep smiling no matter how they feel.

“Hội An is an incredibly beautiful city. People are among the nicest we had met in our life. We are truly happy to live here, in this amazing country that nowadays we call our home.

“There is nothing that we dislike about Việt Nam, except maybe that we cannot get some Swedish goods here!”

The family enjoyed travelling in Việt Nam before the pandemic. — Courtesy Photo of Kawa Wandi

Wandi said his wife and children enjoy the quiet and stress-free life here in Việt Nam.

“The warm smile and the love we received from Vietnamese people is a blessing. They enjoy the social life, the easy-going people, the nice weather, the beautiful nature, the rich culture and the amazing traditions,” he said.

“It’s hard not to fall in love with this country. Việt Nam will always have a piece from our heart and forever will be the second home to us,” he said.

The Wandi children also join in charity activities. — Courtesy Photo of Kawa Wandi




Tears of joy shed as Ho Chi Minh City university students hold wedding ceremony for disabled couples



A group of students from a university in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday night organized a wedding ceremony for handicapped couples who had got married many years ago but had been unable to have an official wedding ceremony.

The mass wedding ceremony was held by students from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities under the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City.

After being married for 20 years, Vo Nguyen Thi Thao, 48, residing in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, finally had a chance to wear a wedding dress and hold the hand of her husband, Lam Tan Canh, as they walked down the aisle.

The couple makes ends meet by selling lottery tickets.

“I am extremely happy and content because I am able to wear a suit for the first time and see my wife in a wedding gown,” Canh emotionally said.

“My feeling is the same as it was 20 years ago.”

Nguyen Vu Son, 36, and his 33-year-old wife Nguyen Thi My Dung were also among the couples at the collective wedding ceremony.

They live in a boarding house in District 12.

Son uses a wheelchair while his wife walks with crutches.

The couple’s unstable incomes from lottery ticket sales and odd jobs have caused them to put off having a wedding reception for the past 12 years.

Holding his wife’s hand to enter the hall, Son smiled happily in tears, while the bride also cried happily.

“Finally, I can give the ring to my wife. The moment was sacred,” Son said.

Nguyen Thi Linh Phuong (first row, C) and her husband Huynh Minh Phung (first row, R), a couple at the special wedding ceremony, pose for a photo with their family members. Photo: Courtesy of organizer

Nguyen Thi Linh Phuong (C, first row) and her husband Huynh Minh Phung (R, first row), a couple at the special wedding ceremony, pose for a photo with their family members. Photo: Courtesy of the organizer

During the mass wedding ceremony, couples watered tree pots instead of pouring wine as per convention.

Each guest attending the ceremony was given a pack of seeds with a message of contributing to nurturing the happiness of the couples.

Ho Le Anh Nguyet, head of the organizing board of the wedding ceremony, shared that the packs of seeds symbolized the community’s wishes to the couples and were expected to grow and bloom.

A couple waters a tree pot at the wedding ceremony. Photo: Courtesy of organizer

A couple waters a tree pot at the wedding ceremony. Photo: Courtesy of organizer

They chose to hold the wedding ceremony for the disabled couples because, no matter what a person looks like, love is always beautiful and worth honoring.

They wanted to realize the dream of the disadvantaged.

Vo Van Anh, chairman of an association of handicapped people in Ho Chi Minh City, said the mass wedding coincided with the 31st anniversary of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, so it was more humane.

He hoped that similar ceremonies would be held in the future.

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Vietnamese descendant wins record $4.56mn in Netflix’s ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’



Mai Whelan, a 55-year-old woman of Vietnamese descent, recently emerged victorious in the inaugural season of streaming pioneer Netflix’s ‘Squid Game: The Challenge,’ securing a cash prize of US$4.56 million, the highest in reality TV history.

Following nine intense episodes, the reality competition unveiled its ultimate victor among 456 participants.

Whelan, who is currently residing in the U.S. state of Virginia, was named the winner in the final episode that aired on Wednesday.

A reality series adapted from the 2021 South Korean blockbuster drama ‘Squid Game,’ it engaged contestants in challenges reminiscent of the original, including the iconic Red Light, Green Light, and the nerve-wracking glass bridge. 

In addition, the show intensified the challenges by eliminating the contestants or offering advantages for each episode via other novel games and rules.

Outshining 453 other competitors, three finalists — Whelan No. 287, Phill Cain No. 451, and Sam Lantz No. 016 — featured in the program’s concluding episode, engaging in two final games of chance to determine the fortunate winner. 

Eventually, Mai emerged as the lucky one, consistently triumphing in different rounds to secure the key to open the coveted prize vault containing the record-breaking prize of $4.56 million.

A scene from the Season 1 of the Netflix reality competition show ‘Squid Game: The Challenge.’ Photo: Netflix

A scene from the Season 1 of the Netflix reality competition show ‘Squid Game: The Challenge.’ Photo: Netflix

“It was a relief to go back to normal life and not worry about getting eliminated,” Whelan told Netflix’s official companion site Tudum

“I needed that after two and a half weeks of intense go, go, go, and emotional ups and downs.

“But the person that came into [the competition] is me. 

“I’m still Mai, and she hasn’t changed — except that I came out stronger.”

While winning is nice — life-changing, even — Mai is ultimately more concerned with just how far the $4.56 million could reach beyond her own backyard. 

Once she has done renovating at home, ideally including building a small dock for a boat, she is setting her sights elsewhere, according to Tudum

“My heart is with people, animals, and climate change,” she told Tudum about how she plans to spend her winnings.

Following the conclusion of the inaugural season, Studio Lambert, the producer of the show, has initiated casting for the next season, slated to air in 2024.

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Vietnamese choreographer Tan Loc introduces new contemporary ballet ‘Senzen’



A contemporary ballet that incorporates the harmonious fusion of traditional Vietnamese instruments and Japan’s Taiko drums, ‘Senzen’ marks the return of choreographer Nguyen Tan Loc and Arabesque Vietnam, a neo-classical and contemporary dance company, after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jointly organized by Arabesque Vietnam and performance art theater Saigon Concert, the gig is set for December 16 and 17 at the Municipal Theater, also known as the Saigon Opera House, in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.

During a briefing for ‘Senzen,’ Tan Loc, the art director of the show, reflected on his past experience as an international student in Japan nearly 30 years ago, his sentiments about his profession, and the challenges he faced during the pandemic.

“After the struggle between life and death, I’ve gained an appreciation for what I have, cherishing every encounter and every opportunity to pursue my passion,” Loc said.

“A dancer must practice every day to keep in form.

“Amidst chaos, maintaining calm is essential to excel in your pursuits.”

Choreographer Tan Loc speaks at a press briefing at the Saigon Opera House in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, December 1, 2023. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Choreographer Tan Loc speaks at a press briefing at the Saigon Opera House in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, December 1, 2023. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Those inner reflections served as inspiration for him and his colleagues to create the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen’ in celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan.

The play’s title unveils themes shared by Japanese and Vietnamese cultures, where ‘sen’ symbolizes the lotus flower and ‘zen’ represents meditation.

The piece is likened to a voyage of exploring the philosophy of mindfulness, offering each individual the chance to observe and understand themselves.

The performance is meticulously curated, from stage design and lighting to the serene fusion of timpani, Japanese drums, and traditional Vietnamese musical instruments.

It involves a modest cast of seven to eight dancers but has demanded the dedication of a crew of nearly a hundred over the past six months. 

Among them are those who tirelessly commute between Vietnam and foreign countries, working both online and offline, such as choreographer Ngoc Anh.

Kensaku Satou of Japan shows his mastery with Taiko drums. Photo: Koshizuka Mitsuki

Kensaku Satou of Japan shows his mastery of Taiko drums. Photo: Koshizuka Mitsuki

The ballet will also feature the renowned Japanese drum master Kensaku Satou, who performed in prestigious events such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics closing ceremony, FIFA World Cup editions, and various international programs.

This will mark his debut in Vietnam. 

In a video message, the artist conveyed his enthusiasm and anticipation for a harmonious performance, blending Arabesque Vietnam dancers with the energetic rhythm of Japanese Taiko drums, for the Vietnamese audience.

A performance for contemporary dance lovers

Giving details on ‘Senzen,’ Tan Loc recalled his beginning as a Vietnamese student in Japan in 1994, where he received immense support from his Japanese friends, shaping him into the person he is today. 

Tan Loc also shared a special connection with dancer Chika Tatsumi, whom he met when she was just seven years old. 

Now grown up, Chika has stayed in Vietnam to dance for Arabesque Vietnam. 

Dancer Chika Tatsumi performs the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen.’ Photo: DaiNgoStudio

Dancer Chika Tatsumi performs the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen.’ Photo: DaiNgoStudio

The choreographer said he and his dancers, each with their unique ties to the play, have faced various challenges, including anticipated financial losses for the two upcoming performance nights. 

Despite the difficulties, Tan Loc and his colleagues continue to exert their utmost effort in ‘Senzen,’ envisioning it as a cultural and artistic bridge fostering the emotional connection between the peoples of Vietnam and Japan. 

Tan Loc also expects the play to bring harmony and empathy, not only to the artists involved but also the audience. 

While Loc expressed concerns about the selectivity of contemporary dance and the potential deterrent of the meditation theme for younger audiences, the first two premieres of ‘Senzen’ have surprisingly attracted interest from many young individuals in Generation Z and enthusiastic engagement from young TikTokers.

Dancers perform the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen.’ Photo: DaiNgoStudio

Dancers perform the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen.’ Photo: DaiNgoStudio

Looking ahead to 2024, Arabesque Vietnam has received orders from Saigon Concert for works for teenagers and children, the two age groups often overlooked in artistic endeavors.

Tan Loc emphasizes that the dance company’s approach will always be distinct.

“We strive to maintain our artistic identity in the eyes of the audience,” the artist stated. 

He confides that despite being questioned multiple times about the challenges and losses associated with their artistic pursuits, he persists because he believes in the transformative power of art. 

Arabesque Vietnam has contributed to the community by organizing numerous gratis shows for students in Ho Chi Minh City. 

One of those students, inspired by one of his plays, developed a deeper love for his hometown in Vietnam’s central region and dedicated themself to studying to contribute to the homeland.

Dancer Vu Minh Thu performs the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen.’ Photo: DaiNgoStudio

Dancer Vu Minh Thu performs the contemporary ballet ‘Senzen.’ Photo: DaiNgoStudio

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