By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
It’s been nearly a month since Hà and Thông decided to replace their stilt house’s cement roof with traditional and more eco-friendly palm leaves.
Husband Hà and wife Thông form an ethnic Tày household in Bản Liền Commune of Bắc Hà District in northwest Lào Cai Province. When people refer to them they call out their names together Hà-Thông.
It is late in the afternoon twilight, and two rows of Tày women clad in traditional black tunics with colourful headscarves and waistbands are tying leaves to bamboo bars on the roof under the watchful eye of a master roof-maker.
In the front yard, another woman, Vàng thị Phóng, 24, is tying a pile of leaves for three men to swing up to the roof. The working process is going well when visitors from a neighbouring house stop by.
It does not stop the work, the passers-by say hello and continue going about their business. The images of these hardworking women, set against the sky, form a powerful positive scene, showing the decisive role of women in family and community life.
In Bản Liền, a hilly commune of Tày people in Bắc Hà, the women also do hard farm work alongside the men. They make the terraced fields, plant rice and tea, and tend to the family orchards. They raise chickens, ducks, geese, dogs, buffaloes and horses. They also plant cinnamon in the hills for a secure future, all while giving birth to children and taking care of ailing parents.
Since Bản Liền awoke like a sleeping beauty to open up and receive homestay guests, the people have made room for visitors to sleep on their stilt-house floors, learn to cook new dishes and how to speak English, and, in the springtime, practise their traditional games and dances, which they will perform for guests.
“Today we have come to help Hà-Thông to roof their house,” says Phóng, a local mother of two and head of the village music and dance group. “When the men are not at home, we women have to roof the house. In Bản Liền, it’s always women who climb onto the top of our house and fix the roof.”
A popular Vietnamese saying goes “Con không cha như nhà không nóc“ (a child without a father, is like a house without a roof). So, it’s notable, perhaps even a touch ironic, that it is not the men but the women who are hard at work fixing the roof.
“It’s been more than a month since we decided to change our roof with palm leaves,” says Thông, who owns the house with her husband. “This new roof shall be more eco-friendly, warm in winter and cool in summer, and it’s supposed to last for 20 years.”
It is a tradition of the Tày women in Bản Liền that a month or two before a family gets a new roof, the village shaman should be consulted on what days are most auspicious to the change and have a housewarming party. And before any construction, the woman of the house must be consulted. A house cannot be fixed without a mother’s permission.
In recent years, the women in Bản Liền have formed their own women’s power network, where they can share their homes and farm work. And now they work with a Vietnamese NGO, the Centre for Rural Economic Development (CRED), which helps connect them to a wider network, teaching them how to turn their homes into homestays for international travellers.
The women have become busier, yet they laugh more, feel more confident about themselves and are enjoying themselves more as they can sing and dance and show their traditional values to people from all over the world.
Despite the complex rules regarding building or fixing a house, there is no rule for who should arrange the leaves on the roof. The young tend to like it more; they like to walk up to the roof where they can look around, learn the job, and later teach others how to do it.
When the work is finished, the owner prepares a food tray to invite everyone who helped. The chief of the clan prepares a ceremony, and they invite all families with married daughters, and the uncles from the mother’s side of family bring sticky rice cakes and black glutinous rice dumplings to contribute.
Community-based foundation for future prosperity
Since March 2019, a community-based project to enhance the economic and social status of ethnic minority women through community-based tourism (CBT) in Bắc Hà has started to take root in the mountainous district.
CRED has helped to form six co-operatives on tourism with 21 groups of different crafts set up in seven communes and one township, with 690 people from 271 households. Of these, 331 are women and 95 per cent from minority groups. All CBT groups have women on the management boards.
More than 800 men and women (52 per cent) have also been trained in on-the-spot training workshops, with courses on advanced marketing and hosting guests for people providing tourism services.
More than 500 people have been given access to credit, and 115 people from 49 households have taken out loans at preferential interest rates, totalling VNĐ1,250,000,000 (AU$75,000).
The total turnover of these groups in the CBT project reached VNĐ600 million from June 2020 to March 2021, despite the fact it coincided with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The most visible results the project has brought about so far, is to see minority women taking more roles in social activities,” says Thái Huyền Nga, project manager. “The women are now more confident speaking up in public. Other social activities that were associated with men only, now can be seen being performed by women. Their voices have been heard and used for community purposes.”
The project has also held conferences and events to raise local people’s awareness on giving women authority and power, and gender equality, with a total of 80 per cent of local women taking part.
About 10,000 residents in 137 hamlets and communities of five communes and a township have gained access to information on gender equality, domestic violence, female trafficking and child labour through more than 1,000 radio broadcasts in Vietnamese and ethnic Mông languages.
The ongoing projects have helped more women get access to community cultural activities. At the beginning of the project, only 50 per cent of local women’s opinions were listened to and considered when making an important family decision, and now it is 80 per cent. More than 95 per cent of the men agreed to let the women — their wives, sisters and daughters — participate in tourism activities.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, 23 tourism companies, both inbound and local, have participated in designing tourism products for Bắc Hà District. More than 40,000 visitors came to project destinations that were unknown to domestic tourists before 2019. The project has completed a Bắc Hà Tourism website, which reached out to 100,000 visitors on multimedia platforms.
It has also trained communal cultural officers, improving their understanding of preserving local traditions and customs for tourism.
So much work has been done during a brief period of time. Even as the world is fighting this ongoing pandemic, up in the mountains of Bắc Hà, people are tending their terraced fields, washing their bedding and mosquito nets, and learning to manage household micro-economics. The women here are becoming more empowered.
All households involved have been working hard to join forces. As for Hà-Thông, the young couple wants to preserve their traditional Tày home with a palm leaf roof and give their visiting guests a warm welcome in winter and a cool breeze in summer.
Through their hard work and tireless industry, the future looks bright for the Tày women of Bản Liền. They are fixing the roof while the sun is shining. VNS
Salt coffee, a Huế delicacy, conquers Hà Nội taste buds
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
While many have commented on Việt Nam’s unique coffee culture amid a continent renowned for tea, recent innovations have enhanced its appeal.
Even in the heart of the coffee kingdom, the Central Highlands province of Đắk Lắk, one can discover smaller plantations contributing refined flavours to these globally celebrated beverages.
Hà Nội has recently introduced another speciality to its gourmet coffee repertoire: Salt coffee, a treat originating from Huế.
Just over a decade ago, a duo in Huế decided to experiment by infusing their condensed milk coffee with a trending matcha salty whipped cream topping. This inventive blend has since become iconic.
Salt coffee is now a hallmark of Huế, the city of Việt Nam’s last kings, and stands as a testament to its enduring and intricate culinary heritage. This culinary artistry persisted even after the last king abdicated in 1945, transitioning the nation to a republic.
Historically, Huế’s grassroots chefs had a penchant for incorporating salt in their creations. Salt rice, for instance, has been a centrepiece of royal feasts, where an elaborate ten-course meal offers an unforgettable experience for lucky attendees.
Salt rice feast
Cultural experts agree that sampling the Salt Rice Tray in Huế is akin to experiencing a centuries-old culinary heritage. Chefs have turned the most ordinary dishes of common people into a treasure trove.
Tôn nữ thị Hà, a distinguished home chef in Huế, meticulously preserves 36 salt-based recipes in her personal cookbook.
“Huế’s salt marinated dishes may sound simple, yet they represent our philosophy reflecting our ancestors’ new land reclaiming process, their survival in harsh natural circumstances. Many dishes of ordinary people have come into the royal menu as our ancestors grew up on these dishes.”
Salt dishes in Huế are typically grouped into three categories: salted vegetables and nuts, which include the likes of salted sesame, peanuts, apricots, and lemons; salted seafood, featuring items such as salted fish, shrimp, and various rice-field fish; and lastly, salted meats encompassing pork and beef.
Traditionally, salt was used either as a marinade or an ingredient, enhancing the flavour of vegetables and nuts, and encouraging moderate consumption. As royal feasts became less frequent over the years, the practice of enjoying these salt dishes, limited to a few ingredients, became confined to individual households.
In the present day, one can pre-book a grand salt feast at certain restaurants, but it’s typically reserved for special events. A group of Huế’s signature chefs is currently collating documentation, aiming to submit it to UNESCO for recognition and protection as a cultural heritage.
Given this deeply ingrained salt culinary tradition in the daily lives of Huế’s inhabitants, the introduction of salt to their coffee culture might have come later, but it seems it was always destined to be.
Salt coffee conquers Hà Nội
Salt Coffee was first made by the owners of Cafe Muối, at 10 Nguyễn Lương Bằng in Huế, a city with a population just shy of half a million.
Following this innovation, many other coffee establishments in Huế began crafting their own versions of the beverage, leading to a bustling market for such a novel creation.
Salt coffee is distinctively prepared using hand-filtered coffee through either a metal or ceramic filter, combined with condensed milk. It is then garnished with salty whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon powder.
A decade ago, inspired by the emerging trend of salt coffee in Huế, a husband-wife duo established a business which championed province specialities. Nguyễn thị Như Mai, the wife, is the proprietor of Phinholic, a series of ‘coffee-holic’ establishments, alongside The Hut, renowned for its paper straws, The Aroma, a centre dedicated to mixology, and ‘How to Make’, an application guiding users in coffee preparation.
On the other hand, Mai Khắc Khôi, the husband, spearheads the Green Field Coffee company, which specialises in roasting coffee beans and supplying them to various coffee shops across Huế. He also sources coffee grown in the A Lưới District of Thừa Thiên – Huế province.
They opened their first Phinholic cafe in Hà Nội last year.
Cao Huy Miên Nhã, co-owner of the Phinholic shop on Nguyễn Khuyến Street tells Việt Nam News: “We sell between 30-40 cups a day.”
In a city like Hà Nội, home to 8 million residents and a myriad of coffee shops, the numbers might seem insignificant. Yet, when considering that their coffee beans are sourced exclusively from A Lưới district in Huế, and that the caffeine content is calibrated to ensure it’s safe for consumers, this unique offering is bound to carve out its niche audience.
Detractors might argue that the Vietnamese already incorporate a substantial amount of salt in their daily diets. Health experts suggest a reduction in daily salt intake. Such warnings can be beneficial for those keen on maintaining their caffeine habits.
Phinholic makers already had that in mind, “Each portion comprises 160ml of coffee,” Miên Nhã told Việt Nam News adding, “Our coffee brewers have taken a certificate that runs out every two years.” If they do not retake the test again, they shall not be able to maintain the activities of the brewing centre.
Nowadays in Hà Nội, you can stumble upon salt coffee in nearly every pavement cafe, sitting alongside other beloved beverages from various parts of Việt Nam. Alongside the fresh coconut juice from Bến Tre Province or the delightful lemon/kumquat tea, always remember that salt coffee traces its origins back to Huế. VNS
Vietnamese-American chef Christine Ha spreads message of self-love, positivity
Vietnamese-American chef Christine Ha met with her fans in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday at an event where she shared her real-life experiences and how she overcame her tumultuous journey.
The event, held by the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City in collaboration with the Center for Disability and Development, aimed to direct positive energy from Ha’s story to those who need it.
She was born in 1979 to Vietnamese parents in California.
In 2004, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and gradually started losing her vision.
Ha is the first blind contestant of the American competitive cooking reality television series MasterChef and became the winner of its third season in 2012.
She published her cookbook Recipes from My Home Kitchen with Vietnamese food recipes one year later.
Ha is currently running three restaurants in the U.S..
At the event on Monday at the American Center under the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City in District 1, Ha not only encouraged people with her positive messages about life, but also touched the hearts of the listeners with her spirit of self-love and acceptance of hard circumstances, thereby turning it into motivation.
|Christine Ha is seen at an event at the American Center under the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City in District 1 on September 25, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
“When I started losing my vision, people always asked me if I was angry or how long I stayed sad,” Ha recalled her own experience when an audience member asked her about the self-victimization feeling of people with disabilities.
“I was definitely sad, it was not easy. I don’t feel like I was ever angry or questioning why it was happening to me or that it was unfair.
“It’s really about how you play the hand that you’re dealt. So I think for me, I chose not to victimize myself, I just figured vision loss was something that just happened to happen to me.
“I could either give up on life, but I realized that the earth keeps rotating, the sun still rises, the sun still sets. So I could either give up or I could figure out, okay, how I can still change my life or the way I view life to make my life still feel purposeful in spite of the vision loss.
“And that’s the decision I chose to make.”
|Christine Ha poses for a photo with her audience at an event at the American Center under the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City in District 1, September 25, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
The achievements Ha has made, she said, result from a journey of small steps and her appreciating each of them.
“Look back at your small achievements and what you’ve been able to accomplish day by day, hour by hour even, and you’ll realize that you are achieving small goals slowly,” Ha told her audience.
“It’s okay because the small goals that you reach will lead to bigger things, and to more self-confidence.
“And then the more confidence you have, I think the less fear you have to take greater risks in life.
“Always the biggest rewards in life come from the greatest risks.”
When asked about self-limiting beliefs, Ha answered that limitations are not always bad.
“I think limitations are something we try to always view as negative,” she said.
“But I think limitations are sometimes a way for the world to tell us it’s not time or we’re not ready or this is not the right path for you to take and I think that’s okay.
“You should listen to the limitations as well.
“I was always taught to deliver more and more and be an overachiever, and a perfectionist, and that leads to a lot of pressure on myself.
“But I think sometimes you have to limit yourself to preserve your mental health and your emotional health, and I think it’s okay to say no to things.
“I think in some ways it’s okay to limit yourself if you don’t feel emotionally or mentally or physically ready for a challenge, that’s perfectly okay.”
According to the restaurateur, it is really about ‘a balance’ and people should listen to their intuition to say what they really want to do, whether they are ready for something or not.
|An audience member uses sign language to ask Christine Ha via a translator in the Q&A session of an event at the American Center under the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City in District 1, September 25, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
Ha also told her audience the story behind one of her most significant core life values.
“It is turning better today than you were yesterday,” she shared.
“How I came up with that core value was actually during the time I was competing on MasterChef.
“Every day I would go into the kitchen or the studio to film, and I wouldn’t know what challenge we had that day for cooking.
“And of course being visually impaired, I never knew how anyone else was also doing at their station or what ingredients my co-contestants decided to use.
“So I realized after a while that I felt like I really wasn’t competing with anyone else.
“I was really just competing against myself or the version of myself the day before. So I felt like the only way I could succeed was I went into that kitchen every day and became a better cook or a better person than the day I was before.
“That core value has stuck with me throughout the last 10 plus years.”
Cough in children – how to assess, diagnose and treat
Dr Mattias Larsson*
Thủy, a usually vibrant seven-year-old girl, had a persistent dry cough for three weeks, was tired, had decreased appetite, headaches, and low fever of 38oC. Hằng, Thủy’s mother, had taken her to local physicians and she had been treated with both cough syrup and antibiotics without any apparent effect except for diarrhea. As the mother was concerned and wanted a clear diagnosis, she took Thủy to Family Medical Practice for consultation.
Coughing is one of the most common causes parents take their children to FMP. From the body’s point of view, coughing not a problem, but a solution! When irritants, such as mucus, foreign particles or pathogens enter the airways special receptors detect the irritant and a reflex response causes a forceful exhalation to expel the irritant, resulting in cough.
When examining Thủy, the doctor noticed that the respiratory rate was faster than expected for her age, and she had inward chest movements, indicating that the body had to struggle to get enough oxygen. In the base of the right lung there was a crackling sound, crepitations, indicating that it might be some infection.
When assessing symptoms you need to do a differential diagnosis between different causes. The first is to classify what kind of cough. Dry or productive with mucus? Force and frequency of coughing? Are there danger signs such as: High fever above 38,5oC? Difficulty or rapid breathing? In-drawings? Cyanosis with blue lips? Decreased appetite? Changes in consciousness?
What are the most common causes of coughing?
– Viral colds, the most common causes of childhood coughs, start with a runny nose that progresses to thicker mucus, possibly fever, usually resolves within a week with rest and symptomatic treatment.
– Bronchitis causes rapid breathing and chest in-drawings, is often viral, as RSV leading to high fever and respiratory distress in infants and young children. Treated with inhalation medication.
– Asthma causes airway restriction, cough, and difficulty breathing.
– Pneumonia presents with high fever, persistent cough and breathing problems, diagnosed with clinical evaluation, X-ray and blood tests, is often caused by bacteria that require antibiotics.
– COVID-19 causing cough, fever and respiratory symptoms, usually milder in kids than adults.
– Streptococcal Tonsillitis causes severe sore throat, pain when eating and drinking, cough and. Diagnosed with rapid strep-A test and treated with antibiotics.
– Allergic reactions trigger long-term coughing with transparent mucus, often also itchy eyes and runny nose. No fever. Managed by reducing exposure (pollen, mite, pollution,… ) and treated with antihistamine.
– Tuberculosis (TB), characterised by persistent cough, sometimes with blood, along with fever, weight loss and fatigue. Timely diagnosis and treatment is crucial.
– Whooping cough (Pertussis) causing severe coughing fits and often followed by a distinctive “whooping” sound during inhalation. Vaccination plays a vital role in prevention.
– Croup, presenting as a barking cough, hoarseness, and noisy breathing due to swelling of the upper airway. It is typically a viral infection and may require medical attention.
– Influenza A causes high fever, respiratory symptoms and body aches. Early diagnosis allows treatment with oseltamivir. Annual flu vaccination is recommended.
– Legionellosis, caused by the Legionella bacteria, starts with high fever, shivering, dry cough, breathing difficulties, chest pain, muscle aches and confusion, diagnosed with blood test, PCR. Treatment with antibiotics.
As Thủy had persistent coughing, rapid breathing and crepitations, an X-ray was performed that showed infection in the lung. Blood tests indicated a bacterial infection, and a few hours later a rapid PCR test identified the culprit: Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Consequently, the correct antibiotic treatment was prescribed.
But why did Thủy not respond to the prior antibiotic treatment? That’s because Mycoplasma pneumoniae is an intracellular bacterium that does not respond to the most common antibiotics.
A child’s cough can result from various causes, ranging from minor irritations to severe infections. Caregivers should be observant for danger signs such as rapid breathing, inward chest movements and persistent fever. Consulting a clinic with capacity for differential diagnostics is essential for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Family Medical Practice
*Dr Mattias Larsson is a paediatric doctor at Family Medical Practice and associate professor at Karolinska Institutet and has a long experience in research on infectious diseases. He has worked with the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit and the Ministry of Health of Vietnam. He is fluent in English, Swedish, Vietnamese, German, and some Spanish.
Visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi 24/7 at 298I P. Kim Mã St, Kim Mã Ward, Ba Đình Dist.
To book an appointment, please call us at (024).3843.0784 or via Whatsapp, Viber or Zalo on +84.944.43.1919 or email [email protected].
FMP’s downtown location in Hồ Chí Minh City is in Diamond Plaza, 34 Đ Lê Duẩn St, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, and 95 Đ Thảo Điền St, District 2. Tel. (028) 3822 7848 or email [email protected].
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