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Vietnamese artist breathes new life into driftwood



Le Ngoc Thuan, a restaurateur and artist in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam is known for making art using an unlikely material – driftwood from a local river.

From July to October every year, the flow of Thu Bon River, which starts from the watershed on Ngoc Linh Mountain in Kon Tum Province, about 167km away, carries large chunks of tree branches and woody debris to its outlet area of Cua Dai District in Hoi An, a small city in Quang Nam.

This debris turned out to be a gold mine for Thuan’s creative endeavors.

An artwork from driftwood made by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

An artwork made from driftwood by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

Thuan is by no means a one-trick-pony.

Long before his wood carving project took off, he was already known as a mogul in Hoi An’s hotelier community, who owns and helped design a successful chain of homestays along An Bang Beach.

Thuan also channeled his eccentricities into the decorations of many nightclubs and restaurants in Hoi An, which helped draw in swathes of foreign tourists.

In late 2020, Thuan was contacted by a friend who jokingly asked him to create art from the wood scraps that washed up near the Thu Bon outlet, which was inundated during the historical flooding that hit central Vietnam from October to November that year.

On the other end of the line, Thuan felt like he had struck gold. He promptly rode his pickup truck to the location and searched the waterfront for pieces of driftwood that matched his vision.

One week later, Thuan called up the friend to show him a piece of art, which stretches 0.8 meters tall and 1.5 meters long, that was created out of the joke he made.

For this piece, Thuan set out to illustrate different shades of human expression facials out of wood.

What he achieved found resonance with many foreign art collectors, who offered to buy the piece at high prices.

Thuan immediately saw a business opportunity out of the driftwood that laid in abundance on the river shore.

“I quite like the ‘driftwood’ moniker that people started to call me. It implies that I made marketable arts from discards, and that I gave this waste a new life,” Thuan said.

An artwork from driftwood made by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

An artwork made from driftwood by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

From waste to bucks

In early 2020, Thuan opened a new restaurant with DIY esthetics in Hoi An, where he strives to showcase fewer concrete structures and more upcycled art pieces.

Then the COVID-19 crisis arrived, dragging its shadow on Hoi An tourism throughout the last year.

To keep his businesses afloat during the new situation, Thuan had to come up with many initiatives, including art festivals on the beach and cuisine competitions that feature the best chefs in town.

In December last year, Thuan was featured in a night art fair that displayed notable arts and DIY crafts of the artists’ community in Hoi An, where his driftwood pieces emerged as a standout to visitors.

Artworks from driftwood made by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

Artworks made from driftwood by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

Thuan’s approach of retaining the original color and grains of the material, while using minimal carving and avoiding wood shine products, was aided by the technique of a visual artist in the area.

Using one week to chisel the details, Thuan managed to pull out the touches of facial expressions from the wood caricature, which convinced an art fair goer to purchase the artwork on the spot.

The initial success convinced Thuan to branch out with more bizarre designs, which became the specialties of his stall at the local art fair.

An artwork from driftwood made by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

An artwork made from driftwood by Le Ngoc Thuan and associates in Hoi An City. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

Minimalism in hospitality

After the initial phase of experimentation, Thuan reached a decision to pursue the driftwood work as a business venture.

He started out carving all products by hand, but later scaled up to a workshop with a woodworking machine due to the overwhelming demand of customers.

Thuan also headed to the Kim Bong Carpentry Village in Hoi An to pick up discarded wood and even recruited carpenters for his facility.

By now, his production has been able to run consistently, providing ornaments, napkin boxes, and furniture for lodging and restaurants all over Hoi An.

A piece of furniture from Thuan’s workshop can be sold for as much as US$1,000.

Le Ngoc Thuan’s booth at a local art fair in Hoi An City. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

Le Ngoc Thuan’s booth at a local art fair in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

“This product line proves the perfect fit to the emerging lifestyle of minimalism,” Thuan said.

“Each of the pieces is not simply an item for consumption.

“They are also works that harbor stories from the past.”

Echoing Thuan’s point, Tran Van Khoa, director of travel agency Jack Tran Tours Hoi An, said that eco-friendly decorations with artistic features are in vogue among the hospitality sector.

Meanwhile, in Hoi An, the penchant for modernism with glass and metal galore remains a hindrance for the rise of minimalism.

“Le Ngoc Thuan’s approach is the way to go,” he remarked.

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Your Vietnam

Bangladesh celebrates 52nd Independence and National Day



Bangladesh Ambassador to Việt Nam & Laos Samina Naz writes to Việt Nam News on Bangladesh’s 52nd Independence and National Day on March 26.

As Bangladesh celebrates its 52nd Independence and National Day on March 26, we must take a moment to reflect on the nation’s remarkable achievements since it declared independence from Pakistan in 1971. This is a day of joy for us, to commemorate the birth of our nation and to remember the struggle of our freedom fighters for liberation from oppression.

Bangladesh has come a long way since its independence. The past five decades have been a period of tremendous progress for us, and the country has made remarkable steps in terms of economic development, social progress, and international recognition.

We have achieved remarkable success in various areas, from health to education and infrastructure to poverty alleviation. Our country is now a vibrant democracy and a leader in the region in economic growth.

Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a recent interview with CNN

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the last 14 years have been a period of remarkable economic transformation for Bangladesh. The country has achieved miraculous economic growth and has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The economic outlook of Bangladesh has improved significantly, and our country has become a middle-income nation, much to the delight of its citizens.

According to the World Bank, the country’s GDP per capita has more than tripled from US$511 in 2005 to $1,664 in 2020, and is currently estimated at $3,104. The country has achieved impressive economic growth rates of over 6 per cent annually since 2010.

It has achieved several of the Millennium Development Goals, including reducing its poverty rate from 44.2 per cent in 2005 to 24.3 per cent in 2018, and is now less than 20 per cent.

This economic growth has been accompanied by a vibrant presence in the international arena. Bangladesh has been leading in global platforms such as the United Nations, the G20 and the Non-Aligned Movement. It has also successfully negotiated trade agreements with major global players such as the EU, the US and China.

The country is also making strides in the areas of education, health and infrastructure. The government has invested heavily in primary education, resulting in a significant improvement in literacy rates.

Healthcare facilities have also been improved, with the government launching a number of initiatives, such as the Health Inclusion Projects and the community health centres at the very grassroots level.

The country has made significant strides in reducing infant and maternal mortality rates, improving access to clean water and sanitation, and expanding access to education.

As we mark the 52nd Independence and National Day of Bangladesh, we pay homage to the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who has been and still is the rock of our nation.

Our achievements in the last 14 years are an embodiment of the unfulfilled dreams of Bangabandhu. He had envisioned a prosperous, self-reliant, and progressive Bangladesh.

His daughter and current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been instrumental in realising the dream of her father. She has been the driving force behind many of the initiatives that have made Bangladesh a success story.

We are proud to note that the golden jubilee of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Việt Nam falls in 2023.

Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to recognise and establish diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level with the then Interim Revolutionary Government of Việt Nam, leading from the south.

In the last five decades, both countries have made immense progress in bilateral trade and investment. The bilateral trade between the two countries increased significantly in 2022, and the trend continues even in 2023.

Việt Nam’s exports to Bangladesh in 2022 have reached USD 1.3 billion, and Bangladesh’s exports to Việt Nam in 2022 have reached $110 million.

As we celebrate this day, let us remember the sacrifices of the millions of martyrs who laid down their lives for the cause of an independent Bangladesh. Let us also pay tribute to the vision of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the strong leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Let us take pride in the progress made by Bangladesh in the last five decades and be optimistic about its future.

On our national day, we also express our sincere gratitude to Việt Nam for the strong diplomatic relations between the two countries.

We look forward to further strengthening the ties of friendship and cooperation between Bangladesh and Việt Nam in the coming 50 years and beyond. Let us strive together to build a better world, a world of peace, progress and prosperity.

Long live Bangladesh-Việt Nam friendship!

Happy Independence and National Day of Bangladesh! VNS


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French Institute celebrates 50th anniversary of VN, France diplomatic ties



50TH ANNIVERSARY: Vietnamese designer Hoàng Hải, Miss International Vietnam 2022 Phạm Ngọc Phương Anh and organisers at a press conference on the celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of Việt Nam-France diplomatic relations held in HCM City. — VNS Photo Phương Mai  

HCM CITY — The French Institute in Việt Nam will hold a wide range of cultural activities across Việt Nam this year to mark the 50th anniversary of Việt Nam-France diplomatic relations and the tenth anniversary of the two countries’ strategic partnership.

The celebration will open with a discussion on the topic of “Views on French and Vietnamese Cuisine” at Sofitel Saigon Plaza in HCM City today.

The event will be hosted by French and Vietnamese chefs such as Didier Corlou, owner of Sices Verticale Restaurant in Hà Nội and Cô Mai Restaurant in Hội An, Alain Nguyen, a graduate of the Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Francaise Ferrandi (Superior School of French Cuisine at Ferrandi) in Paris, and Thảo Na from Lavelle Library Restaurant in HCM City.

The hosts will discuss cuisine, ingredients and cooking methods, and the fusion of the two countries’ cuisine.

They will also offer a cooking demonstration of Vietnamese and French dishes at the event.

From April to June, the organiser will host a series of events highlighting French and Vietnamese cuisines such as French Cuisine Week with the participation of France’s leading chefs, such as Guillaume Gomez, former chef at the Élysée Palace.

There will be discussions about French cuisine and wine, and Vietnamese coffee and cacao, and a workshop for young Vietnamese bakers instructed by chefs from the Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Francaise Ferrandi.

Meanwhile, several events honouring the two countries’ fashion industries will be held between June and December.

The highlighted event will be a fashion design competition called “Fashion in Paris” for Vietnamese young talents in June.

The eight best contestants will be chosen by a jury of renown French and Vietnamese fashion experts and designers, such as designer Hoàng Hải, to enter the final.

In the final, they will have remote training courses with experts from France and receive financial support to create their own collections of five designs.

The designers will present their collections and have a Q&A session at the finale held on October 21 in HCM City.

The winner will receive a scholarship to study high fashion in Paris.

A fashion show and series of talk shows about French perfume and fashion industry, and slow fashion will be held as well.

Sophie Maysonnave, counselor for Cooperation and Cultural Activities at the French Embassy in Việt Nam and director of the French Institute, said at the press conference in HCM City on Wednesday: “We hope the public can enjoy a wide range of interesting events across the country on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Việt Nam-France diplomatic relations.”

The organisers will also host a mobile photo exhibition titled “Photo Hanoi 23” in Hà Nội from April 21 to late May, attracting photographers from France, Argentina and Việt Nam.

A French singing competition for Vietnamese contestants will be held in Đà Nẵng from March to June.

In December, the organisers will launch a music and light gala in Huế as a closing event of the celebration, featuring electro music and visual light effects set up by professional staffs from two countries. — VNS


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Concert dedicated to Trịnh Công Sơn to take place at Hà Nội Opera House




Young singer Hoàng Trang performs at Trịnh Ca Club. Photo courtesy of Trịnh Ca

HÀ NỘI A live concert programme will take place in Hà Nội next month to commemorate 22 years since the day composer Trịnh Công Sơn passed away.

Giấc Mơ Trịnh (Trịnh’s Dream), is organised by artists and founders of the Trịnh Ca Club founded 15 years ago as a rendezvous for audiences and singers who love music composed by Trịnh Công Sơn.

Located in Cầu Giấy District, Trịnh Ca Club hosts music shows featuring Trịnh and other outstanding composers of Vietnamese love and romantic music. Weekly, the live shows are also live streamed on its Fanpage to serve audiences abroad. With its activities, Trịnh Ca plays an important role in the development of Vietnamese contemporary music.

To mark 15 years since its establishment, Trịnh Ca Club co-operated with Vàng Son Một Thuở Company to organise Trịnh’s Dream, under the direction of famous musician Nguyễn Quang who have directed many music shows nationwide. The concert shows will be held on April 1 and 2 at Hà Nội Opera House. 

According to Quang, Trịnh’s Dream shows do not delve into the biography of the late musician Trịnh Công Sơn or how the songs were born, but explore how the songs affect audiences and singers.

“Everybody will have a different perspective,” said Quang.

“The songs will follow each other to express each person’s dreams and thoughts. The message of the programme is to love each other and help each other build our dreams and aspirations. Everyone will discover themselves in it.”

Audiences will enjoy 20 famous songs that have a strong position in Vietnamese audiences’ hearts. However, these songs are remixed to bring a new feeling to audiences.

They are remixed in acoustic style and there will be 60 microphones arranged on the stage to amplify the sound. The director doesn’t use other digital and electronic equipment to preserve the modest and truthful sound from the voice of singers and the beat of instruments.

Singer Lê Tâm said that Trịnh Ca’s familiar artists and audiences will come to the music night as a pilgrimage to Trịnh’s realm. What connects listeners and singers is the empathy in those ideas and philosophies.

She said: “Some people say that the more Trịnh’s music is heard, the more absorbed you are, the more you understand and the more you love it. There are songs to listen to today, listen to tomorrow, but sometimes they take years to understand and take in.”

The concerts will feature generations of singers famed with Trịnh’s songs, including those born in the 1970s like Bích Ngọc, Mai Loan, Thanh Hương and also those born 1990s like Hoàng Trang or Trịnh Trí Anh. That continuation of generations is essential to maintain the goodness of Trịnh’s music and love that Trịnh Ca’s teahouse has pursued for many years. Among them, Hoàng Trang, 25, is a young singer who has become a phenomenon recently with new expressions of Trịnh’s famous songs.

A statue of composer Trịnh Công Sơn at Trịnh Ca Club. — Photo courtesy of Trịnh Ca

The night shows mark 22 years since the talented musician passed away, but the people who built Trịnh Ca expect to let his love and faith in the good things in life continue into a non-stop flow.

Through this, organisers once again affirm the great influence of Trịnh Công Sơn: “Although he has left the temporary realm for many years, his music always has a strong vitality.” VNS


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