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Vietnamese scuba instructors popular with international students

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Two Vietnamese scuba instructors based in Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province are well known among international tourists coming to Vietnam to take up diving lessons. They emphasize protecting marine life during their training sessions. 

Nguyen Van Loc and Nguyen Tan Thanh are members of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). 

With certificates of diving competence, they are qualified to provide PADI-accredited diving courses. 

Twenty years ago, Loc had a life-changing experience diving with a foreign visitor in Hon Mun Marine Reserve, Khanh Hoa Province. 

The coach spotted an unsuspecting squid, which he grabbed and later cooked it. 

To this his foreign student objected, saying that the payment he made was for him to witness wildlife, not the barbaric habits of his coach. 

“If you catch and cook it, you get one meal for yourself. But if you take care of it, you are to be commended to my fellows back home,” said the student. 

“When more tourists come here for that value, your income will remain constant.”

At that time, Loc was working for a French employer who majored in diving trips for European travelers in Nha Trang Bay. 

The seabed of Hon Mun Marine Reserve is home to a type of large-sized lamprey, which was a daily sight for divers here, guided by Loc himself. 

Now over 60, Loc is a world-class diving instructor and his students come from all over the world. 

“A woman from Hong Kong came here last week and got her certificate,” said Loc.

A group of tourists are pictured on their diving trip in the Hon Mun Marine Reserve.

A group of tourists are pictured on their diving trip in Hon Mun Marine Reserve, Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam.

“This morning, I had my first session with a Korean tourist. He will be certified in a few days, then he will be eligible to dive anywhere in the world.”

The Korean man was Donggi Hong, a diving enthusiast who learned about Loc’s service from the Internet. 

“I stayed four days just to get the diving certificate, after which I will return to Korea,” said Donggi.

“Next year, I will take my whole family back here on our vacation. 

“We will dive and admire the beauty of the corals and the amazing underwater life.”

As the diving boat carrying both Loc and Thanh’s students was properly anchored within Hon Mun Marine Reserve, Loc took his Korean student in the water first. 

Loc and his student went on a diving trip to Hon Mun with coach Nguyen Tan Thanh, who was in charge of a team from Hanoi. 

“You have to stick to the white waters near the island. We will practice there,” said Thanh.

“During the dive, please signal your safety with your hand gestures.”

Deep in the sea, the coach was on his knees and relied on his body language, pointing at the goggles, the pipes, and the pneumatic gauge as a way of giving instructions.

“They were surrounded with swarms of palm-sized fish and smaller ones, all of different colors,” he continued. 

“I saw a half-meter-long barracuda swiftly attack a fish the size of three grown-man fingers.

“The fish in this body of water are quite familiar with tourists, so they do not experience a sense of turbulence and do not break out in all directions at the sight of human divers.”

One of the divers had to dash to the surface, prompting Thanh to follow for a safety check. 

The student, fortunately, simply needed to empty seawater out of his goggles. 

After a 40-minute practice round, the whole class headed back to the boat for a resting period. 

“Yesterday we learned the basic skills necessary for in-pool situations. Please implement them and attempt to fix simple mechanical problems [as we get under the sea],” said the coach. 

“You will begin to dive away only on our second meeting. We will have to watch out for each other to double check our equipment and help each other out.

“Tomorrow we will dive 20 meters below and will solve more complicated problems ourselves.”

During his dive, Donggi posted a picture of himself in Hon Mun Marine Reserve on a social network. 

Loc was dictating to himself while writing his notes down on a small-sized plastic chalkboard. 

This proved understandable for Donggi.

“This Korean man did not have a good command of English, so I had to use the board to make my ideas clear,” Thanh said.

“It is much more tiring working with foreigners than working alongside our Vietnamese fellows.

“In return, they will make references for us.”

There are two numeral codes on the certificate: the student code and the diver code, Loc informed. 

“Once you have obtained this certificate, you will be eligible to dive anywhere in the world.”

The certificate can only be issued when students have passed the course and will be withheld from those who cannot perform the required skills.

Donggi Hong (right) is a Korean tourist who came to Vietnam for his diving lessons and certificate.

Donggi Hong (right) is a Korean tourist who came to Vietnam for his diving lessons and certificate.

Over the last 20 years, Thanh has provided lessons for over a thousand people, mostly domestic and foreign tourists. 

“Many of my Western students have set up their own diving tours,” said Thanh.

Protecting the marine life

Loc and Thanh both started working in the salvage service. They frequented the seas along central Vietnam and even salvaged shipwrecks. 

After that, they were employed by Jean Pier, a French tour operator for divers in Nha Trang.

“People did not have the faintest idea what diving in Nha Trang would be like,” Thanh recalled. 

“Jean Pier operated diving tours for European visitors to Nha Trang. He educated us about the preservation and the value of coral ecosystems.”

From Thanh’s accounts, Pier once purchased a freshly caught turtle from local fishermen at the price of roughly US$10. 

The turtle was released, and Thanh got to learn from Pier about the biological and food chain in the ocean.

They began to understand the ocean is the bread and butter of tourism.

Nha Trang tourism services used to apply a strike quick approach to their businesses. 

They received zero training in the services and their communication to visitors was displeasing. 

“I was in charge of three American divers. Noticing such eye-catching corals and fish, one of them left the group for his own expedition,” said Thanh. 

“On board! Now! That’s too dangerous. You may die!” Thanh shouted at the American man on that trip. 

To this the man replied: “You were right to remind me, but your attitude was not appropriate. Remember that tourism is a customer service industry. You have to be polite and gentle in your words and your actions.”

“Later when I opened up my own business, I stuck to his words and emphasized ocean life preservation,” said Thanh.

“I make sure my employees are well aware of these lessons.”

Giving salvage lessons to the military

According to Loc, the High Command of Ho Chi Minh City sent four officials on a diving lesson trip to Nha Trang, where they would practice diving and honing their salvaging skills.

“For each salvage course, I had to be the coach and I asked PADI to provide four certificates, qualifying people in basic diving, advanced diving, on-land first aid, and salvage,” said Loc. 

“A qualified salvage officer can dive up to 30 meters in depth and is able to navigate in the sea using a dive compass.”

Maintaining the spirit of the sea

Hon Mun Marine Reserve was established in 2001.

The seabed here is filled with coral reefs and a variety of marine creatures. 

It is an ideal place for scientific work, best for sea animal researchers, oceanographers, and tourists yearning to learn about the sea. 

“The sea creatures and coral reefs are always under strict supervision,” said Vo Si Tuan, associate professor and former head of the Nha Trang oceanography center.

“It is the spirit of the reserve and a huge source of funding for the development of tourism.”

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Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/features/20220815/vietnamese-scuba-instructors-popular-with-international-students/68594.html

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Vietnamese woman brings new life to village of alcoholics

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A woman saves the life of alcoholics in Dak Pao Village, Son Mau Commune, Son Tay District, Quang Ngai Province. Alcohol used to be their barrier to poverty reduction in the village. 

Dinh Thi Hang, chairwoman of Son Mau Commune Women’s Union, is this woman. She helped locals fight against alcohol “ghost” in Dak Pao mountainous village.

Village of alcoholics

The path from the heart of Son Mau Commune to Dak Pao Village is as charming as a painting in the cool weather. Hills stretch to the horizon while local farmers are in the fields.

Dak Pao is home to Ca Dong ethnic people.

Hang said that several years ago, it was common to see drunken men lying next to their motorbikes on the streets in Dak Pao. 

“Ca Dong people often drink, but in Dak Pao, they drink too much. They drink until they get drunk and fall.

“Their health may not be good enough to work with the drinking habit. The number of alcoholic men was higher than the number of working men,” said Hang.

Of course, the poverty in the village was the result of drinking.

Figures showed this fact. The village had 50 households but half of them were poor.

Every home had alcoholics. In some families, both the wife and husband were drinkers. 

As their kids were not taken care of, teachers and the local government were forced to step in.

Hang said people called it the alcohol “ghost” village instead of Dak Pao. 

Dak Pao is half-hidden in Truong Son Dong Forest, where the real torments were caused by alcoholic drinks.

Domestic violence was among them. Drunken men lost their minds and beat their wives and children.

When the husband could drink, his wife also drank. They drank despite their poverty. 

“Although officials came to advise them, they deeply abused alcohol, causing domestic violence. The broken-hearted scene I witnessed was kids having cold meals while their parents got drunk,” Hang shared. 

Fighting against alcohol “ghost”

Son Tay is the poorest area in Vietnam. Poverty reduction and education are going to be key targets in the next few years. 

However, its economy has improved in recent years. 

In June 2019, Son Mua Commune People’s Committee and Party Committee hosted a meeting on local economic development.

Hang attended the meeting and proposed getting rid of alcohol drinking in Dak Pao, which was the best way to help the village escape poverty. 

The Son Mau Commune authorities totally agreed with her.

Dinh Thi Hang (right) talks to Dinh Thi Vum, whose husband used to be an alcoholic. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre
Dinh Thi Hang (right) talks to Dinh Thi Vum, whose husband used to be an alcoholic. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre

Years ago, villagers chose alcohol rather than their job. Officials even saw them getting drunk in the afternoon although they had just advised them to give it up in the morning. 

Hang proposed her plan “Women say no to alcohol drinks” and conducted the plan in Dak Pao first.

“I think that women are easily approached as they may be too tired of drunken men in their family,” said Hang. 

Hang knew that it was such a difficult journey but villagers could not get rid of poverty if they continued drinking. 

The Son Tay Commune Women’s Union set up a team to oversee villagers. 

Her plan finally got the initial rosy results. More and more villagers gave up drinking and returned to their fields.

“Those getting back to farming work become a mirror of others,” shared Hang. 

A new life in Dak Pao 

Dinh Van Ton and his wife Dinh Thu Muoi both used to be alcoholics. They now have a better life thanks to Hang’s team. 

The couple was punished many times because of getting drunk as they had committed legally themselves to giving up drinking before.

When they got sober, the couple realized that they received a lot of punishment records. 

Since then, they stayed away from drinking and their mental health was better, too. 

Currently, to earn their living, Muoi collects wattle tree bark while her husband collects coffee beans in the Central Highlands. 

“I feel better since I stopped drinking. So does my husband. We now try to work to make a living,” Muoi said with a smile. 

Like the couple, Dinh Thi Vum’s husband used to be an alcoholic. When he got drunk, he beat his wife Vum.

She could not stand him and even walked 20 kilometers in a forest to return to her parent’s home with her kids. 

Hang and her team had to advise Vum and her husband. Fortunately, the husband realized his mistake and apologized to Vum. He also promised to stop drinking. 

“My family got better thanks to Hang. We now have enough money to build a new house,” said Vum. 

The family of Dinh Thi Nhieu also got a good result when giving up drinking.

“I feel happy since I stopped drinking. My kids now study better,” Nhieu said.

Dak Pao currently has only 15 poor households. Many local students have passed the university entrance exams.

The fight against alcohol further expanded

After three years, Hang’s plan to fight against drinking in Dak Pao has been successful.

Ca Dong ethnic people cannot totally stop drinking, but at least there is no scene of people drinking and falling on the streets. 

According to Dinh Van Lia, chairman of Son Mau Commune People’s Committee, the plan helps raise awareness about drinking and it is going to be conducted in the other three villages in the commune. 

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Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/features/20221130/vietnamese-woman-brings-new-life-to-village-of-alcoholics/70258.html

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HCM City to host ASEAN food festival

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SOUTHEAST ASIAN SPECIALTIES: Vietnamese cuisine will be presented at the ASEAN Food Festival held in HCM City from November 24-27. VNA/VNS Photo Mỹ Phương

HCM CITY HCM City is hosting a food festival featuring traditional cuisine from Southeast Asian countries in the downtown area from November 24-27.

The event is organised by the HCM City Union of Friendship Organisations (HUFO) and its partners, the Việt Nam–ASEAN Friendship Organisation, to mark the 55th anniversary of the South-East Asian block.

Hồ Xuân Lâm, HUFO’s vice chairman, said the event aimed to promote friendship and cooperation among people in Việt Nam and other ASEAN countries.

The festival includes 46 stalls showcasing food, tea, coffee and specialities from restaurants and businesses from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Việt Nam, as well as universities and colleges in the city.

There will be performances of traditional music and dance from ASEAN countries, street art performances and cooking shows.

The festival takes place on Lê Lợi Street on District 1, and is expected to attract a large number of visitors. — VNS

Source: http://ovietnam.vn/events/hcm-city-to-host-asean-food-festival_339481.html

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Cỗ lá, the food tray that demonstrates Mường ethnic culture in Hòa Bình

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Thúy Hằng

For Mường ethnic people, especially those living in Hòa Bình Province, cỗ lá (literally means a food tray displaying several dishes) is more than just a popular food. The food tray represents Mường culture and is an integral part of important occasions, weddings, funerals, New Year or new house celebrations.

A traditional food that has been kept and inherited from generation to generation of Mường people, cỗ lá is unique – from the selection of ingredients to the way of cooking and the food presentation – through which to present the conception of human life of Mường people.

Cỗ lá is very unique presents the conception about human life of Mường people. — VNS Photos Thúy Hằng

Bùi Xuân Phú and wife Nguyễn Thị Vi run Mường Thàng Quán – a restaurant specialising in Mường dishes in Hòa Bình City for 20 years. To create the distinctive yet natural light sweetness of the dishes, all dishes presented on cỗ lá should be prepared with wild leaves and vegetables collected in forests or gardens.

“Depending on the scale of the event, a cỗ lá should consist of at least seven different dishes, including the compulsory ones of cỗ ngọn (slices of boiled pig liver, heart, and maw), boiled pork, chả lá bưởi (grilled pork in pomelo leaves), grilled pork in banana leaves, gà đồ măng chua (steamed chicken with sour bamboo shoots), rau đồ (steamed wild vegetable), and canh loóng chuối (soup cooked with wild banana stem),” Vi said.

The Mường woman also said that it takes at least one and a half hours to prepare a cỗ lá because “you have to finish cooking all the dishes before displaying them all on the tray.”

Gà đồ măng chua (steamed chicken with sour bamboo shoots). 

To grill the pork, Vi said that it’s necessary to marinate with lá mắc mật (clausen indica leaves) and hạt dổi (wild pepper) to get the aromatic flavour for the meat.

The steamed chicken with sour bamboo shoots should be chopped into bite-sized pieces before mixing with sour bamboo shoots and a little bit of salt, then wrapped in banana leave and steamed for about half an hour.

“The tip to making this dish good is the ingredients. Hen is preferred as its texture is more tender. To make the sour bamboo shoot, we use only the bamboo shoot of giang (a kind of green-trunk bamboo) as it retains the natural sweetness after being fermented,” Vi revealed her cooking tricks.

The savoury and palatable canh loóng chuối is cooked with wild banana stem, pig bone, and lá lốt – a kind of aromatic leaves.

Canh loóng chuối is cooked with wild banana stem, pig bone, and lá lốt – a kind of aromatic leaves. 

Her husband Phú said there are some rules for the presentation of cỗ lá.

“The presentation of a cỗ lá for a wedding or festive event must be different from the one for a funeral,” he said. “A tray must be spread with a banana leaf cut in half. However, for the wedding, the tip of the leaf has to point out; on the contrary, for a funeral, the tip has to point in.”

In the old days, Mường people used only wild banana leaves to spread on the tray. But nowadays, when finding wild bananas is inconvenient, they can replace by other kinds of banana leaves, except the aromatic banana “because it has lots of acrid resin that can harm the taste and flavour of the food displayed on it,” Phú said.

He also said that to prepare cỗ lá for important occasions such as weddings or new year celebrations, each family has raised pigs and chicken for a year before butchering the best ones to offer to the ancestors.

In the past, wealthy families used an engraved copper tray to display cỗ lá while ordinary people used the bamboo tray.

According to the 65-year-old restauranteur, seating arrangement rules had to be followed in the old days.

“In the Mường stilt house, the side with windows has been specified as the ‘upper place’, which is for elders only, and the younger ones sit next, in order from old to young,” Phú said.

Nguyễn Thị Vi, co-owner of Mường Thàng Quán, a restaurant specialising in Mường dishes in Hòa Bình City, demonstrates how to present a cỗ lá. 

Due to modernisation, traditional custom has been fading. Many can not speak the Mường ethnic language, and they don’t use the correct Vietnamese word when they mention cỗ lá.

“Many of our guests, especially the young ones, when they place an order for cỗ lá, instead of asking for a mâm cỗ lá (a tray of cỗ lá), they used mẹt cỗ lá (flat winnowing basket of cỗ lá). In our culture, the flat winnowing basket is used to offer food for the Hungry Ghost,” Phú said.

Nguyễn Xuân Tùng, a tourist from Hà Nội, said that although he had many chances to taste cỗ lá when he travelled to many places in the northwestern region, the one he sampled at Mường Thàng Quán is the best.

“It’s not only about the food, but about the rich ethnic culture presented through every dish, especially the traditional customs and stories told by the restaurant owners, who are authentic Mường people,” Tùng said. — VNS

Source: http://ovietnam.vn/life-in-vietnam/co-lathe-food-tray-that-demonstrates-muong-ethnic-culture-in-hoa-binh_339592.html

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