“Không đường”

CaptureKhông đường – No sugar – Jeremy Ginsburg

Does anybody here know how to say “No sugar”?

Alright, well, if you don’t know, you will know by the end of this song

Living here in Vietnam isn’t so hard

But it can be

If you’re counting carbs

Rice and noodle everywhere

As you could have guessed

But the simple carbohydrate, sugar


beats the rest

“Không đường, không đường”

Không đường

No sugar, please

Sure I love the taste

But my metabolism isn’t Vietnamese’s

Không đường, không đường

Không đường, không đường

No sugar, please

I mean, I don’t wanna get fat

I asked you five times not for sugar and you nod like you understood but

You still put sugar in my drinks

“Classic mix-up”

Sugar in my coffee

Sugar in my tea

Sugar in my soda water

And on my ban’ mi

And everyone else’s

Sugar on my french fries

I just don’t get it

Now I am one step closer

To being diabetic

Không đường, không đường

Không đường, no sugar please

Sure I love the taste

But I can not afford the calories

Không đường, không đường

Không đường

No sugar, please

Sure I love the taste

But I am already filled up with MSG

Da, da, da, da, da, da

Da, da, da, da, da, da

Da, da, da, da, da

Da, da, da, da, da, da

Da, da, da, da, da, da

Da da da da

Sài gòn café sữa đá

… wassup?

Có nhiều đường wa

Ha ha

Alright, so I know that some people here

“Người Việt Nam thích đường”

Phải ‘hông?


Trời ơi

So don’t worry

I wrote a verse for you guys too

Here it is

“thêm đường”

Em ơi

“thêm đường”

“thêm đường”

More sugar, please

I eat rice three times a day

But I never get fat

Because I am Vietnamese

Thêm đường

Thêm đường

Thêm đường

More sugar, please

And if foreigners come and ask for no sugar

Just give ’em twice as much anyway

Không đường, không đường

“That’s more like it”

Không đường

No sugar, please

Sure I love the taste, but

My metabolism isn’t Vietnamese’s

Không đường, không đường

Không đường, no thank you

No I don’t want sugar in my drink and


See you count up as sugar too






Hanoi’s hidden alleys and the story of architecture

I first got to see “Hanoi’s hidden alleys” nestled in the bookshelf in a trip to Hoa Lo prison a few years ago. It was put next to other typical guidebooks of Vietnam and Hanoi, featuring an old French building . “Hmm, looks interesting“, I thought, then dashed off without buying or reading. Curiosity on Hanoi’s architecture was satisfied afterwards with knowledge distilled in Huu Ngoc’s booklet, a walk with Friends of Vietnam Heritage, or several writeups by expats living in Hanoi. Once in a while, pictures of old buildings taken by some photographers are shared.


The echo  came back a few days ago when people talk about an event organized by Group8Asia, a Swiss architecture company with extended offices in Singapore and Hanoi. Buildings and innovation tag drew a mixed bag of audience, many of which are architects working in the host organization.



Coming 30 minutes late, I found myself in the back of a room already filled with nearly 100 of people, most standing or leaning on the walls. The room turns out to to be a stylish office with various books, magazines and architecture prototypes where one would have a lot of fun sneaking through. Next to me, two Vietnamese girls are whispering in English about their trip to Saigon. A father is helping her daughter to stand up and listen to stories told by Linda, whom then standing far back in a corner.

Stories of hidden alleys and burden of urban planning


The presentation is structured as excerpts of the book when the author shares the journey of curiosity. Started off just by capturing pictures of some nice buildings around Thien Quang lake (an arbitrary choice since it’s…where she lives), Linda started to go inside the lanes and talk with people. “Hanoi is amazing in that sense”, she said. “You can never do that in Canada”

Step by step, after 7 years, as peeling layers of a big onion, she reached the point when stories start to connect and make sense. It’s filled with autobiographies of people who used to live in the house, some bits of Hanoi’s timeline of history and deeper research on how Vietnamese architects adapt French architecture with Hanoi’s tropical climate.

After the event we went out for a beer, but I found myself drawn into the book’s foreword.


In Q&A session, one Vietnamese girl asked the organizer on how this event can help giving a solution for urban planning in Hanoi. An expat asked how well buildings are preserved. In fact, the book is neither of those.  It is not is an urban planning solution since Linda herself is not a specialist, but the fascinating journey of connecting stories, driven by a rare level of curiosity has revealed the gems of Hanoi to many readers.



Clash of Bubbles and Nanowrimo

“The weather is like food for writers’ soul, isn’t it?”

Linda came in with a bright smile as if she is ready to embrace the world. In a corner of Bluebird’s nest, five of us, some of which just met each other for the first time, smiled back. “Hey, you are here!”, we got excited, while pulling tables and set up a neat  space for the meetup of writers and potential writers.

I first attended a writer’s meetup in Hanoi 2 years ago in West Lake, Hanoi. Since then, things ebb and flow, more of the former than later. When I went to Saigon, a platform called “Saigon Writers- Scribers” were set up, but we struggled to maintain an agenda or build continuality. Solitary and individualistic nature of people who write intermittenly contradicts with the nature of a meetup group, which takes effort to organize. One can call that fluid, which is a nice word to describe the whole thing.

Nevertheless, I and Thang, my fiction reader friend decided to go on a writing event. It’s more of a meetup within a small circle hesitating to get bigger. In social media age, we mainly exchange things via emails:

Oh, why?”, I asked.

Because emails are better to organize. And it allows people to respond in their own pace, without the need to reply instantly“, Reily said.

I smiled cheekily, totally aware of what she is talking about, but from the perspective of a sinner. After 10 minutes introducing each other, she withdrew and sat in the coner next to the bookcase of Bluebird while five of us sit around a big table, also doing our own thing.

Matt, Thang, Linda, me, BJ and Reily (behind). BJ and Reily are working on Nanowrimo challenge

Thang, upon return from his trip in Cambodia, is in the process of rediscovering his creativity focus. After a year putting book reviews and sketches in a personal blog as well as sharing viewpoints in Teatalk Cafe, he is not sure what to focus next. The more certain thing is, that person is a consistent reader. Calm and gentle, he is easy to share stories with people without unecessary conversation tricks. This morning, after hearing my complaints about how difficult Virginia Woof Novels are, he suggested me to read some of Goerge Orwell essays which turn out to be really enlightening.

Goerge Orwell’s essay on different motives of writers.

Matt is working on his 10th section of his grand essay on Vietnam as a personal quest to make sense of where he resides (at the moment). The writing has a cinematic touch to it, as if it is written for a documentary, or to read for a bunch of friends at home who wonder about “that country on the other side of the world”, in a winter night over a camp fire. Matt already prints his writing out, and today he is in editing phase.

Linda already established herself as a published author and is now doing various kinds of stuff. A few days ago, she just did a presentation on her book called “Hidden houses of Hanoi and stories they tell“, a work woven with a rare level of curiosity. She presented part of the book in front of a big audience within space of Group8Asia.


I am writing a journal about your event“, I enthusiastically said

Oh, why?”, Linda asks, as a matter of fact.

“Ah, I think it’s good to tell people what it’s about. Many of my friends are curios what it’s about”

Ah, okay, thank you“, she said then came back to work. Once in while, she went outside and lights a cigarette or heads up and smiles at some of our conversations.

We don’t have a writing prompt this time, so no one has cards or suggestion box

Suggestions anyone? The best is working on what you have worked on


Nanowrimo and the clash of bubbles

If not for a  random post, I would not know what Nanowrimo is. Nevertheless, two of five people showing up today are working on novels. Needless to say, it’s a personal pursuit and less of teamwork. BJ and Reily are in their flow, laptops in hand, typing all the time. Soon enough, I felt like we are are drifted islands, or perhaps, drifted hyacinths floating in water. Those personal bubbles clash peacefully on a beautiful autumn day. Once in a while, we break up each other’s flow by irrelevant question or exchange blogs that one might or might not read later.


Yet, it’s still pleasant in a strange way. As pleasant as bathing in coffee aroma while sunlight pierces through layers of a plain water cup.

Can you tell me why it’s beautiful?

While I was riding my bicycle towards the office near Hoan Kiem lake, two labels truck: In front of Trang Tien Plaza, black-and-white fashionistas gather to take photos for Hanoi International Fashion Week, while just a hundred meter away, a few long hair men are stepping in a less visible exhibition named “Dinh Cong Thanh – paper paintings“.


Paper paintings?” I myself wonder, thinking about the recent trendy “Zo” paper project. Hesitating for 5 minutes in the middle of the busy road, I decided to step inside.

The exhibition center looks quiet and not so approachable. In a corner, two men are standing. Long hair, beret hat, cameras in hand, they carry an aura that is often felt in art meetings and exhibitions. “That must be the creator and one of his friends“, I told myself, seeing clearly that they are busy exchanging some personal notes.

Repressing the urge to intefere, I started to skim over various works stretching across a space of around 200m2. 39 expression paintings are hung neatly, with no explainations other than a small name under each. Right in middle is a small headless sculpture, accompanied by text introduction written by a fellow artist.



“Lê Công Thành là nhà điêu khắc. Lần này ông triển lãm tranh giấy, nghệ thuật của ông khúc chiết, không ôn ào, náo nhiệt, không sa vào những chi tiết nhỏ nhặt. ở đó bố cục không gian sâu đậm, sắc màu đơn giản dứt khoát giản lược đến tột cùng, nhưng có âm hưởng vang vọng. Đó là cảm xúc mang những rung động sâu thẳm trong con tim, của những người khao khát đổi mới, khát khao sáng tạo. Nhưng hơn cả là tình yêu say đắm “người đàn bà” đến mức nồng nàn để vươn tơi cái đẹp, mang tính nhân văn sâu sắc giải phóng phụ nữ”

Le Cong Thanh is (primarily) a sculptor, and with this exhibition, he shows another type of his work – paper paintings. His art is succinct, without noise and bustle, not delving into trivial details. That world contains bold space structure, simple and decisive, minimal to the extreme yet contains endless echoes. Those are emotions from vibrations of the heart, of people yearning for innovation and creation. Yet, above all, the love for “The woman” gets intense enough to reach beauty, carry humanity and freedom for women”

I stare at the abstract words that one can interpret in anyway; vague enough to be beautiful, mysterious, and at the same time, not so comprehensible. “The woman” and “freedom” becomes keywords I use as a lense to skim over the paintings. Probably a feminism type of exhibition? I wonder.






Yet, armed with the right instructions, I was not awed or enlightened. After 15 minutes, the man with a camera left, leaving only me and the other artist in a room full of paintings featuring naked women with twisted breasts and vaginas  in sexual positions, more often than not, with a man. It somehow resembles the porn exhibition of Dao Anh Khanh in his worn-out tree house area. Neither of which makes sense to me, a general viewer with anything but a tiny glimpse of art background.

Hmm”, I thought, feeling a bit uneasy. Nevertheless, I stepped up and started to explore, or, as my friend puts it, interview the sole person:

Hello, are you a painter as well? Are you the creator of this exhibition?”

No, I am a friend“.

Can you tell me a bit about the gallery? To be honest I don’t understand anything. Can you explain to me a bit about this gallery?”

The artist looks a bit reluctant, nevertheless, he starts to tell me a bit about the main creator. That he is a famous sculptor, but this exhibition showcases his painting works.

What style are those paintings? Is that expressionism?”, I asked, not sure what expressionism is.

“Those are “tranh đồng hiện” (appear at the same time?) and the figures are very bold, with simple colors. You see, for example, the head is very small, very different from normal proportions”, he said, pointing to a work showing a woman and her child.


“How do we know if  a painting is beautiful?

The artist pauses for a moment, as if he is trying to find words to dumb down ideas. Elaborating art concepts for a curious but ignorant interviewer seems to be a daunting task.

It depends on so many factors you know. The concept, the figure, but at first he elevates sexual desire”, he pauses again, hesitant, then and continue “Because he cannot approach. What people want but cannot approach, are illustrated in art. But I think he goes a bit too far. Do you know Freud?”

Uhm, I know about him, but don’t read a lot. the author about ego and superego?

Yeah, he talks about libido a lot. Sexual desires dominate everything.  It is a powerful force. Have you heard about people fighting for lovers till death? Yeah, as powerful as that. It is natural. Not only humans but insects are driven by sexual desires, yet humans cover it up with cultural forces and layers”

The exhibition introduction says that the painting elevates women’s beauty and free women, but I only see sexuality. I don’t see the freedom here, or even beauty?

Here, you see, a beautiful structure must contains the painter’s personalities. The curves, colors, whole structure. There are many elements. The thing is, maybe a paiter is motivated initially by a sexual force, but in creating process, it must get out of pure sexual force. It is as a relationship. Perhaps initially a man and woman are attracted by basic instincts but to humans, awareness of other values will dominate. Creating gives you a context to get out of the primitive sexual force. In these works, it shows the boldness of the painter. These elements must go together. But, hmm, the figures are a bit too much”

Where are you going now? There’s another photography exhibition in Ngo Quyen street.”, the man said. I refused the invitation and head back to work.

The paintings keep haunting me in a strange way. The idea of beauty, sexuality and art’s accessibility is till a foreign concept. Am I simply ignorant or is there a proces, a code to explain the works in art exhibitions?



Le Cong Thanh (Lê Công Thành) (1923 -…) was born in Da Nang. He graduated from Anti-war Art cirriculum (1955-1957) and sculpture 1 of Vietnam University of Fine Arts. He used to be a lecturer for Sculptury Major, University of industrial fine arts. The paintings in the exhibition are selected from 300 paintings created over the course of 30 years.

Le Cong Thanh is better known as a sculptor. The change in his art course came when he fell from the height of 30 meter (1987)…I would like to stop words here.


Professor Binh Nhu Ngo – “I am in debt with Vietnamese language”



Famous as the author of a well-written Vietnamese teaching book called “Let’s speak Vietnamese”, Professor Ngô Như Bình is also in charge of Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations in Harvard university. Even though the crowd in Vietnam are firstly attracted to him for Harvard title, mr. Binh contains within him a vivid journey of stepping deeply into academic world.

Born in Hanoi, Pf. Binh was about to become a professional swimmer. Without the American bombing in Hanoi which interfered this plan, he would have never returned to studies. Majored in Russian language of Hanoi national university, he got a scholarship to Soviet Union. In the process of studying deeply Russian, he fostered a comparative perspective to reflect back on Vietnamese language. The chance came when Lomonosov university needed people to teach Vietnamese in their entity. After 10 years teaching in Russia, he was invited by Harvard University to teach Vietnamese. The time here allows him to reflect deeper on language studies. Fluent in many European languages and armed with a solid background in linguistics, Ngo Nhu Binh is the right man to develop a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand cirriculum on teaching Vietnamese.

In his trips to Vietnam, many universities and magazines took the chance to interview  and explore his journey, as well as perspective on Vietnamese language preservation.
Below is an article written by Zing.vn (Kim Ngan), describing a day of him in Harvard.


Professor Ngô Như Bình told us that every day, he left home at 7:20 to catch the bus to school. On the bus, he took time to learn French, Chinese and German.
Remembering his study in Vietnam War in Hanoi, he was nostalgic “Until now, we are still very grateful for farmers who helped us in a very difficult time of constant evacuation”
Sharing with Xing.vn, professor Ngo Nhu Binh, in charge of Vietnamese cirriculum in Harvard university, US, said that that every morning he left home at 7.20 to catch the bus to school. “Around 8:15, the bus comes and I have more or less 30 minutes to revise my lesson plan”, he said.

Class starts at 9AM. Within an hour, the professor and students discusses Vietnamese grammar as well as Vietnamese literature and social studies. Afterwards, he spent time playing sports.

Half a century ago, summer 1966, if Americans had not bombed Hanoi, I might have pursued sports. At the time, I was in Hanoi’s young swimming team. Yet, war interrupted it all and eventually I returned to academic studies. I still swim when I can, however”, he recalled.

He added “The stamina may decrease but my skills still remain. When I swim, I felt as if I could return to youth and water life”. He shared that swimming helps him reduce work stress and daily life to immerse in peaceful and quiet time of Hanoi.

After swimming, he spent a bit of time to eat and relax before afternoon classes started. “Every week, I have 2 free afternoons – Tuesday and Thursday. Aside from the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, I devote all my time to grade my students and write lesson plans for the whole following week, study more, and write books”, he shared.
Around 18h30, professor Binh catches the bus home. “On the bus, I spent time learning French, Chinese and German”.
After dinner, he logged in computer and read letters of students, answering their questions as well as letters from coworkers around the world. Next, he spent 30 minutes to update news before returning to computer and work until 23.00. “I try to maintain 7 hours of sleep”.

This work is very busy. If I want to write books, I have to do that on weekends and holidays”. Nevertheless, he tries to spend time for families. Since his daughter is far away, they often connect via phone. Their stories revolve around work, life and simple joys in life.
Revealing about upcoming book, Professor Ngo Nhu Binh shared that he is writing a book to compare Vietnamese language and English language, focusing on grammar and pronunciation. The book was predicted to finish in around 4-5 years. “In Soviet Union, I wanted to have a book to compare Vietnamese and foreign languages. However, I was too busy drafting Vietnamese cirriculum for Russians and teaching. After 25 years living in US do I have time to ignite on that project”, he said.

Thomas Jacqueline, a researcher in Massachusetts Technology Institutions, felt lucky to have chance joing Vietnamese classes of professor Ngo Nhu Binh. He studies Vietnamese to interact with Vietnamese friends, Vietnamese overseas as well as their families. Jacqueline hopes that he will not only use this language in California but in Vietnam in the future.


Meanwhile, Tran Cao Vinh, 2nd year student in Harvard, comments that professor Binh is really passionate in teaching Vietnamese language and culture for students. He shared that every year, the professor often invites students to enjoy Tet in his home.

(To be continued)


A history witness – over the course of VN-US normalization

In the anniversary of 20-year of US-VN relation normalization, Mr. Binh had a talk about this topic via his perspective

The story of red flag and yellow star

This is not in US, however ^^. It’s Vietnam flagpole in Ha Giang.
Ngo Nhu Binh shared that in 8 top universities in US (often referred as Ivy League), only 4 offer Vietnamese language studies – Yale, Cornell, Columbia and Harvard. East Asian language and civilization department offers 4 languages including Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Vietnamese is the only East Asian language taught in Harvard.
Professor-doctor Ngo Nhu Binh officially took his position in department of East Asian language and civilizations as a teaching assistant in August 1992. The first time coming to the office, an American co-worker introduced himself and asked if he was the new Vietnamese lecturer, born in Hanoi. The co-worker go excited “When I was a student and after graduation, I always attended Vietnam war protest”. Ngo Nhu Binh then replied “Vietnamese people are always grateful for Americans like you who helped endind a war that is supposed to not ever happen”. That professor quickly affirmed “Yes, that war is not meant to happen”
2 months later, when he was walking in the school yard, Binh was so surprised and happy to see Vietnamese national flag flying next to American flag, under the statue of John Harvard. This was even more special because at that moment (end of 1992), US still remained economic cargo towards Vietnam and both countries just started to intend on normalizing their relationship.

“It should have been done a long time ago”

To Binh, teaching Vietnamese is not only a linguistics matter but also a bridge to connect people with Vietnamese culture, people and history. At the same time, it is a joint to discuss the turbulent relationship between Vietnam and US. He said “Vietnam war, or as I often tell my students – anti-US war, is a provoking and controversial topic. Not only do I show them perspective from Vietnam but I also introduce them other points of view. For example, I show them the documentary “From the barrel of a Gun” made by Americans in 1994. The documentary reveals a scene of Independence day 2.9.1945 when Ho Chi Minh president took photos with some guys from CIA and Hanoians march in Ba Dinh square, but their hands hold American flags.
The students saw clearly that in 1945 Vietnamese put a lot of hope in US’s French return. Another time, I let them watch “Quiet American”, a movie based on the same name novel by English writer Graham Greene. Afterwards they wrote very interesting essays on mistakes of US when they started to intefere Vietnam in 1950s.
Professor Binh rememberd so clearly the day 30.4.1994 when president Bill Clinton signed the law to remove economic cargo towards Vietnam. He told us that another professor congratulated him “Today, US removed economoc cargo towards Vietnam. This should have been done a long time ago”. That is the story 20 years ago. Recently, he told a colleague “I am glad that US and Cuba officially reconnected diplomatic relationship”, to which his colleague answered “US should have done that a long time ago”.
“I want to emphasize 3 points: first, so many Americans have good intentions towards countries like Vietnam or Cuba. Second, they are responsible in social matters and third, they are independent in political opinions. A university professor has the right to express political and social viewpoints and responsible for their words”, the professor shared.

From the fountainhead to art for art’s sake discussion

Until the clock moves closer to 6.30, I was still hesitating, curling inside the usual thick blanket and indulge in my very own pathetic self-pity which has somehow becomes a habit. Just to add up to the blues, I don’t forget to check with a friend

“Will you come?”


“Hey, do you think a person who never read Fountainhead will benefit from the discussion? Do you think it will be deep or just gibberish? Do you think the host really knows anything about the book?”

To that blizzard wave of skepticism, my friend just laughed. “How do I know? Just consider that a social meetup”. Will this be a meetup when youngsters boast about their ego, so-called freedom and selfishness?

Organized in the 8th floor of August cafe, a venue known more exclusively among friends via word-of-mouth, I found myself just on time when the leader and around 10 others are already set themselves up around a cozy line of tables. Within 10 minutes, around 6 others came, filled the space. The leader gradually introduce himself and the group before letting the guest speaker present and actively involve people in Q&As.


From Fountainhead to “Suối nguồn” in Vietnamese

Fountainhead was first translated into Vietnamese in 2007 . The contract with an American publisher requires the book to be translated within a certain time limit, leading to collaboration of  a group of Vietnamese translators overseas. Being in charge by a female young author, the book in local language possesses a surprisingly smooth word flow and structure. The title of the book itself transcends original “fountainhead” to a word more relevant to Vietnamese (“Suối nguồn” – the source of stream) without losing its most important meaning.

In an interview with Tuoi Tre magazine in that very same year, Phan Viet, the leading translator said


I (Interviewer)Why did you choose Fountainhead to translate and introduce to Vietnamese audience?

V (Phan Viet) – We can use a number to illustrate this. In a poll conducted in 1998 by Modern Library publisher to vote for the most influential novels in 20th century, Ayn Rand wrote 4 out of 10 leading ones.

However, to look closer, Ayn Rand was very determined to create a world where humans being immersed in passion bliss, bring self and individual life to a sacred level and not settle for something different. Which, I think, is a world we all yearn for.

I – Ideally there should be only one translator for a book. Did you face any difficulty and how long did it take you in finishing the book?

There are obvious obstacles translating in group – the tone, vocabulary limit, as well as each translator’s living experiences. We divided into many steps. Initially, each person tried translating just one page to post in a website we devoted for this project. Afterwards, 2-3 pages. After each finishes their first 10 pages, we figured out a way to combine literature style and let them work independently with constant peer-to-peer review. When they finish, I edit the whole book one last time.

The whole project took us one year to complete.

Have you read “The fountainhead”?

Out of nearly 20 people participating, only around 8 read the book with a wide age range. When being asked about their perceptions, a girl in blue shirt started to open up, first shyly and become more engaging

“I started to read The Fountainhead 7 years ago, when I was 20. How to say, at that time, it was very difficult for me, but at the same time, really engaging. Like a mountaintop in reading list I strive for to absorb.

How do you think about the character in the novel?”, we asked.

“I was appealed by the world of the characters. To me, his idealism is like a push to yearn for something higher”

A lecturer from Vietnam national university then said

It took me only 8 hours to read that book

“Really?”, faces turned around, astonished.

“Yeah, I read at night and cannot put it down. It’s a page turner”

“That’s because the plot is smooth and easy to follow”, the facilitator commented calmly.

At that time, Hoang, the guest speaker, a 25 year old author commented

“I think it’s just like a Hollywood movie. We are attracted but we cannot relate to the characters”

His saying felt in a void when no one argue and at the same time, still keeping their sentiments. Eventually, people’s reactions to a book are very subjective, fixated in very personal mix of place and time.

Art for art’s sake or Art for humanity’s sake?


We actually did not talk about impressions on Fountainhead until quite long after Hoang, the guest speaker (also author of a novel named “October girl”) gives a presentation about art for art’s sake or art for humanity’s sake. The talk was presented smoothly, revolving around empathy as the connection between the extreme artist and his audience.

“The artist may or maynot think about his audience when he created art. Roark in Fountainhead is an example – he only cares about his own standards, idealism and perfection (art for art’s sake). On the other hand, we may encounter authors like Maxim Gorky who always write for poor people (art for humanity’s sake). Their starting point in art creation is different, however, both kinds of artists and artworks can only survive thanks to the existence of empathy. If nobody understand and value Roark’s work, it will lose in dark black hole.

Hoang’s quite succinct observation closes our discussion and at the same time, open it up to other doors. In a series of free talk, Life of Pi, classical music, culture preservation and Van Gogh was gradually mentioned in a spontaneous, vibrant exchange.

When we were about to leave, I notice a girl who is still reading “Fountainhead”

“Hi, you don’t go home?”, I asked, remember clearly that this bookworm read this novel at least once.

“No, I will go back later”

She replied shortly then immersed in the thick book with an interrupted, intense attention. I suddenly got my Kindle out. The Fountainhead items says “2 %”

Hmm, it’s a long way to go


Tản mạn duy mĩ

Mình thích giọng văn của Thạch Lam và Nguyễn Tuân. Nếu Nguyễn Tuân kiêu kì bóng bẩy với một vốn từ vựng ngồn ngộn tuôn ra như thác qua cái tôi mạnh mẽ thì Thạch Lam se sẽ hơn, nhẹ nhàng, đi vào lòng người qua những mô tả chi tiết cuộc sống chầm chậm và đầy ý nhị. Nguyễn Tuân đẹp đến lóa mắt, rực lửa khai phá còn Thạch Lam thì đẹp buồn và đầy lòng trắc ẳn. Phong cách khác nhau nhưng cả hai đều duy mĩ, đầy tình yêu và rung cảm với cuốc sống, đọc rất sung sướng.

“Mặt giời nhú lên dần dần, rồi lên cho kỳ hết. Tròn trĩnh phúc hậu như lòng đỏ một quả trứng. Lòng đỏ trứng khổng lồ đặt lên một cái mâm bạc rộng bằng cả một cái chân trời màu ngọc trai nước biển hửng hồng. Y như một mâm lễ phẩm tiến ra từ trong bình minh để mừng cho sự trường thọ của tất cả những người chài lưới trên muôn thuở biển Đông. Vài chiếc nhạn mùa thu chao đi chao lại trên mặt bể sáng dần lên cái chất bạc nén. Một con hải âu bay ngang, là là nhịp cánh”

Chiều, chiều rồi. Một chiều êm ả như ru, văng vẳng tiếng ếch nhái kêu ran ngoài đồng ruộng theo gió nhẹ đưa vào“.

Trời đã bắt đầu đêm, một đêm mùa hạ êm như nhung và thoảng qua gió mát“.

Một kiểu văn khó dịch, đẹp kiểu đặc trưng ngôn ngữ việt, nếu dịch hẳn sẽ bị mất đi rất nhiều qua lớp màng lọc văn hóa.

Do you know what you don’t know? A Carl Jung symbol discussion in Hanoi


Tuan got to the stage which in this case is the front line of a co-working space cafe in West Lake. “I don’t know how to do a presentation”, he said. “But I know how to put words in some funny pictures”. Then the guy continued with a parallel of Zizek and the handsome character in Games of Thrones before explaining

The known knowns is what we know we know. Like this piece of paper“, he grabbed a random piece of paper on the table, quite spontaneously. “We know it’s white, right?”.

The guy then continued with simple and clear explanations before we interrupted with questions and drag his supposed to be 20-minute-talk into a vibrant hour of Q&A and role play. Majored in philosophy in US, Tuan is taking a break in Vietnam before coming to South America and back to his study further this year. Vietnamese studying overseas often create the impression of being arrogant and distant, yet Tuan neatly breaks that stereotype by funny, easy to approach speech delivery.


A new emerging philosophy community

It seems ironic to join a philosophy group being aware that people are gonna talk about Freud and Carl Jung. “Are they supposed to be…psychologists?”, I was curios when Hung, the leader of another philosophy group told me about the event just 2 hours before it is supposed to happen. Without nothing particular in mind to do, I decided to push my bicycle like a soldier under the sun to get to where they meet. “I hope it’s worth it, otherwise it’s exercise anyway”, I told myself. Having been to several philosophy communities in both main cities in Vietnam, I cannot wait to see how a new one unfolds.

Coming late, I sneaked in and let the recording mode ready. Surrounded by around 16 people around a long table, we shift the attention to a western guy with a warm, intellectual voice. My body starts to be stiff. “wow, very academic”. The guy articulately presents concepts on Carl Jung and Freud similarities and differences with neatly organized powerpoint slides, shown in a big enough screen.

Quickly move from one point to the other with a poised posture, he overwhelmed the current space with an intellectual aura. I scanned all over the room – most have their notebooks on, phone off. A young Vietnamese university student even print out the book we use to discuss.


With each event, people are informed at least one week before with access to materials. To my surprise and quick generalization, this is not a cavern of expats. Out of 15 people sitting around the table today, more than half are Vietnamese. After the initial silence, the Viets start to raise questions and engage in Q&As, which to me, as a Vietnamese person, a delightful thing to observe. Blending with expats who are willing to share is an emerging local group who are proactive enough to explore the essential thing that is not taught that widely in schools.

“What do you think about the talk? Critical thoughts, I mean”, Jon asks.

“I think everyone prepares very well”

“I think in a way it sets a bar, an expectation for the following presenters. People know (subconsciously ? ^^) that they need to put a certain amount of preparation to make it work”

“I don’t want to be the center of attention”


As the leader of any group, one should expect people look up to him/ her. However, that’s not what Jon really wants. “What’s your motivation in setting up this group?”, I attacked him with probably a FAQ. “Do you study philosophy?”

It’s interesting to know that most people joining are not majored in philosophy yet willing to invest time and effort in participating with serious attention. So is Jon. Out of a bunch of people, we have Tuan (Ted) and another girl who used to teach philosophy in South Africa. Other than that, the knowledge spectrum varies. As facilitators, the ones organizing the events have to balance between motivating people to engage without shifting people’s attention to their presence.

“I actually don’t even want to stay in the spotlight. I prefer being in the back, you know”

“It’s a fine line to balance”. I commented.

The 2 hour discussion soon came to an end. In a corner Jon and Tyler are preparing for their meditation session while we Vietnamese stand in a corner and discuss about why we are interested in philosophy recently.

Do you study philosophy?”

No“, most shake their head.

And yet we are here, motivated by the collective conscious- or unconscious, depending on how you wanna name it.

Battlefield reporters – the souls behind Vietnam War

1When Peter looked up, I asked:

“So what is your favorite picture?”

He stopped for a moment:

“Favorite? No not “favorite”, but I think the ones that impressed me is the ones showing the brutality of wars”

Upon saying that, Peter was referring to the collection of war crime pictures exhibited on 2nd floor of War Remnant Museum, Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. This 35-year-old Museum has been an excellent bridge connecting the gaps of history awareness (or lack thereof) from  both sides. Despite some criticism of being biased, I felt touched by various pictures shown here, taken by the brave men behind the cameras. Today I want to explore their stories, what led them to the battle fields, their impacts on public and the reverse impact on their own lives after fame.

Troublesome Risk-Takers

Tim PageBritish, the danger craving man

War is hell

I should not have chosen “War is hell” photo to present here since my eyes are glued at this solder’s mesmerizing look and not the tiny sentence on his hat, but it is good attraction leading me to an interesting War Reporter called Tim Page.


As the person behind haunting photos of Requiem Exhibitionin War Remnant Museum, a collection of pictures from photographers who died in the Vietnam War, Tim Page is also the inspiration for the journalist played by Dennis Hopper in the famous film Apocalypse Now. However behind the glory he also suffered from PTSD and attempted suicide 2 times. At the later period of life he shifted his focus to portray war veterans and wrote about their stories, mainly as a self-therapeutic act.

Requiem collection portrayed not only brutality but also humanity in this War:

A communist being executed in Saigon Street


An identified U.S. Army personnel wears a hand lettered “War Is Hell” slogan on his helmet, June 18, 1965, during the Vietnam War. He was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion on defense duty at Phouc Vinh airstrip in South Vietnam. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
Vietnam The Real War
In the first of a series of fiery suicides by Buddhist monks, Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death on a Saigon street to protest persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, June 11, 1963.The photograph aroused worldwide outrage and hastened the end of the Diem government. With the photo on his Oval Office desk, President Kennedy reportedly remarked to his ambassador, ÒWeÕre going to have to do something about that regime.Ó (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne) FOR ONE-TIME USE ONLY IN CONNECTION WITH THE BOOK AND/OR EXHIBIT “Vietnam: The Real War” (Abrams 2013)


A picture that caught my attention in War Remnant Museum. Is that a man/ woman, why is that one smiling? The strange moment may unfold an interesting story, reserved for next part covering Vietnam War reporters😉
U.S Marines carry the injured during a firefight near the Southern edge of the DMZ, Vietnam, October 1966

To be fair, Tim Page is not a “Vietnam” war photographer, but rather an Indochina War & Middle East war reporter. His photography is self taught in the years he was in Laos working for AFP when he was only 17, which earned him a staff position in Saigon Bureau of the news agency in 1965. He was severely injured in war 4 times.

Tim Page under fire with Martin Stuart Fox in Vietnam, 1966

What brought  Tim Page to this career was not burning passion at first for either war or photography but rather a string of incidents, notably his near-death experience following a 1960 motorcycle accident:

“I had died. I lived. I had seen the tunnel. It was black. It was nothing. There was no light at the end. There was no afterlife. Nothing religious about any of it. And it did not seem scary. It was a long, flowing, no-color wave which just disappeared. The mystery was partly resolved, all the fearful church propaganda took on its true, shameful meaning. I was content. I was alive. I was not dead, and it seemed very clear, very free. This was the dawning, the overture to losing a responsible part of my psyche. A liberation happened at that intersection. Anything from here on would be free time, a gift from the gods”

That incident might not be the only factor, but definitely an important one which helped Page to swing himself into brutal, exhausting, emotionally turbulent scenes he faced.

In this interesting interview by Talk Vietnam, Page shared about his reason why he came to Asia in the beginning



– At 17 years of age, you decided to leave UK to come to Asia. Why did u decide that?

  • – I think my whole life has been a series of falling over, accidents, and then becoming lucky. When I was 16 I died. I was in a motorcycle. And I lost 6 liters of blood from here, I thought I was dead. I think when you see the other side, death, whatever this is, ended now, when you come back, you are changed. So I run from England and it was mind-opening.

– So you would go on to shoot your very first war photos eventually in Laos, and you never thought of becoming, you know, a photo journalist, let alone a war reporter.

-In Laos, I lived with a man who became a correspondent for UPI, United Press. The war in Laos, in 1963-1964 escalated, so they sent my friend to Tokyo to learn big time correspondent, and I am UPI’s Bureau chief in Laos. I am 18, I am bureau chief in Laos, right, so the bureau chief in Saigon comes in

“Hey kid, how do you like your job? 3 days later I am in Saigon”

Tim Page’s totally unpredictable life turn brought him to Saigon and War reporting in general, which pushes him to hone his skills as the requirement of the job and exposure brought after that, just like the characters in the book of Carl Newport . It is not the idealist image I have in mind about passionate people who believed in justice and meaning and looking for something to change the world but much more complex, and because of that, much more interesting. The stories of people with extraordinary works but very vulnerable and normal at the same time.

I can’t help thinking the lady interviewing him already having certain story in mind though, a polished plot for television.

The next war reporters I want to explore are Henri Huet from France, Kyochi Sawada from Japan, Larry Burrow from Britain and Luong Nghia Dung from Vietnam. How are their stories different from Tim Page?




“Vietnam from above”

From Thang Soi, the photographer/ director behind “Vietnam from above” video. Too amazed by a product whose obviously immense investment with the tagline “only for non-commercial use”, I traced back this professional hippy.



“When “Vietnam from Above” was posted on Facebook, it was a personal record to me. With 200.000 views, more than 6000 likes and 3000 shares. Of course I was very happy and felt a sense of value (well, sort of) of what I am doing. In a way, it can be considered success, benefit, or something similar.

Yet, certain sadness lingers inside me. Most of the clip fans follow nationalism with such comments “omg I love it, I am so proud of Vietnam”, and only a minority understands that it is “Vietnam sorrow” from my perspective. On the other hand, my posts about environment, Formosa and society threats only attracted several hundreds of interactions.

Today I was heard that around 10.600.000 Vietnamese follow a stand up comedian, which is more than 10% of our population (not counting the rate of people with better society awareness). How shocking is that figure, even with only 50% or 30% of 10.000.000, it is so huge. Meanwhile, many devoted, kind-hearted Facebookers let me know that they have only around 10.000 followers.

What a land we are living in. Such a comedy.

When I read his status, I felt very happy. Of course the ones with awareness are always the minority, yet it is a powerful minority. Keep going Thang Soi!