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Vietnam currency falls to historic low

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The Vietnamese dong has fallen to its lowest level ever against the U.S. dollar, and banks are fixing their exchange rates accordingly.

On Tuesday the State Bank of Vietnam set the reference rate at VND23,004 and lowered it to VND23,013 the next day.

The Vietnamese currency has lost VND179 to the dollar, or 0.78 percent, since the beginning of this year.

VNDUSD/VND central exchange rate

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On Wednesday Vietcombank sold the greenback at VND23,270, down VND5 from Tuesday, while Vietinbank sold at VND23,278. Eximbank sold its dollar at VND23,260, unchanged from Monday.

VNDLocal banks’ dollar selling prices

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On the free market, there is a difference of around VND15 to a dollar with banks.

Experts said it is too early to say if the exchange rate would remain stable through this year.

Economist Nguyen Tri Hieu told VnExpress International the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate is only one of the factors affecting the exchange rate, and others need to be taken into account such as the depreciation of the Chinese yuan and changes in the global financial market.

“If China decides to devalue its currency, Vietnam might have to do the same to reduce the influx of Chinese goods into the country.”

Last year the dong fell by 1.6 percent against the dollar as the Fed hiked rates four times.

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Vietnam Breaks All-Time High Temperature Record as Heat Bakes Nation

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The searing heat has occurred much earlier than when it usually arrives.

Last Saturday, Vietnam notched its highest recorded temperature ever in April, at 43.4°C, Washington Post reports. The record was measured in Huong Khe District, Ha Tinh Province, in the North-Central Region of the country. This area usually experiences temperatures of 26°C at this time of the year. The news source adds that the record temperature is hot enough to melt crayons, liquefy chocolate and raise temperatures inside a parked car with the windows closed to 60°C.

Temperatures in Hue and Da Nang, meanwhile, soared to 40.5°C and 37.7°C respectively, while Saigon saw a high temperature of 35°C on Monday. The weather has been unforgiving for locals trying to carry on with their daily lives, as the temperature at 6am is already 29–31oC.

As southern Vietnam’s dry season marches on, daily highs could reach up to 35–36°C from 11am to 3pm.

According to VnExpress, Saigon has also been experiencing dangerous levels ultra violet (UV) levels. The index reached the “very high” level of 10 in mid-February, and in late March the index hit the “very dangerous” level of above 11. Currently, data from WeatherOnline shows that the city’s UV index is at 12, an extreme level that poses health risks such as skin cancer and other dermatological issues like hyperpigmentation, dermatitis and aging.

The punishing heat and brutal sunshine also poses risks of eye damage, overheating and dehydration to vulnerable children and the elderly. Even healthy adults are advised to wear quality sunglasses and cover their skin, or at least wear strong sunscreen, particularly during the hottest hours of the day.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration recorded March 2019 as the second-hottest March on record, while the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2015-2018 were the four warmest years on record.

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From March, Saigon Cracks Down on Seat Belt Violations

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From March 6-17, traffic police from 24 Saigon districts will start establishing checkpoints and stopping cars to warn drivers and passengers about wearing seat belts.

Then, from March 17 to June 17, officers will start imposing stricter regulations and fines on those who violate the seat belt law, Thanh Nien reports. A violation will warrant a fine from VND100,000 (US$5.00) to VND200,000 (US$10) Public transportation management centers and taxi parking stations are also expected to promote the initiative to drivers.

All four-wheel vehicles arriving and leaving Saigon are subjected to inspection at two checkpoints on the National Route 1 and the connector into the HCMC–Trung Luong Highway.

The fine for not wearing seat belts was introduced last year and went into effect January 1, 2018. According to the HCMC Police Department, despite having been around for a long time, not many drivers and passengers comply to the seat belt law.

At taxi and bus stations, vehicles that violate the seat belt law are not allowed to leave. According to Tran Van Phuong, deputy chairman of Mien Tay Bus Station, before any vehicle leaves the station, an employee will make sure drivers and passengers comply with the seat belt law. Mien Dong Bus Station will also conduct similar warnings.

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Rare Newsreels From 1930 Show Harsh Realities of Life in Colonial Saigon

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In an extremely rare collection of disjointed clips, Saigon in 1930 appears like the setting of a haunting fever dream.

The montage comprises many street scenes in Saigon, filmed on June 15 and 19 by Fox Movietone News, which produced newsreels from 1928 to 1963. The black-and-white clips featured here belong to the University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections. With sounds included, this is probably among the best footage of its kind filmed during the 1930s.

At the time, recording films was still a hassle involving clunky devices that probably drew the attention of many Saigoneers on the street, judging by their curious looks and confused stares at the camera. From the film, it’s clear that colonial eras, despite the common poetic-waxing in recent years, weren’t a thriving period for anyone except French colonists.

Numerous scenes depict skeletal rickshaw drivers in tattered clothes ferrying passengers around. One driver is even cheated off his pay by a rider, who quickly flops down at a snazzy street-side café on Dong Khoi Street (then Rue Catinat) and shoos the driver away. Street vendors selling snacks are also seen in some sequences, surrounded by children who seem undernourished and under-dressed. Although some smiles and jokes can be heard occasionally, it’s apparent that life was tough for local Saigoneers in 1930.

Watch the complete clip below:

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The Small-Town Placidity of Hue in 1966

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Neat perpendicular lines of trees that make up the Imperial Palace grounds, the meandering Perfume River hugging central Hue, clusters of red-roofed houses like tiny Lego pieces scattered across a bed of green: the aerial view of Hue in the 1960s evokes a sense of small-town placidity.

Of all metropolises in Vietnam, Hue is among the few that have managed to resist the lure of towering high-rises. In the span of decades since the photos in this collection were taken, the central city’s skyline hasn’t changed all that much. Every morning, throngs of students in áo dài and white shirts still cross Truong Tien Bridge to get to school while elsewhere at the city’s many historical landmarks, tourists amble along the many tree-filled pathways to marvel at past architectural genius.

Taken by American soldier Ted Dexter in 1966, these images show a serene and orderly Hue, a far cry from the hammajang neighborhoods of Saigon during the same era.

Have a closer look below:

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Guy checks single can of beer after airline won’t let him fly with it

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Airlines have been total dicks lately. Beating the shit out of a doctor and dragging him off the plane because they overbooked the flight. Thwacking a mom in the head with her own baby’s stroller. Killing a giant, adorable bunny stored in the cargo bay. And now, refusing to let a man bring his beer on the plane.

According to News AU
According to News AU

“The passenger was travelling to Perth on Qantas flight QF777 and was determined that his Emu Export lager would be coming with him.

The single can was transported with the rest of the luggage bound for Perth.

The beer was tagged and sent off to be loaded onto the plane with the rest of the baggage, which the Melbourne ground staff happily did — but not until they had snapped a few pictures of the unusual check-in item.”

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Sure, the beer will be shaken to shit and skunked due to the drastic temperature changes in the cargo bay. And sure, he could have easily bought a beer on the plane or at the airport he landed at. But that’s not the point. This man stared in the face of tyranny and prohibition and said try me, motherfucker. He didn’t just crack open this warm, shaken one for the boys. He cracked it open for the doctor who was dragged off the plane. For the mother who got clocked with her infant’s stroller. For Simon the giant rabbit. And for everyone who’s been overcharged or overbooked.

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I’ll raise one to that.

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Vietnamese Nitpicks

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All those tiny, hard to ignore, incommodious, pestiferous, vexatious actions that people commit in Vietnam stay in your mind long after the event – like earworms, hard to forget – and keep coming back and horribly haunting.

Bugbears are for most of us are personal, where you put your toothbrush, body odors – all those ‘I hate when people… (do something)’ moments that trip up your day. The stuff that sometimes gets you called ‘small-minded’.

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Here’s an example; I go to my morning coffee shop early around sixish only to find two Vietnamese motorbikes parked diagonally next to the front steps. This covers the space of four motorbikes and prevents me parking my bike facing the street so I can make a quick, smooth getaway. It’s the same two guys each time, sniggering and pointing at me as I enter muttering insults at them.

I hate the parking inconsideration towards others however the parking area is not crowded at that time in the morning so from their point of view; so what?

Have I become a nit-picking, picayune, vile jaded expat? Possibly…

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But what can I do? Start an argument and end up in a fight? Escalate the problem? Attempt revenge? I had many ideas about the last one!

One of my more far-out bear-bugs is when confronted with a jumbled pile of shoes blocking the pathway into a restaurant. This used to annoy me in that way mosquitos don’t give up trying to land on your arm – it’s out of my control. I would gingerly step over this Vietnamese version of Trump’s wall but these days I tromp, stomp and stamp my way over the mess without a second thought about the gunk I leave on unsuspecting patron’s shoes. Block my way? Serves you right!

When Vietnamese refuse to stop hammering on stuff after 9:00 pm, I go a bit feral. Stomping up to them, I shout all the swear words I know they don’t understand in English while tapping the invisible watch on my wrist. They do the Jazz hands, I step a foot closer, and they get it that I’m serious and mutter in English, ‘ok, ok’. Sometimes it works.

A friend of mine moved to Da Nang only to be confronted by near-constant noise surrounding him and he’s now scouting out a new domicile. Around my place I can have up to four sources of seriously demented noise. Wearing headphones and closing the front doors reduce the noise like tissue paper. Where’s the freckin’ shark with a laser, when you need one?

Another aggravation is getting my food at the local restaurant but waiting a few minutes for my cutlery or even worse, salt and pepper. These days I just stroll into the kitchen or behind the bar and get them myself. I love the startled looks on the staff. Late with my beer – I’ll grab it from the fridge. That gets howls of protest as it confuses their accounting system – you know the one with the school exercise book, pen and calculator?

The true horror, for me, is the Vietnamese who stuff their fingers in every orifice in their heads and then offer a handshake. Again, I do what they do. I mimic putting my fingers all over my face and then offer my hand in return. Disrupting this form of unhygienic table manners is one of my favorites.

Yet, there’s a surprising upside to all this. One of my neighbors has that inescapable high-pitched whinge tone that activates in the presence of friends coming over with beer. He also uses it to berate his wife in the front garden late at night.

Our neighborhood has construction fever with three houses all being built at the same time. The noise is deafening and I’m pretty deaf! Yet, the neighbor has quietened down finding part-time work up and down the street, fetching and clearing and storing stuff as well as supplying snacks and water to the work crews. So some rebarbative grievances come to a happy end… for now.

I can’t deal with most of this, hence my habitual use of socially accepted addictions such as drinking, smoking and kicking things in my garden as therapeutic tools.

Maybe I should learn from my dog. He pees on the shoes, barks at the neighbors and chews the local motorbike wheels…

Sure, I can’t deal with a lot of things but it is fun to add to the chaos. I can turn up my music late in the evening, beep my horn on empty streets like everyone else and lift my T-shirt to expose my tummy too! I can park my bike diagonally to block the walkway and shout in a shop. Sneezing over people is great too – I rarely see Vietnamese use a nose tissue. And I never have to be on time again, ever!

It’s one of the things I love about Vietnam – you can get away with a lot!

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Hanoikids – Tours with a unique twist

The Hanoikids members are seen in this supplied photo.

The Hanoikids members are seen in this supplied photo.

Every now and then something pops onto my radar that restores my faith in humanity and the way the world is going.

Recently I saw a documentary on television about various tour offerings in Hanoi. Included were several creative options such as food, jaunts into colourful old neighborhoods, tours by motorbike, and even evening beer tours.

One of the groups stuck out from the bunch, an organization called https://HanoiKids.org/, a student-run “travel mate” service featuring tours of the sights of Hanoi. Most intriguing about Hanoikids is their tours are free.

That’s right – free of charge! In today’s commercial world that’s pretty remarkable.

Hanoikids is a team of volunteers who go to university full-time yet manage to eke out a few hours here and there to conduct tours for English-speaking visitors from overseas. Juggling full-time studies and part-time work is already plenty, then adding volunteer activities to that makes for a packed schedule.

Hanoikids piqued my curiosity because the obvious motivation for the students who run the tours is they get to practice English with foreign visitors, so it’s not difficult to find student volunteers eager to join the team. Since the tours are free there are plenty of visitors eager to sign up, so it’s a great business model for both customers and service providers.

The Hanoikids view is the acquisition of language skills is a strategic commodity worthy of sacrifice that will yield long-term benefits in today’s global business world.

They hit the nail right on the head with that thinking!

Hanoikids has been around for 13 years with total membership in excess of 600 part-time volunteer travel mates, of which 60-70 are currently active. The group was started by a small nucleus of students who wanted to transform their school English knowledge into practical day-to-day speaking experience and learn about foreigners and their countries and cultures.

I contacted the group prior to a recent trip to Hanoi to find out what’s behind it all, knowing in advance that it must be a forward-thinking gang.

Sure enough, they jumped all over it when I asked for a meeting and sent not one, but two sharp university students to tell me about it: Ms. Mai and Ms. Hien. And they are sharp, let me tell you. Both women are nearing the end of their studies in economics at the Foreign Trade University and gearing up toward professional careers.

Mai and Hien have each run 50 to 60 tours over the last couple of years, so it’s a schedule that can fit with studies, part-time jobs, and family life.

When I asked what motivated them to join Hanoikids, they replied almost in unison that they had sought real “on the ground” practice in English after many years of language studies focusing on grammar and spelling (yuck).

That practical experience is the key to the whole shooting match, especially in Asian countries where students can read and write like there’s tomorrow, yet get few opportunities to hone their vocal skills. Unfortunately, the only way to learn to swim is to jump in, and that means getting wet.

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The other benefit Mai and Hien mentioned is they gain valuable knowledge and international contacts for the day when they have opportunities to travel abroad, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

And that they’ve done: Foreign tour participants come from roughly 20 countries around the world including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries where English is widely spoken such as Malaysia and Singapore. The truth is I had trouble keeping up with them, never mind needing to “dumb down” my English to make it easier for them to understand.

The team offers half-day morning, afternoon, and evening tours of the main sights of Hanoi, thus leveraging their university schedules and lecture times. Flexibility is the flavour of the day, so the group tries to comply with requests from tourists who wish to visit sights off the beaten track.

Most foreign travel mates are first-time visitors to Hanoi with a list in hand such as Hoa Lo Prison, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Old Quarter, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake, and so on. The food in Hanoi is tremendous, so Hanoikids takes people on food tours as well. Fact is one could go to Hanoi, eat everything and see nothing, and still go home with a wonderful memory of the city!

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When incremental costs are involved, such as special transportation or food, the team provides estimates to their guests, who in turn foot the bill. The guides accept no tips, only token souvenirs that visitors sometimes bring with them. For those who insist on chipping in (but it’s by no means expected) they are welcome to donate to Hanoikids to cover their operating expenses.

During our discussion I began wondering if it would be feasible to create a business model for their tours which would include both free and paid options. Turned out we were all already on the same page as one of the challenges the team is working on: developing a sustainable long-term business model.

As much as it’s a worthy cause people can’t volunteer forever.

This Hanoikids real-life scenario plays right into the hands of those two economics students. What better way to convert theory into reality than to manage the transformation of a non-profit cause into a successful private enterprise?

The challenge for the organization is to retain its free tours while developing optional new premium tours that generate income. This way the unique identity and integrity of Hanoikids remains intact while new revenue-generating offerings are marketed.

We discussed increasing exposure by leveraging other similar existing tour options. Local volunteers in many countries offer similar free tours, so Hanoikids could join some of those groups. We’re also making a list of travel-related Facebook groups and will join some to gain more followers.

It may be feasible to create single day or overnight premium tours from Hanoi to some spectacular nearby sites, such as the Trang An complex in Ninh Binh Province, less than two hours away by car. The complex features spectacular caves, rivers, and the Bai Dinh Pagoda.

Ha Long Bay also popped up in the discussion, especially now that a new expressway has reduced travel time from Hanoi to less than three hours. Sapa, further to the north, has grown immensely in popularity and would fit nicely into a two- or three-day trip.

The greatest aspect of the discussion is the Hanoikids team is well-equipped to succeed and grow on any new ventures they undertake. Reminds me of the old adage: “Give someone a fish and they eat for a day; teach them how to fish and they eat for a lifetime.”

Look out for these kids going forward – they already know how to fish. Let’s see if they can catch a few with all the great experience they’ve gained!

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Authorities announce list of 22 illegitimate hotels in Nha Trang

Local authorities have released a list of 22 hotels that do not meet compulsory standards in Nha Trang, a popular resort city in the south-central Vietnamese province of Khanh Hoa, ahead of a biennial beach festival in May.

The Khanh Hoa Department of Tourism has publicized the names of the illegitimate hotels based on the law on tourism, following the directive of the provincial People’s Committee.

The list will provide useful information for visitors to Nha Trang, especially during the ninth Nha Trang-Khanh Hoa Beach Festival scheduled for May 11 to 14.

The fest, which is organized every two years, is also the main event in the 2019 National Tourism Year hosted by Khanh Hoa Province.

“The tourism department is coordinating with relevant agencies to deal with the hotels in the list,” an official stated.

Such establishments include two hotels of notorious Muong Thanh Corporation, both of which were previously fined by local authorities for multiple violations.

Dubai Hotel on Ton Dan Street in Nha Trang City
Dubai Hotel on Ton Dan Street in Nha Trang City

The Muong Thanh Luxury Vien Trieu, located in Vinh Phuoc Ward, was slapped with a VND40 million (US$1,720) for constructing a swimming pool without a permit.

Meanwhile, the Muong Thanh Luxury Khanh Hoa, situated in Xuan Huong Ward, was built with 43 stories while the developer was only allowed to construct 40 floors.

Muong Thanh was eventually required to pull down the three illegal stories.

The list also mentioned Dubai and Euro Star Hotels, which were suspended from operations for failing to follow regulations on fire safety.

In addition, the Ninh Phuoc Wild Beach Resort & Spa has been operating and serving mainly Chinese tourists over the past years despite its violations of fire safety and construction regulations.

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The complete list of 22 hotels in Nha Trang that fail to meet standards promulgated by the law on tourism

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