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Chinese tourists ripped off? Nha Trang restaurant fined $33 for not listing prices

Chinese tourists walk in the popular resort town of Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa
Chinese tourists walk in the popular resort town of Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa

Authorities in the central beach town of Nha Trang Monday fined a local restaurant VND750,000 ($33) for failing to fully list prices.

The action came a week after some Chinese tourists shared a photo of their check at the restaurant online, sparking public anger for exorbitant prices.

Last Thursday the group of 14 tourists ate at the seafood restaurant on Pham Van Dong Street near the Ponagar Tower and received a check of VND16.5 million ($710), including VND250,000 each for a plate of fried melon and fried spinach.

Normally, the two cost no more than VND100,000.

A Facebook photo shows a bill for a meal of Chinese tourists at the restaurant last Thursday.
A Facebook photo shows a bill for a meal of Chinese tourists at the restaurant last Thursday.

Authorities inspected the place but said the prices of all other dishes except the two are clearly displayed on the menu.

Overcharging is not uncommon in Vietnam despite occasional crackdowns by authorities.

Recently Vietnamese neitizens and foreign tourists expressed indignation at reports of some Malaysian customers being charged over VND9 million ($387.76) for a meal at a Nha Trang seafood restaurant. The incident is still under investigation since the restaurant has temporarily closed.

In 2016 Nha Trang ordered its tourism department to publish a list of establishments that are found to have overcharged or provided sub-standard services to customers.

Last year the town received 1.9 million Chinese tourists, a 60 percent increase from a year earlier.

 

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Power outage in Ho Chi Minh City is the Norm…

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It’s a pretty normal evening in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, as my friend and I sit down to enjoy some ech va com (frog and rice), when suddenly the power goes out. Rather than flinch, I think, oh well, just another black out in the city. Earlier that evening, I got to my destination at around 9:00 pm. I was heading to District 1 to meet a friend. This particular street was very narrow but still teeming with activity. People were eating on stools on non-existent paths. Babies with undies around their ankles urinated onto the road. Men drank beers jovially among friends and the air was alive with culinary smells.

Next second, the whole power went out on a section of the street. There was a large cheer and then life continued on. It is not uncommon to witness a blackout in Ho Chi Minh City. So common are they that families usually have backup generators, candles and even hand fans in case one should strike. Nor is it uncommon to drive down a road and see one side lit and the other in darkness if the opposing sides are in different wards.

Though no one really prefers power shortages, it has become somewhat part of the norm. Students even greet them with cheers at certain parts of the day as it would mean that a lesson would be cancelled much like how schools in England and Ireland might be cancelled on a heavy snow day. Myself, I have experienced maybe ten or more in the one and a half years I have been here. And many more in my 20 years of coming and going Vietnam. The first few may have surprised me, even scared me a little. Yet, I had always found them to be more mystical than terrifying.

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Before my current home, I had been living on the 5th floor of an apartment in District 1 and it was quite amazing to look out the window and see a whole city block black in the darkness of night. Yet looking out from on high and eating on a packed street are two very different experiences. To get an idea of the frequency of blackouts in Ho Chi Minh City, one should look at something called SAIDI, or System Average Interruption Duration Index. Basically this is an estimation of how much a citizen in a country experiences an electricity interruption. For example, most European countries experience less than 200 minutes of interruptions per year (see CEER report 2016) in comparison to Sub-Saharan Africa who experienced over 750 hours on average over 2015 and 2016, (Electricity Tariffs, Power Outages and Firm Performance: A Comparative Analysis Jean Arlet Global Indicators Group, Development Economics. The World Bank).

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According to a report done by EVN (Vietnam Electricity), Vietnam experienced around 543.28 minutes in 2018, making the country rank 64th in the world power interruption index, an increase of 32 notches from 2015. That roughly translates as nine hours of power interruption per person, per year. It may not seem like much and this figure does not represent the many people who live in villages with no power at all. Normally it may not have huge ramifications, unless one is in the middle of doing some sort of electronic business and suddenly the Internet cuts out.

There are many attributing factors to why the power shorts out. It has been said that the city could be described as the place of sun and dust. If one drives to any district of the city, construction can be seen there. From the numerous skyscrapers shooting up in District 1 or the high-rise apartments in District 2 to the factories being erected in District 9 or simply street maintenance that seems endless. If there is construction to be seen, then there are likely to be power cuts. This may be due in part to the operators of said work.

I am not so bold as to blame them as it is quite obvious that they are limited to the tools that they have which are quite outdated and run-down. And because Ho Chi Minh City never rests, these laymen are under orders to work fast, finish faster and get out. Unlike the West, they are given a shoestring budget to do all this. In hindsight, cutting corners and rushed work are inevitably going to lead to power shortages and other problems. But that is part and parcel of the city. Of course, we should strive to do things better and provide services to each as we would want the services provided to us.

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Yet, accepting the inalienable truth that this is part of Ho Chi Minh City life will make living here less frustrating. To go even further, embracing it like the locals do might actually make you enjoy it that bit more. Doing exactly that, I embraced the power outage in District 1. Along with all the other restaurant patrons. Because when there is nothing that can be done about something, you can either complain or look on the bright side (pun intended). I am sure if I was unfortunate enough to live in regions with no power I would have a very different attitude. However, in the absence of such circumstances, in the romance of a meal in a dimly lit food stall, in the midst of people in joyous spirits, what’s an hour or two in the dark?

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One-Third of Students in Saigon Face Stress, Cyberbullying: Survey

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A new survey conducted by Saigon’s Department of Education and Training reveals unsettling realities regarding student well-being.

The study covers 150 schools and institutions in Ho Chi Minh City including 74 public high schools, 34 public secondary schools, eight primary schools and 34 other institutions ranging from kindergartens to private schools.

According to the survey, 31% of the students experience stress and 53.8% show lack of study motivation, Dan Tri reports. Of all the students in the study, 7.8% have dropped out of school and 21.1% are at risk of doing so. The report argues that study environment, society and family, lack of support services from schools combined with anxiety are the reason for such troubling numbers.

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The survey also shed light on a more worrying issue — 24.6% of students are bullied and 20.8% of them are victims of psychological abuse. Thirty percents of all respondents reported having been harassed online in different forms such as posting photos without consent, insults, provocations, threats.

More than 6% of respondents use drugs, 5.7% have violated the law, 2.8% have gone through an abortion, and 0.8% shows self-destructive behaviors.

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70% of People Who Shop Online Use Facebook Messenger to Communicate with Shops

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Facebook Messenger is by far the most popular messaging app for Vietnamese who shop online.

VnExpress reports that 70% of Vietnamese who use chat apps to shop prefer using Messenger in order to contact businesses, according to a recent report from market research company Q&Me.

Overall, Messenger is the most popular chat app in Vietnam, with 94% of respondents using it, followed by Zalo (89%), and phone text messages (59%). This doesn’t come as a surprise, given that Vietnam is home to an estimated 42 million daily Facebook users.

In terms of using such apps for shopping, Messenger’s usage rate has grown by 23% since 2016.

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Shops and restaurants are the two most frequently contacted types of businesses on Messenger, at 61% and 48%, respectively. Meanwhile, 57% of respondents said they often contact a business in order to ask for information about a product.

Interestingly, many customers were dissatisfied with businesses while using Messenger, as 57% did not receive a response.

The study was conducted through the month of January and involved 300 people in Hanoi and Saigon, the news source shares. Vietnam’s e-commerce market is growing fast. Revenue hit US$2.3 billion in 2018, up nearly 30% from the previous year.

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Two Vietnamese beg for social experiment on Lunar New Year’s Eve

A female pedestrian gives Toan VND100,000 ($4.30) when he is disguised as a beggar in need
A female pedestrian gives Toan VND100,000 ($4.30) when he is disguised as a beggar in need

Two Vietnamese youngsters disguised themselves as beggars on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on Lunar New Year’s Eve as a social experiment on people’s wholeheartedness and those who beg for money.

One male and one female sat down on Ong Lanh Bridge connecting District 1 and District 4 in Ho Chi Minh City at 8:40 pm on Monday, the last day of the previous lunar year.

While many beggars were sitting in the area, the two youngsters with their faces almost completely covered were not begging for money, but they were trying to understand people’s wholeheartedness and generosity during the most festive celebration in Vietnam.

Social experiment

The Tay Ninh Red Cross volunteer and his orphaned female best friend sat on the cold tiled floor of the bridge, joining many beggars who were already there and starting what they called “a social experiment.”

Chau Thanh Toan, head of the SV07 volunteer group of the Tay Ninh Red Cross organization, is a well-known name to many volunteer groups and organizations in Ho Chi Minh City thanks to his activeness in helping the unfortunate.

Accompanying him was his female best friend Phuong, who has lost both her parents and is interested in doing voluntary work to help others.

While most people spent their last day of the lunar year with family preparing for the new year, the two disguised themselves as beggars on the Ong Lanh Bridge.

The idea originated from when the two was wondering who usually begs, whether they are truly the ones in need and how much they would usually be given on special occasions.

“Every day on my way to work, I see many people sitting here to beg,” Toan started explaining his intentions.

“I was wondering why there are more people begging on the streets every day. Is it because begging for money and food is easier than working?”

When doing charitable work, most volunteers are youngsters who have to put lots of effort in raising funds to help those in need.

Hence, it is important to help the disadvantaged rather than give away money to people who are merely lazy and do not want to work, Toan added.

After begging for a while, Toan and Phuong were given steamed buns
After begging for a while, Toan and Phuong were given steamed buns

Abuse of generosity

Many passers-by stopped at the bridge to give away money, gifts, and food as it was already the last day of the old lunar year.

On this day, most families celebrate with a festive meal and the beginning of a new year usually includes giving each other lucky money in red envelopes.

The amount of money given away by each passer-by as a way of wishing the beggars luck could reach up to VND100,000 (US$4.3), which is a considerable amount, especially for Vietnam’s working class.

Every time a vehicle stopped, sets of gifts were donated to their children or other relatives.

However, most begging on the Ong Lanh bridge are healthy people aged 30 to 45, who seemed to still be capable of working.

“The previous years we decently and politely received the given gifts while only sitting on the streets [near the bridge],” a begging woman who received a gift from a generous passer-by said.

“Recently other people have started gathering to fight for the gifts. Many [benefactors] even lost their phones to pickpockets. Benefactors thus do not come here as often as they used to,” she said, adding that a lot of kind-hearted people came by with gifts and lucky money envelopes on this day.

Benefactors came from all walks of life, including families with kids, married couples, young dating couples, as well as single ones.

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As a generous man stops his motorbike to distribute gifts to beggars for the Lunar New Year, many beggars quickly drop by.

“We sat until 11:30 pm last night and got seven steamed buns, two banh mi [Vietnamese sandwiches with meat], two rice boxes, two packages of milk, and VND240,000 [$10],” Toan said, adding that the gifts they received were later distributed to the people who were truly in need.

Most people who are beggars near the Ong Lanh Bridge are not those in need but are lazy and do not want to work for their livelihood, Toan came to a conclusion, mentioning that they are even heavy alcoholics.

“Nowadays, generosity is being taken advantage of,” Toan warned.

“There are many people capable of working but find it easier to beg for money, so they just come to sit on the streets to have enough to eat and bucks to spend.

“That will affect people’s trust in doing charity and volunteer work, which would result in indifference and the lack of concern for the society.”

A man is happy as he has been given a lucky money envelope by a good-hearted passer-by.
A man is happy as he has been given a lucky money envelope by a good-hearted passer-by.

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Thousands depart for Tet vacation on Lunar New Year’s Day in Vietnam

Vietnamese tourists depart for Tet vacation in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese tourists depart for Tet vacation in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thousands of Vietnamese departed for Tet vacation on Tuesday, the first day of the lunar Year of the Pig, reflecting a growing trend among locals to travel instead of staying at home for the traditional festival.

Ho Chi Minh City-based tour operator Vietravel said it accommodated nearly 4,000 tourists on its domestic and outbound tours that departed on Tuesday.

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Tourists were given red envelopes containing lucky money worth up to US$100 each, as well as bodhi leaves obtained from India believed to bring good luck to the bearer.

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Overall, Vietravel said it has set up tours for nearly 40,000 customers over the course of the nine-day Tet holiday, which lasts until Sunday.

Saigontourist, another travel agency based in Ho Chi Minh City, said it also organized tours for 23 groups of travelers on the first day of the new lunar year, including seven domestic tours and 16 outbound tours.

“As Vietnamese people prefer to departing on the second day of a lunar year, we expect the number of tours to rise to 210 on Wednesday,” said a Saigontourist representative.

The company estimates it will serve 24,000 tourists during the Tet holiday.

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Southeast Asia, Northeast Asa and Europe remain popular international destinations for Vietnamese tourists, while some travelers are also willing to spend money on chartered tours to emerging tourist spots such as Japan, Bhutan or India, according to tour operators.

Most tours involve a stop at a local pagoda to allow tourists to offer new year prayers, a long-standing tradition in Vietnamese culture.

There is a growing number of Vietnamese people who prefer to traveling instead of staying in their hometown for the Tet holiday, according to statistics revealed by hotel booking sites.

Agoda, for example, compared the number of bookings made on its site by Vietnamese users during Tet in the last three years and found that this number has risen significantly over the period.

These independent travelers prefer destinations that also celebrate the Lunar New Year such as Taiwan, Singapore and China.

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A visit to the dentist in Vietnam

A dentist is seen checking a patient's teeth in Vietnam
A dentist is seen checking a patient’s teeth in Vietnam

A while back I ran a feel-good story about a great experience with a doctor in Vietnam. That article prompted alert readers to write: “OK, but what about the dentists?”

Well, the short version is they’re pretty darned good too – at least most of them are.

I haven’t had much experience with dentists around the country, but I did go to a glitzy “Western” dental office in Da Nang once for teeth cleaning. Very professional setup, with photographs of the Western dentist placed strategically around the office as well as his various certificates and degrees, and of course a few choice photos with patients showing off their gleaming white teeth, presumably taken after treatment.

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I went back several times in an attempt to give them my business but he was never there. The prices were Western – they had that part right – so perhaps someone just set it all up from abroad and was raking it in, showing up now and then or not at all.

Or I suppose it’s possible he doesn’t even exist, now wouldn’t that be funny?

In the end I went to a genuine hole-in-the-wall dentist’s office that a local friend recommended. It was more like a local neighborhood barber shop than a dentist’s office, with rickety old chairs that had been around for decades, lots of people sitting around talking, and a general aura of wear and tear.

The staff, however, were fresh as a daisy and right on the ball. A man who I presumed to be the owner came and poked around in my mouth and quoted a price. I was then ushered into a back room that was somewhat more slick than the front, possibly designated for up-market customers and foreign tourists.

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The whole operation was spotlessly clean and the dentist who worked on me did a great job although he did make whining noises about the condition of my teeth. No idea what he could have been thinking. Do people with clean teeth usually go to him to get them even cleaner? Strange to say the least.

Anyway, I left thinking that although I probably wouldn’t trust those dentists with a root canal, they are just fine for routine jobs.

A few months ago, I had a gnarly old tooth way in the back corner that had been giving me fits for weeks. True to form, I ignored it until it drove me to the edge of insanity. I did learn that cold beer definitely numbs the pain, but despite guzzling copious amounts I’d finally reached the end of my tether.

I pulled the Facebook group trick again since it had worked so well with the doctor in the past and asked for local recommendations. My post attracted several credible replies, among them a couple of recommendations for a particular dentist in the center of Da Lat. I found my favourite motorbike taxi man, and off we went.

In developing countries, there is usually no point in making an appointment. Even if the service provider does accept an appointment it only functions correctly if no other patient shows up just before the agreed time, so I didn’t even try to make one. I just walked in and sat down, and sure enough the staff jumped to attention.

The office was spotless, organized, and even the prices were listed on the wall in both Vietnamese and English. The staff were right on the ball too, asked me a few questions, filled out a form, and we were all set.

First up was to check my blood pressure, after which I was informed that I should go to the hospital for the extraction because my BP was on the high side. I protested, stating I’d just been on an exciting (nerve-wracking) motorbike journey to get to their office, drank a coffee just prior to that, smoked a cigarette or two in the last couple of hours, and climbed a flight of stairs in a hurry.

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All those factors probably conspired to temporarily raise my blood pressure a notch or two, at least that’s what I concluded. I think employees at dental offices don’t realize that a visit is downright scary for many patients, but I didn’t mention that point fearing it may be a sensitive topic.

Several of us huddled to negotiate and finally the team agreed to do the extraction, which was over and done with before I knew what was happening. The dentist, whose English was frighteningly fluent, swabbed that anesthetic numbing gunk over the offending area, stabbed a needle into my gums, waited a couple of minutes, then with a sharp twist and a strong yank that tooth was out in no time flat.

The doctor prescribed both antibiotics and a painkiller just in case, neither of which was needed.

The cost of the extraction was VND300,000 or about US$13 (NZ$19.00), without question a fair price in Vietnam and downright cheap compared to prices abroad.

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All in all, I couldn’t have imagined a better experience. The main objective for me is that the treatment needed is carried out professionally and effectively in a hygienic environment for a reasonable local price. It doesn’t mean having fancy decor and pretty pictures on the wall with leather furniture just to get simple dental treatment, at least not to me.

And on top of all that I didn’t even need to make an appointment weeks in advance, which is usually necessary overseas.

Can’t wait until I have another bad tooth! Well, not quite, but you get my drift.

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