Bring nature to you 

A customer shopping at Harnn & Thann in Saigon Center at 65 Le Loi Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City

In the busy cities nowadays, nature seems like a luxury that few can find time for. When was the last time you ran barefoot on the grass and watched a kite flying over a green field? When did you last amble through a forest on a sunny day?

Fortunately, if you cannot go to nature, you can bring nature to your house and life with natural products.

Harnn & Thann in Saigon Center at 65 Le Loi Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City has what many stressed out people are looking for: a spa that takes them to a spring garden in the hill town of Da Lat.

Herbal remedies for a cold or fever are common in Oriental medicine. Only 15 years ago, Vietnamese people would often combine herbs and a hot sauna to alleviate a bad cold.

Harnn & Thann products blend Asian culture, traditions and knowledge of natural therapy with the science of skin care.

This shop, full of pleasant fragrances, has many diversified facial and body products to offer. Harnn & Thann is a Thai brand name famous for its extracts of rice bran, lemongrass oil, mint, exotic kaffir lane, vanilla and other natural ingredients.

“I choose vitamin E-rich extracts of rice bran oil products. After a hard day, a product with lemongrass oil lifts my spirits. Harnn & Thann offers customers a lifestyle of total wellness, with products that are 100 percent paraben-free and have no artificial colors or fragrances,” said Tran Huong, a customer at Harnn & Thann.

“Besides exotic Oriental essence, Harnn & Thann also has soothing Mediterranea floral, refreshing sea foam and vibrant aromatic wood. On the weekend, a spa at home with natural exotic products gives me renewed energy,” said Nguyen Xuan Lan, another customer at the shop.

The product line includes skin, body and hair care products like shampoo, clay masks, moisturizers and exfoliating scrubs.

Harnn is a line of home-spa products that includes exfoliating soaps and salt scrubs, massage oils, hand creams, body and massage creams, foot scrubs and bath salts.

The scents include cinnamon, lemongrass and basil. Rice bran oil is a common ingredient in the soaps and has a grown-up, subtle scent.

Harnn & Thann

Saigon Center

65 Le Loi Boulevard, District 1

Tel: (08) 3 914 2649

Diamond Plaza

34 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1

Tel: (08) 2 210 3365

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Gas prices rise following refinery shutdown 

A delivery man carries an LPG cylinder on a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City

Retail prices for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Vietnam have increased by about 4 percent after the country temporarily halted operation at the Dung Quat during an equipment check.

Ho Chi Minh City-based Saigon Petro said a 12-kilogram cylinder of LPG now costs VND343,000. The company said the shutdown at the country’s only oil refinery has led to a supply shortfall.

Do Trung Thanh, sales manager at Saigon Petro, said local distributors have had to import more fuel and, as a result, retail prices have gone up.

State-owned Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, also known as PetroVietnam, halted production at the Dung Quat refinery for an inspection early last week. The shutdown is expected to last up to three weeks.

LPG prices were raised 3 percent earlier this month, to VND330,000 per 12-kilogram cylinder, due to rising world prices.

Saigon Petro said local consumers should expect another hike, in April.

Fat city 

Foie gras at Olivier Restaurant in Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel

There are few guilty pleasures in this world as sublime as the fatty French wonder: foie gras.

While “pate” can be found on the shelves of every streetside sandwich stall in Ho Chi Minh City, its finest iteration is just now taking some of the town’s hi-end eateries by storm.

For those who don’t know, foie gras (literally, fatty liver) is derived from the liver of an oversized goose or duck.

According to French law, the bird must be forcibly stuffed full of corn and other cereals until it is morbidly obese; Canadian and American producers have made the same dish, using natural feeding techniques, but the resulting liver is considered less tasty.

Indeed, foie gras is graded (A,B,C). It can be blended, whipped up in to a mousse or reconstituted into a terrene. In their purest form, the fatty livers are sliced and served as whole rounds.

In France, it’s often mashed into bread or served with fruit and cheese as a wonderful means of offsetting the crisp flavors of a nice glass of Sauterne.

It takes a true master to manage to take the dish to a new level. On occasion, it is sautéed delicately to crisp the exterior.

Dessert chefs have been known to drizzle cuts of the famed pate with vinegar, balsamic vinegar and other sweet and tart sauces.

Here in HCMC, the savory punch of foie gras is being cut by local tropical fruits.

Certain chefs in town have added a modern twist – served up with cuts of mango, dragon fruit and pineapple.

To sample some of Saigon’s takes on this item, check out the following:

Legend Hotel Saigon

2A-4A Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1

Tel: (08) 3 823 3333

Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel                 

17 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1

Tel: (08) 3 824 1555

Hotel Equatorial Ho Chi Minh City

242 Tran Binh Trong Street, District 5

Tel: (08) 3 839 7777

Au Manoir De Khai Restaurant

251 Dien Bien Phu Street,

District 3. Tel: (08) 3 930 3394

Vietnam celebrates 80th anniversary of youth union 

 

Vietnam’s two urban hubs, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, held celebrations Saturday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union.

 

Across the country, many other celebratory activities were also organized like the publication of a stamp set dedicated to the anniversary of Vietnam’s largest youth organization in the capital.

 

In the southern province of Long An, meanwhile, over 2,000 people walked to call for donation to the victims of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.

The battle for Cu Chi barbeque 

 

Saigon’s famed picnic destination has been through a lot, but it’s still the best place for barbecued beef


Grilled Cu Chi beef is among the delicacies of Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi was once known as the ideal picnic spot for Ho Chi Minh City office workers. Rich fruit orchards and fecund farms offered a wonderful gastronomical day trip for stressed out city folk.

During the war, the people of Cu Chi were harried by one of the most vicious campaigns of the entire war.

The Americans never could beat the tunnel-dwelling freedom fighters. But they did ruin Cu Chi as a dining destination, for a time.

Today, it’s back.

Families looking to survive after the victory invested in cattle and it has paid off, big time.

Now Cu Chi is the city’s prime source for cheap and tasty veal and beef.

Barbeque joints, catering to HCMC tourists now dot the district. Places like Bo To (young beef) Xuan Dao Restaurant serve the following local delicacies:

Boiled beef

Though it may sound bland, boiled beef makes for an ideal appetizer at the Xuan Dao. This isn’t your English grandmother’s boiled meat. This one is cooked in pure flavor.

Consider a trip to the following restaurants:

Bo To Xuan Dao
Nguyen Giao Street, Highway 22, Cu Chi Town, Cu Chi District

Bo To Cu Chi
38B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, District 1

Bay Quyt
9B Le Quy Don Street, Phu Nhuan District

Makers of the dish start by creating a base broth flavored with boiled bones, black cardamom, ginger and onion.

The bubbling liquid is served with tender beef slices and diners are invited to boil them to perfection.

The meat is then rolled with fresh herbs and rice paper and dipped into a special sauce.

Fried beef skin with fresh turmeric

 In Vietnam, beef skin fried with fresh turmeric is often prescribed for those suffering from a weak stomach. Whether or not this prescription works for you, the appetizer makes for a delicious accompaniment to a cold beer.

Thinly sliced beef is fried up with battered bits of turmeric, onion, celery, roasted peanut and chili.

The crisp meat slices are wrapped up in vermicelli, cucumber, bean sprouts and herbs and dunked into a flavored fish sauce. Voila!

Grilled beef

One of the joys of dining at a place like Bo To Xuan Dao is the pleasure of grilling up your own meat.

A whole cut of raw beef is placed on the table accompanied by a knife and cutting board. After cutting the meat to their liking, customers are invited to marinate the strips in a bowl of fish sauce, chili, garlic and lemon juice.

Traditionally, the meat is cut thin and thrown on the fire for a couple of minutes. To each his own.

Porridge with beef shin

Perhaps the most renowned Cu Chi District is porridge with beef shin.

The sinewy meat is partially stir-fried in flavorful spices and then simmered in coconut juice. Finally, the leg is boiled in bone broth.

Once tender and tasty, the beef is served with a rice porridge flavored with green bean, white bean, taro, cassava, green papaya and turmeric.

All of the items combine to create wonderful textures and a host of competing flavors.

The delicacy is so popular that it has spread throughout HCMC. Customers who can’t make it to Cu Chi can enjoy the delicacy in downtown Saigon.

Forcing hate to surrender 

 

American connects with Vietnamese anti-war songs and reconnects two icons


Molly Hartman O’Connell performs Vietnam’s red songs in Con duong am nhac (Musical road) program on Ho Chi Minh City Television

“Mother of Vietnam, do you know your children have begun the fight?”

This was the only part of the song, the chorus, that Molly Hartman O’Connell understood, because, as she recalls, her Vietnamese was “fumbling” at best when she heard it for the first time.

But the first Vietnam War song that the Brooklyn (New York) native and former anthropology student from Columbia University heard, Tieng hat nhung dem khong ngu (Songs for sleepless nights), composed by well-known musician Pham Tuyen in 1970, left a lasting impression.

It sparked in her a desire know who the composer was and understand the role that this music played.

True to the anthropologist tradition of participatory observation, Molly decided to learn how to sing Vietnamese war songs herself and was instructed by local vocal instructor Cao Nguyet Hao, a retired member of the Hanoi National Dance and Song Ensemble.

However, “I am a student. I am not a singer,” she told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Armed with a Fulbright scholarship, Molly left her hometown in 2003 to study current women’s issues as well as the Vietnamese language in Vietnam as part of a study exchange program between the two countries.

Molly’s (Mai Ly in Vietnamese) unexpected love affair with Vietnamese revolutionary songs began while she was making friends and interviewing local women, specifically those who were former political prisoners prior to 1975.

With her parents being social workers and community activists, and her brother very aware of antiwar music movements, it was easy for Mai Ly to get hooked onto war music in Vietnam.

“I know a lot of songs from my parents who are in that generation with Bob Dylan, the Woodstock Concert in 1969. They are very interested and feel very connected whenever we talk about Vietnam, though they did not come here during that time.”

“They really lived in that period and know the whole background behind it, including Con Dao Island, famous for its prison built by the French colonial government, because at that time, everything came out in magazines and other media channels.”

Molly, who now works for a private company in HCMC, said: “Unlike them, when I hear a certain song or am told about that period, I have to imagine it. Yet, the interesting thing is that like most people in their generation, my parents never thought of or looked for information about modern Vietnam, after the war. They just know about Vietnam in the old days.

“So when I informed them that I was going to Vietnam to study, they were not afraid at all, they were excited. They said, ‘Ok, go to Vietnam and find out about the place.’”

Her journey to Vietnam and into the nation’s patriotic music has gone deeper than she might have intended.

Hao has not only taught Molly how to sing and pronounce the lyrics, but also explained the meaning and background of each song, and even introduced her American student to several Vietnam War era musicians, including Pham Tuyen, Phan Huynh Dieu, Luu Nhat Vu and Truong Tuyet Mai.

The most interesting part of Molly’s story is not about how she became famous and was invited to perform on local television channels like HTV; and it is not even that she won awards in singing contests.

It is what transpired after she first met 81-year-old composer Pham Tuyen, creator of red music classics like Nhu co Bac Ho trong ngay vui dai thang (As if there were Uncle Ho on the great victorious, happy day) and Gay dan len hoi nguoi ban My (Keep on strumming, my American friends), dedicated to Pete Seeger in 1969.


(L-R) Musician Pham Tuyen, Molly’s parents, Molly

Tuyen told her during that 2007 meeting at his house in Hanoi that the song was composed in response to the performance of “Ballad of Ho Chi Minh” by Pete Seeger, 92, an American folk singer and an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. He was also in the forefront of antiwar music, leading a march of one million people at Washington DC in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War.

Pete Seeger heard about Tuyen’s song when it was broadcast on Cuban La Habana Radio Station several months later. Touched by the song, Pete found a way to go to Hanoi and meet Pham Tuyen in the early 1970s. They had lost touch with each other until Molly visited him.

“Mai Ly is my special fan and singer, not only because she is an American who can sing Vietnamese songs, but also because of her enthusiasm and special love and appreciation for Vietnam’s traditional and revolutionary music, which is being ignored by many young local people,” said Tuyen.

Molly concurred. “A lot of young Vietnamese people like American songs, and most of them like pop music, while Americans would love to learn more about Vietnamese traditional music.

“Pop music doesn’t have real meaning, it’s just for fun. When a Vietnamese singer sings an English song, it sounds great, but it doesn’t have cultural meaning. I think that traditional music should be exchanged between the two countries, for not many people perform it in my country.”

Tuyen said he has more reasons to be grateful to Molly than her interest in Vietnamese revolutionary music.

“More than that, I’m so thankful to Molly for being a bridge for me to reconnect with Pete Seeger.”

On February 15, Tuyen received a letter containing the lyrics of Pete Seeger’s 200 anti war songs, as well as CD recordings from the American musician and singer.

After their conversation about the background for Gay dan len hoi nguoi ban My, Molly promised to help the Vietnamese musician contact Pete Seeger in the US, for her parents know a lot of artists of that generation.

“It’s amazing that Pete, who is so famous and receives a lot of mail everyday, wrote us back after we found how to contact him,” said Molly, who sent Pete her translation of four of Pham Tuyen’s songs.

With Bob Dylan set to visit Vietnam for a tribute to Trinh Cong Son, the solidarity between artists of the Vietnam War generation is being strengthened.

In his latest letter to Tuyen, the 92-year-old Pete Seeger writes: “I have lost my voice already, yet I am still working. As musicians, our art should overcome language barriers and differences in culture or politics to work for peace.”

Overseas remittances surpass expectations 

A customer fills out a money transfer form at a Western Union outlet in Ho Chi Minh City.

Overseas remittances to Vietnam reached a record high of more than US$8 billion last year, an unexpected increase of 25.6 percent over 2009.

In December alone, the inflow was $770 million, according to the central bank’s foreign currency management department.

The funds, a major source of foreign currency in Vietnam, come from overseas Vietnamese who want to support their families or those looking to invest in their homeland.

The bulk of remittances flowed into Ho Chi Minh City, which received $3.8 million last year, up 20 percent from the previous year.

Analysts said the record high amount of money sent to Vietnam, equal to 7.6 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, was a surprise as the forecast was around $6 billion.

Remittances to Vietnam more than tripled from 2001 to 2008, when it reached $7.2 billion. But due to the global economic crisis, the flows fell 13 percent in 2009 to $6.3 billion.

Tran Van Trung, director of the Dong A Money Transfer Company, said overseas remittances grew last year because the economy started recovering, allowing many people, especially those in the US, to send money home. Besides, the increasing quality of money transfer services, a wider range of products and favorable polices have also contributed to the strong flow, he said.

Trung said recipients are not required to pay income taxes and they can choose to receive the money in either local currency or the US dollar.

According to a World Bank report in November, Vietnam ranked third among the top 10 remittance recipients in East Asia and Pacific, after China and the Philippines. Worldwide, the top recipient countries in 2010 were India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and France.

Cao Sy Kiem, a member of the National Monetary and Financial Policy Advisory Council, said 2010 was a successful year for Vietnam in receiving remittances, but the problem was how to make the funds more valuable to the economy.

“The remittance flows are strong but we haven’t put them to effective use,” he said. “Remittances are transferred via banks, but they are not sold to or deposited into banks for later use by the economy.”

“Overseas remittances are mostly retained by the public,” Kiem said, citing a lack of confidence in the banking system and the local currency as a reason.

Economist Dinh The Hien said the gap between black market and official rates for the dollar is still too large to draw dollar remittances into banks.

“To solve the problem, this gap must be narrowed,” he said.

Kiem said that with economic prospects getting brighter this year, the country can expect even more remittance inflows.

It’s necessary to create the right monetary policies and convince people to deposit money in banks rather than keeping it at home, he said.