Viet kieu ‘shooting star’ wishes to share his luck 

Nguyen Quang, a Vietnamese-Swedish entrepreneur, with the Male Shooting Star certificate awarded by international auditing firm Ernst and Young in Sweden in November last year

In early February this year, a leading Swedish daily, Göteborgs-Posten, used up a huge portion of its cover page for a photograph of Nguyen Quang, a Vietnamese-Swedish businessman.

Inside were two pages telling readers the story of a very young boy who arrived in Sweden with his father 30 years ago, and has risen, by dint of sheer hard work, to become one of Sweden’s largest food importers from Southeast Asia.

The 35-year-old director of Saigon Food AB became well known among the Swedish population after he was honored as the Male Shooting Star at the awards ceremony for Entrepreneur of the Year held by UK-based auditing firm Ernst & Young in November last year.

“Nguyen Quang started literally empty-handed. Today, his company is the market leader in food imports from Southeast Asia,” said a jury. “With a heart that beats for both employees and customers, Nguyen Quang is a good example for other entrepreneurs.”

Quang was modest about his success. “We have been lucky,” he said.

I met Quang at the end of February when he’d come to Vietnam to source Vietnamese food products to be shipped to his company in Sweden, and to do some charity work. He spoke to me about his journey from being empty-handed to handing out charity.

Soon after their arrival in Sweden, his parents opened up a grocery store. After returning home from school, young Quang would assist his parents in selling food and household items. He also helped deliver purchases to customers living near his house.

He studied economics at the university before he took over his parents’ shop and in 2004, established the Saigon Food AB in Gothenburg to sell food products coming from Southeast Asia. Two years later, his company directly imported such products before distributing them to not only Gothenburg residents but also those living in other cities.

“In the beginning I was working probably 75-80 hours a week. I worked in the office during the day and went around and delivered in the evenings. Sometimes I slept in a sleeping bag in the office.” Later his siblings joined him.

Most of Saigon Food AB’s products are shipped from Thailand while the remainder comes from Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia.

However, that could change in the future.

 “Through the numerous times I have returned to my native country, I have realized that the quality of Vietnamese food products has become better and better, and are not inferior to Thai products. Thus, this year and next year, I will focus on importing more Vietnamese products like Sa Giang shrimp crackers, banh trang (rice paper), and mi trung (egg noodles).

“Many Swedish people love Vietnamese food after traveling to Vietnam as tourists. When they return, they would like to enjoy Vietnamese food again. I will import more of it to satisfy their demand,” he said.

Saigon Food AB’s revenues for 2009 reached SEK142 million (US$23 million.) His company has posted an average annual sales growth of 25 percent since it was set up.

Not just business

Quang has not seen his business growth in purely economic terms. He has seen it as an opportunity to help needy people.

Because Vietnamese as well as others of Southeast Asian descent who are somewhat advanced in years find it hard to get work in Gothenburg, Quang has welcomed these people into his company.

Saigon Food AB now has around 25 staff of Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian and Thai origins. He also helps out other entrepreneurs. Many Thai women, for instance, who have started their own shops because they were unable to find jobs, are his clients. “We try to be generous with credit, remembering what it was like for us earlier,” he told the Swedish newspaper.

Quang said he plans to buy a 15,000-square-meter area in Gothenburg to expand his business, and generate more jobs for Vietnamese-Swedish finding it tough to find employment.

He said though there are not many Vietnamese people living in the city, the community always gathers together for sporting, camping and cultural activities together during Tet (Lunar New Year) and other festivals. Saigon Food AB is one of the main sponsors of the Vietnamese Cultural Society in Gothenburg, which organizes these get-togethers.

Quang said he is always looking for ways to help people in his native country as well. While reinvesting all the company’s profits, he takes out “the normal salary (for himself) and a dividend that I give to the poor in Vietnam,” he said.

Over the last five years, he and his parents have returned to Vietnam many times for charity work.

“Every year, I come back to Vietnam twice for charity purposes. This time [February this year], I spent VND500 million ($24,000) buying medicines and some essential products to give the poor, the old, and the orphaned living in Dong Nai.”

The award jury noted that the tremendous growth of his company was also marked by “his generosity and constant hunger to evolve on all levels.”

“If you share the money and experience, it gives you extra energy and motivation,” he said.

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Headmaster gets nine years in jail for underage sex with students 

(L, R) Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, Nguyen Thuy Hang and Sam Duc Xuong in the dock Thursday at a trial involving statutory rape in the northern province of Ha Giang

A closed court in the northern province of Ha Giang Thursday handed a nine-year sentence to the former principal of a high school for statutory rape in a high profile sex scandal.

 

Sam Duc Xuong. 54, had sex with students, six of them underaged, between July 2008 and August 2009, the court was told in a hearing which took place under tight security provided by around 50 officers and police dogs.

 

The ex-principal of the Viet Lam High School was accused of forcing the students into prostitution using his money and authority.

 

The Ha Giang People’s Court also handed down suspended sentences of 36 months and 30 months respectively to two of Xuong’s students, Nguyen Thuy Hang and Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy.

 

The girls, both 20, pleaded guilty to procuring schoolgirls for Xuong. They also had sex with Xuong.

 

Another four people were also charged with procuring, but not criminally indicted because they were underage, the court said.

 

The provincial police launched an investigation into the case after some parents reported that Xuong had forced their daughters to have sex with him in September, 2009

 

A trial that opened two months later sentenced Xuong to ten and half years in prison. Hang and Thuy received jail terms of six and five years respectively.

 

As the three defendants pleaded not guilty, an appeals court was convened in February last year when the two girls presented a list of 16 government officials that they had sex with.

 

This prompted the court to order a fresh investigation.

 

After studying the results of the new investigation, Ha Giang’s prosecutors decided not to charge any of the officials listed by the schoolgirls, including Nguyen Truong To, former chairman of the provincial People’s Committee.

 

However, To was dismissed and expelled from the Party in July last year after police discovered his nude photos saved in the phone of a sex worker in 2005.

118 year old woman lost 7 sons in freedom struggle 

Tran Thi Viet, 118, persevered after losing seven of eight sons to the war against foreign occupations.

She turns 119 in 2011, but Tran Thi Viet’s memores of events and people she has met over three centuries (19th, 20th and 21st) is still clear.

 

It is not just her age that makes Viet, named the oldest Vietnamese by the Vietnam Records Book Center this month, stand out.

 

The centurion with nearly 500 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is one of the country’s greatest Heroic Mothers, with seven of her children dying battling French and American occupations.

 

Viet, a native of the southern province of Long An, said she got married when she was 21 and gave birth to ten children, including eight sons.

 

As the mother herself was illiterate and their family was too poor to afford tuition fees, all of children received very little formal education.

 

But they were aware of what they wanted to do when seeing their fellow country men killed and their villages destroyed by foreign powers.

 

All of her sons joined the Vietnamese forces to fight against occupations, and seven of them sacrificed their lives for the country.

 

In 1953, her eldest son, 37-year-old Nguyen Van Lien, was killed, leaving three children behind.

 

Seven years later another son, Nguyen Van Tao, died on duty, and a year later, her husband died of injuries sustained after joining an attack against the French colonial forces.

 

And in 1962 and 1963, Viet lost two more sons – Nguyen Van Kien and Nguyen Van Tri – to the foreign occupation.

 

In 1968, her youngest brother Nguyen Van Dau died in a campaign against the US forces.

 

On the same day in 1973, two more sons died in battle.

 

Losing seven sons to the war, including two whose bodies have never been found, didn’t stop the heartbroken mother from going on living, supporting her grandchildren and daughters-in-law who’d lost their husbands.

 

She went fishing and did all kinds of work to earn a living.

 

Now Viet lives with one of her grandsons and his wife in Long An’s Ca Gua hamlet.

 

Sometimes culture researchers come to listen to her singing southern lullaby songs which, according to them, can’t be found anywhere in books.

 

While it is a great happiness to have so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Viet’s grief has never faded away, even after so many years.

 

Nguyen Thi Nguyen, her granddaughter, said: “Many times I’ve seen grandmother lie in the hammock in tears. When I ask if she is okay, she would be silent for a moment, then say: ‘I miss your father and your uncles’.”

 

Strategic plan aims at sustainable development: Vietnam PM 

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

The government’s key priorities this year are to stabilize the macro-economy, curb inflation, restructure the economy, and improve social welfare to maintain sustainable growth, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said.

“Rising inflation, increasing bank interest rates, and the fluctuating exchange rates have created pressure in stabilizing macro-economy, and difficulties in production. This threatens sustainable development,” Dung said in a statement on the national Strategic Socio-economic Development Plan 2011-2020.

According to government statistics, Vietnam grew by 6.78 percent in 2010 but inflation touched 11.75 percent in the period.

Dung said that the 2001-2010 Strategic Development Plan has created an "impulsive force" for the next ten-year-plan. Apart from the Enterprise Law being passed, the government has facilitated growth of the private sector, attracted foreign investment, enforced administrative reform, and developed better relations with other countries by joining the WTO.

“During 2001-2010, we overcame many challenges and dealt with fluctuations in the world economy to achieve significant growth,” he said.

Sustainable growth is the predominant theme in the 2011-2020 development plan, PM Dung said.

Dung said the next ten-year strategy faces new challenges of a world in flux, impact of globalization, pressure to become a green economy, and keeping up with scientific and technological advances. He added that emerging economies around the world are quickly changing the world’s socioeconomic landscape.

In his statement, Dung said that Vietnam’s development plan for 2011 will focus on restructuring the economy, and supporting industries including tourism, transportation, logistics and seaport services. Agriculture remains an important sector that will attract investment in infrastructure and biotechnology, he said.

The 2011 plan also aims at favoring investors in production and trading with the government simplifying related procedures and regulations, offering better access to loans and promoting trade.

In social terms, the government targets to reduce the number of households living under poverty line by two percent in 2011, improving insurance services, healthcare and education.

On December 31, Deputy PM Nguyen Sinh Hung announced the poverty line will be raised to monthly incomes of VND500,000 in urban areas and VND400,000 in other areas. Earlier, the thresholds were set at VND260,000 and VND200,000, respectively.

“[The plan] requires a careful balance of economic and sociocultural development, to ensure an advanced and equitable society, without sacrificing our environment,” he said.

The ten-year plan set a general target of turning Vietnam into a modern, industrialized country by 2020 with a socialist-oriented market economy, environmental and administrative reforms, a skilled labor pool, technological developments, and infrastructure improvement in major cities.

Give the woman her due 

 

 From left: Nguyen Thi Hong, vice chairwoman of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee (2nd), Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, head of the Propaganda and Education Department at the city Party unit (3rd), Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, vice secretary of the city Party unit (5th). Vietnam aims to raise the number of female government leaders by 2020.

Vietnam hopes to make significant headway toward achieving gender equality over the next decade with a new national plan to increase women’s representation in the government, academia and top echelons of business establishments.

A decision signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week to approve the national strategic plan on gender equality cites it as an “important component” of the country’s socio-economic development and one of the “basic elements” in raising the quality of life.

The plan aims to ensure equal opportunity, participation and benefits in all areas including politics, economy, culture and society.

It targets that by 2020, women account for more than 35 percent of members in the National Assembly and local legislative agencies; and that 95 percent of ministries and government agencies should have women in senior positions.

The plan also seeks to provide increased access to the labor market for poor women from rural areas and ethnic minority groups, and to have at least 40 percent of new jobs every year go to women.

The number of women in leading positions at business establishments is expected to exceed 35 percent, and at least 50 percent of rural women below 45 years old would receive vocational training in 2020.

By then, all women from poor rural areas and ethnic groups will be able to access loans at preferential interest rates.

No stereotyping

The plan aims to reduce the number of cultural and information products that contain gender stereotypes by 80 percent and to try and eliminate all gender stereotypes from school books by 2020.

All the radio and television stations will be required to broadcast programs that raise public awareness of gender equality.

The plan also mentions the goal of keeping the gender ratio at birth between boys and girls at no more than 115/100 in 2020.

It seeks to reduce the time women have to spend doing housework, provide more legal services as well as physical protection for victims of domestic violence.

The government will improve gender-related policies and laws including the Gender Equality Law, fixing aspects of current regulations that have disadvantaged women, and grant more scholarships exclusively for girls and women.

Gender equality issues will be included in the curricula at primary, secondary and high school levels, as well as in management courses for government personnel, the plan says.

It also aims to increase awareness among men about the importance of safe sex and equip them with information about of healthy pregnancies and related issues. Men will also be encouraged to participate in gender equality activities including joining “equal family clubs.”

RAMPANT VIOLENCE

According to a study jointly released in late November by the United Nations and the Vietnamese government, one in three Vietnamese women reported suffering physical or sexual violence from their husbands at some point in their lives.

Many women considered the violence “normal” and something they should tolerate to maintain family harmony. A sense of shame also motivated them to stay silent about abuse.

The study covered 4,838 women between 18 and 60 years old.

But headway is being made because of concerted efforts by the government, civil society, the United Nations and other agencies to end gender-based violence.

The UN report tells the story of a 29-year-old woman called Hoa in the northern province of Phu Tho whose alcoholic husband beat her regulary. Frightened, she had her parents talk to him.

After a brief lull, the violence began again, and got worse. Once he locked her up in the house for ten days, and when she was released, she ran away.

She sought help from the Women’s Union, who directed her to the district hospital where she received counseling under a pilot project funded by the UN and the Swiss Development Cooperation.

Hoa was later referred to a safe place, where she lived for six months with her daughter, received training in life skills, women’s health and ways to protect herself from violence.

“I have also learned about the Law on Domestic Violence and realized that there are mechanisms to protect victims of violence.” Hoa said she was not frightened anymore and that she would work to help other women in similar situations.

As part of the UN project, domestic violence prevention standing committees, consisting of staff from local People’s Committees, relevant mass organizations, health centers, the police and other agencies, meet regularly and monitor cases in the community to support survivors and make sure they can enjoy a life free of violence.

They are keeping a watch on Hoa who has since returned to her hometown where she plans to reopen the cosmetics shop she used to run when she was married – a shop that her husband destroyed after she divorced him.

Treasure Islands 

 

Japanese experts help residents understand each house in their village is part of a precious heritage


Yamaguchi Yoriko (L) and Inoue Aiko in the garden of an ancient house in Duong Lam Ancient Village.

They know the village like the back of their hand.

But the two young women leading a tour group in Duong Lam Village – through Mong Phu Gate, and along winding paths lined with laterite walls – are neither natives nor professional guides.

Dr. Inoue Aiko and Yamaguchi Yoriko are Japanese culture experts helping residents to restore and preserve their village. Several houses in the Duong Lam Village are more than three centuries old.

Aiko left her hometown in Tokyo to work with locals to preserve and promote relics among tourists. After three years of working with UNESCO in Bangkok, Aiko moved to Vietnam to put her knowledge and experience to good use.

A volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Aiko said, “Tourists coming to Duong Lam Village for the first time can easily get lost in the labyrinth of paths, but this is a unique charm of the village.”

Aiko, 31, a cultural heritage management specialist, stops at a 360-year-old house, which was the first to be retored in Duong Lam in 2008 with the help of JICA experts and the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Yamaguchi Yoriko, a native of Hokkaido, arrived in Duong Lam Village six months before Aiko.

Yoriko, 29, has studied the architecture of the northern Vietnamese countryside, in particular, that of Duong Lam Village. She tells the tour group that unlike other gates in the region, which were built with a mezzanine on the roof, Mong Phu Gate is merely a house with two low sloped roofs.

Together with Nguyen Van Hung, the home’s owner and 12th generation Nguyen Van clan member in Mong Phu Hamlet, Aiko narrates the history of the house and the village.

She explains how the five-room house, covering an area of 420 square meters, was built with wood, laterite and unbaked bricks made of soil and rice husk – keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer. The structure, one of 30 first-ranked ancient homes and 1,000 other relics in the area, was restored in three months.

After just nine months of staying in the village, about 60km from Hanoi, Aiko has learned to cook many local specialties. Her favorite local treats are Cao Lam tea, and banh te (rice cake filled with browned onions).

Like a member of the family, she helps Hung and his wife prepare lunch, including ga mia (a kind of special chicken presented to the king in the past), boiled water spinach dipped in soybean sauce and fresh tea for the visitors.

The Duong Lam Village has a history of about 1,200 years and is the only place in Vietnam where two kings, Phung Hung (761-802) and Ngo Quyen (808-944), were born. They led the resistance to victories over Chinese Sung and Southern Han troops to gain national independence.

According to the Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board, the village expects 30,000 visitors by 2020, despite a severe shortage of space. Aiko says the house owners should not receive too many visitors at the same time, and should pay attention to hygiene and sanitation to promote sustainable village tourism.

Yoriko, who travels on her bicycle everyday to visit different places in the village, says the village is a living museum.

A pagoda in front of Mong Phu Gate was Yoriko’s first preservative project. In just three months, Yoriko and her team disassembled the building, then selected undamaged tiles and wooden slats one by one. Then they redesigned the damaged ones and restored the building.

Nguyen Trong An, deputy head of Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board, said: “As a technical consultant and supervisor, Yoriko is very careful in selecting the preservation plan, and precise in every detail. She keeps a close watch on the progress of the project.

Apart from its historical and tourism value, the village is an important place for scientists to study communities practicing old agricultural traditions.

According to Ha Nguyen Huyen, owner of a house dating back to 1848, “We are eternally grateful to the Japanese experts. Not only did they help us preserve our homes, but also helped us look outside, then back at ourselves. Without them, the locals might have not appreciated the true value of our own treasures.”

Vietnam competes at Asian Chinese chess championship 2010 

 

Six Vietnamese players have headed to Malaysia to compete at the 16th edition of the Asian Chinese Chess Championship from November 28 till December 3.

The Vietnamese players will participate in the men’s team, women’s individual and men’s under-18 individuals.

Nguyen Thanh Bao, Lai Ly Huynh, Trenh A Sang, Nguyen Hoang Lam, Nguyen Hoang Yen and Bui Thang Long are all competing for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In the 15th edition of the contest in 2008, Vietnamese players finished second in the three events they participated in.