Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Questing for gear in hopping Ho Chi Minh City

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam--Last December, I visited Ho Chi Minh City and discovered that while Wi-Fi was ubiquitous and the Internet was fast, it was incredibly hard to get across town.

Seven months later, the traffic here is still terrible. This time, however, I found that if you are in the right place, dealing with traffic isn't necessary at all.

The right place is District 1. Other than being the center of tourism with lots of hotels, famous landmarks, restaurants, and bars, D1 is also the site where you can get pretty much anything you need, especially when it comes to technology and digital entertainment. And it's all within a short walking distance.

I actually heard about this area during my last trip here. Jasper Waale, owner of Skeye, a GPS- and GSM-based tracking company operating in Vietnam and Laos--and an avid listener of the Inside CNET Labs podcast--insisted I check it out. I took a rain check till now.

We met at Cafe Centro, a trendy yet casual coffeehouse located in the middle of D1's most bustling section. According to Jasper, this is a popular place for ex-pats to hang out for both fun and business. It offers reasonably priced refreshments and, of course, free Wi-Fi.

(By the way, there are lots of cafes in Ho Chi Minh City, and pretty much all of them offer free Wi-Fi. My other favorite is Cafe Da on Alexandre De Rhodes Street. Also in D1: the best ice milk coffee and smoothies I've ever had. If you go there, make sure you try the "Dong Tim" fruit shake. It's so good, it has my name on it!)

"You'll find me at Centro at least a couple of times a week," Jasper said. Then, in a slightly show-offy manner, he pulled out his brand-new-looking Nikon D300 camera.

"I just got a good deal on this one. I traded in my D80 and got about 80 percent of new value to put toward this new one. You'll have to come see this place," he said.

I was intrigued, partially because next to his D300, my 4-year-old D80 looked somewhat pathetic. I've considered upgrading my camera for a while, but anticipating the whole hassle of selling my D80 on eBay or Craigslist has stopped me.

He then took me to Thuong Xa Tax, a mini shopping mall that's just a five-minute walk from the cafe. "Mini" here, by the way, is according to American standards; this is actually one of the bigger trading centers here in Vietnam, and it is indeed very large.

As in most shopping malls here, you can find pretty much everything, but we walked straight to the Vinh Hung Camera shop. The owner, Hung, a friendly 40-something man, greeted Jasper like an old friend. He then took a quick look at my D80 and said, "I'll give you $600 for this one, body and lens." Now that's a very good deal, as mine is rather scratched up and dirty since I regularly carry it around in open air. It also comes with a low-end non-VR Nikkor DX 18-135mm lens. On eBay, the best I could get is probably $500 (minus all the fees).

Asked how he could evaluate the camera so quickly and what would happen if it turned out to be bad later, Hung said he generally only needs a minute with a camera to know how much it's worth. "I've been doing this so long. I can tell if there's something wrong with the body via the shutter sound," he said. "The lens, I can just see."

Hung also revealed that his business was going well because digital SLRs are getting more popular and that so far he has been able to fulfill all customer requests, whether for new purchases or exchanges. "We have a good connection, so the most you have to wait for a rare model is just a few days," he said.

I wouldn't have to wait at all since he had a brand new D300 in stock, reasonably priced at almost $1,500. What I didn't have was $900 in cash. The shop accepts Visa, but I would have to pay another 3 percent. That, plus the incredible fees Bank of America charges me for using the card abroad, would end up making it not such a good deal. So I decided to let Jasper stick with the lead in the camera competition, and he seemed very happy about it.

On the way out of the Tax mall, we stumbled upon an interesting shop selling bootleg movies. Now this is nothing new to me. However, unlike the modest-looking bootleg stores in Hanoi, this one is quite upscale. First, it takes a good amount of money to have a booth in this shopping mall, and second, the shop employs uniformed women to tend to your every movie need.

The shop has virtually any movie title you can think of, including those still out in theaters and not yet released on disc. They come in stacks organized by genres. I spotted a DVD of "Angels and Demons," which I didn't have time to see in a theater before the trip. And, no, I didn't buy it.

Cuc, one of the women in uniform, told me her job is selling and she has no idea about the legality or illegality of these movies. "All I know they are 15,000 dong (about 90 cents) per DVD and 40,000 dong (about $2.25) per Blu-ray. Anything else you will need to talk to my manager," she smiled. She wasn't so happy when I wanted to take her photo, though.

"These movies' quality really sucks, even the supposedly high-def ones," Jasper said. "If you want true high-def movies, you have to come with me here."

We got out of Tax and after a 10-minute walk, we arrived at Paster Street. This street runs from D1 to District 3 (Quan 3). However, the D1 part is where it's at. There are a lot of electronics and computer stores--the two Jasper wanted to show me are Minigame and Halo.

These two stores focus on console games and offer virtually any title. Most of these games, of course, are not original copies but bootleg versions. To play these games, the consoles themselves need to be hacked, and the shop takes care of that too.

Jasper said he once mistakenly upgraded his Wii's firmware and re-locked his console. He brought it back to Halo, and 400,000 dong later, his Wii was unlocked again. The process involved removing and reordering a memory chip. It's much like the work on the iPhone 3G that I mentioned last year.

The most popular service these two stores offer is games on thumbdrives. The shop will modify a console to make it accept game stored on portable USB drives. After that, you can just bring your thumbdrive over and buy a game for the common price of 10,000 dong (56 cents) per game, regardless of how big (in megabytes) the game is. So now, instead of having to store DVDs or game cartridges, you just have to have a big external hard drive.

Apart from games, true high-def movies in Matroska format (also known as MKV) are also on sale here for the same price: 10,000 dong per movie. You will need a computer to play these movies--or a portable media player such as the WD TV.

Though not a console gamer, I felt excited about what you can get here and how much you can get it for. Legalities aside, in a way, these stores offer much better service than GameStop or any other retailer or repair store I've run into in the U.S.

After a couple of hours hanging out with Jasper, my perspective on Ho Chi Minh City completely changed. Traumatized by its traffic, I used to compare this city of some 12 million people to Los Angeles. Now, it seems somewhat like Manhattan, where you can get virtually anywhere on foot.

What I found most interesting, however, are those people like Denmark-native Jasper--foreigners who weren't born in Vietnam and don't speak the local language very well, if at all, yet who can relate to the place better than a lot of Vietnamese including myself.

Jasper made up his mind about the place long ago. "You are not allowed to have a dull moment here," he said. "If you are bored, it's your fault. This is the most exciting place in the world."

Vietnamese American returns to homeland to help disabled

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Some wounds never heal.

At age 15 in 1968, Do Van Du lost a leg and part of an arm while serving as a combat interpreter for the U.S. Special Forces near the Cambodian border. He moved to the United States in 1971 and became a successful software engineer and systems analyst. Then, seven years ago, Du returned to his homeland to help found a college-level program run by Catholic Relief Services to train disabled young people to be software engineers and tech workers — a first for Vietnam.

"People with disabilities don't have a voice in Vietnam," said the veteran, whose fashionable black slacks and sports coat fail to disguise a perpetual sadness in his eyes.

You are basically thrown away. You are not 'normal.' You can't work. You are a leech on society," the former Bay Area resident said before walking with a slight limp into a classroom full of eager students on crutches and in wheelchairs. "In Asia, because of the belief in reincarnation, people think you have done something in a prior life and now you are paying for it."

Grim evidence of the harsh treatment of Vietnam's disabled citizens is easy to find among the students in Du's program.

Duong Anh My was peppered by rocks because his leg was deformed.

When Ha Mau Xuyen applied for work at a telecom company, her field of study, she knew as soon as human resources representatives saw her crippled leg the job interview had effectively
ended. "I knew by their look they rejected me," said the 27-year-old polio victim.

Tay Duong Thi Ngoc Hoa is confined to a wheelchair in a country in which access to buildings, buses and schools for the disabled is rarely provided. "I had nothing to hope for," the 25-year-old said, her thin legs dangling from her wheelchair.

An estimated 5.6 million people of Vietnam's 90 million citizens are disabled, according to the government, though the World Health Organization places that figure at nearly 9 million. Vietnam has its own version of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but enforcement is rare. "There is no penal code to punish those who violate it," Du said.

For a small number of disabled young people enrolled in the tech training programs Du founded in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, that is changing.

"IT allows them to connect to the outside world in a way they haven't before," said Andrew Wells-Dang, deputy country director for Catholic Relief Services. "It also demonstrates that people with disabilities can do all kinds of jobs, including high-tech ones."

In all, 175 students have received tech training over the past two years, including 75 as software engineers who earn international software engineering certificates. The others get six months' training in business process outsourcing — which includes image processing, data entry and general office IT work that companies outsource to countries like Vietnam.

Du's Information Technology Training Center, which receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, just expanded to Ho Chi Minh City, where more than 50 students are now attending daily classes at Van Lang University. They have been provided with brand-new PCs. Subsidized housing is available to those who need it. The program, which has a budget of about $200,000 a year, is free to the students.

"Some of these people had never touched a mouse before," said Du, who has also started a for-profit company, Hanoi-based PWD Soft, which employees engineers with disabilities.

Many in the program suffer from the continuing consequences from the war with the United States, even though the conflict ended more than 30 years ago. Some struggle with injuries from stepping on land mines. Others have ailments linked to Agent Orange, the highly toxic defoliant used by the U.S. military, said Van Lang University Chancellor Nguyen Dung. Some have been afflicted with illnesses, such as polio, that no longer threaten those in the West.

All too often, Vietnamese with disabilities are confined to home or work in low-skill jobs, such as making toothpicks or chopsticks. Some spend their lives begging.

"The IT industry is one of the few professional fields in Vietnam that are well-suited for people with disabilities," Chancellor Nguyen said. "They may have trouble getting around, but their minds are fine for IT."

The training, though, involves more than learning the intricacies of programming languages like C++ and Java. The students look after each other — pushing wheelchairs, carrying one another's crutches, helping to ease fellow students into a taxi. For some, it's the first time in their lives they feel accepted.

"It's not a class anymore. It's a family," said 30-year-old Nguyen Thi Xuan Thao, who is learning outsourcing tech skills.

Du said the program is modeled after one he attended in Seattle in 1987, dubbed Resources Center for the Handicapped. Sponsors included Boeing Computer Services, Microsoft and IBM. "There was probably nothing like that anywhere except in the U.S.," he recalled.

Du went on to enjoy a successful career as an engineer, pulling down a six-figure salary. He lived in Oakland during the late 1990s when he was an IT consultant for health-care services company McKesson in San Francisco.

Now 56, Du is a man haunted by the events that reshaped his life four decades ago. He was recruited to help the Americans because of his strong English-speaking abilities. "I was a kid," Du said. "The U.S. had child soldiers."

While on patrol one day in Loc Ninh, his unit found itself surrounded. The soldiers called in artillery support. The shells, though, landed on the Americans, killing a lieutenant.

"It blew up my left arm and right leg. It was very difficult for a kid at that age to go through that. I had three choices — kill myself, start begging, or not select one or two," Du grimly jokes.

Du, who moves stiffly and remains self-conscious of his artificial limbs after all these years, is a hero in the eyes of the students. He embodies all they hope for — independence.

"We've learned how to believe in ourselves," said Nguyen Thi Xuan Thao, whose left arm and leg were partially paralyzed after she contracted meningitis as a child.

"I have a heart and a mind just like everybody else," she said. "The only thing that is different about me is the way I walk."

Mercury News

Vietnam Growth Probably Accelerated in Second Quarter

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- Vietnam, the first country in Asia to release second-quarter growth numbers, will probably say its economic expansion accelerated in the period, foreshadowing likely recoveries in the rest of the region.

The economy grew 3.9 percent in the first half from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Planning & Investment. That implies second-quarter growth of 4.5 percent, from 3.1 percent in the first three months, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group. The General Statistics Office, which compiles official economic data, is expected to release gross domestic product figures this week.

Vietnam’s economy is benefiting from an increase in construction as a government loan subsidy program spur credit growth. Other economies in the region, including Japan and Singapore, are forecast to report better second-quarter figures as some $2.2 trillion in stimulus worldwide help stabilize overseas sales for companies from Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. to South Korea’s Kia Motors Corp.

“The worst has likely passed for Vietnam as well as the rest of the region,” said Paul Gruenwald, chief economist for Asia at ANZ in Singapore. “The focus now should be on assessing the strength of the recovery and how long it will take to return to potential growth. A full recovery requires a resumption of foreign demand.”

OECD Forecast

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on June 24 raised its forecast for its 30 member nations for the first time in two years as the global recession shows signs of abating. The International Monetary Fund last week boosted its outlook for Australia for this year and next.

Japan’s economy will expand at an annual 2.3 percent pace in the second quarter, according to a Bloomberg News survey, after contracting a record 14.2 percent in the first. South Korea’s finance ministry last week forecast GDP will increase almost 2 percent in the second quarter from the previous three months, when it expanded 0.1 percent.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index of the region’s stocks climbed 47 percent since March 9, when it fell to the lowest in more than five years, as the outlook for corporate earnings improved. Vietnam’s benchmark VN Index has gained 60 percent this quarter. It lost 2.6 percent today.

Worst Over

“Most countries have passed the depths of the crisis and those with strong domestic growth drivers will benefit more and recover faster,” said Alvin Liew, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. “The economy is well supported by pro-growth government policies.”

Vietnam, Indonesia, China and India, where growth remained positive amid the global slowdown, are examples of economies that have shown more resilience than other export-dependent nations because of domestic consumption, Liew said.

“The pickup in growth in the second quarter in Vietnam was domestic based” helped by the fuels, transport and garment industries, said Gruenwald of ANZ. “Output from the state sector seems to be growing faster than the rest of the economy as well. GDP growth should rise during the rest of 2009 as the fiscal stimulus plan continues.”

Vietnam’s government is aiming for 5 percent growth this year, down from a previous target of 6.5 percent. The economy grew 6.2 percent last year, the least since 1999.

Slowest Growth

Growth in the first quarter was the slowest pace on record as overseas companies trimmed investment plans and manufacturing weakened amid the worst global recession since the Great Depression. Pledges of foreign investment into Vietnam and planned capital increases for existing projects fell 77 percent in the first half from a year earlier.

Fitch Ratings downgraded Vietnam’s long-term, local- currency credit rating today by one grade to BB-, citing a “steady deterioration” in the country’s finances. The nation relies too much on oil-related revenue and an economic recovery won’t stop the fiscal deficit from ballooning, Fitch said.

The State Bank of Vietnam said yesterday it will keep interest rates unchanged this year to support economic growth. It is also focused on keeping consumer price gains under control after the National Assembly this month set an inflation ceiling of 10 percent for 2009.

Credit Suisse Group AG last week raised its growth forecast for Vietnam, predicting the economy will expand 4 percent this year, from an earlier estimate of 2 percent.

“Poor foreign direct investment and exports will weigh on fixed investment this year, but we are revising up our 2009 GDP forecast on signs of early global demand stabilization,” said Joseph Lau, a Hong Kong-based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG. Last quarter, the economy “probably hit its low point, but growth recovery will likely be relatively moderate.”

Nissan to start Vietnam production, sales by 2010

HANOI, June 30 (Reuters) - Nissan Vietnam Co Ltd, part-owned by Japan's Nissan Motor Co (7201.T), said on Tuesday it would start production in Vietnam and market the first locally assembled vehicle by 2010.

"Vietnam is a strategic market for Nissan with tremendous opportunities," Shinya Hannya, Nissan's corporate vice president for Asian markets, said in a statement without giving production details.

The Southeast Asian country's economy is forecast to grow 4.5 percent this year, compared with just 0.7 percent for the whole of Southeast Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Nissan cars will be assembled at a domestic automobile firm, Vietnam Motor Corporation, and distributed by Nissan Vietnam, a venture established in December 2008 by the Japanese car maker and Denmark's Kjaer Group A/S, the statement said.

January-May sales by the 16 car makers operating in Vietnam fell 35 percent from the same period last year to 58,860 units, industry reports said.

Dealers say demand could slow significantly in the rest of 2009 as consumers put off big-ticket purchases such as cars and houses.

Last year, car sales rose 37 percent to a record 110,186 units.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Laptop gets (overly) warm welcome in Hanoi

Editor's note: CNET editor and Crave contributor Dong Ngo is spending several weeks in his homeland of Vietnam and will file occasional dispatches chronicling his adventures. To read stories from Dong's last visit, in December, click here.

HANOI, Vietnam--A word of advice for travelers: turn off your laptop when you leave the room.

This isn't the first time I've been back to Vietnam, but it's the first time since I left the country some 10 years ago that I've come back during summer. It's really hot in Hanoi during the day, often 100 degrees or more. And as it has always been the case with me when traveling, stuff happens.

After about 48 hours of traveling and coming to terms with the jetlag, I turned my laptop on for the first time. There were so many things to download: new episodes of podcasts, RSS feeds of different news sources, videos--and of course the 3.0 firmware for the iPhone.

As the Wi-Fi I got hooked up to was running at just around 60Kbps, these essential updates of my digital life (though most of them I can't find time to enjoy) would require hours to download. Like usual, I had a huge urge to download all of the data right away and decided to leave the computer running and go out for a jog. After all, it was almost midday and sunny outside.

I started the downloads, opened a pack of Orbit gum, took a piece, and left the rest on my new loaded Dell XPS M1530 (for this trip, I upgraded from the smaller XPS M1330, mostly because my eyes are worse now). Before leaving the room, being a good citizen of the world, I turned off the air conditioning.

The moment I opened the door of the room, a wave of stifling heat engulfed me. Outside, the sky was high and pure, and it was so sunny I felt I could hear how bright it was. Or maybe it was the sound of my sweat starting to ooze out.

Unlike the dry and lovely San Francisco Bay Area or somewhat humid New York City, it's so humid in Hanoi that once outside there's no way you can escape the heat during hot days. It's hot when it's calm, and it's hot when it's windy, and fans won't do anything. The breeze actually helps the heat traverse to every corner. Once in a while a quick and so-heavy-that-you-can't-see-anything downpour comes, only to accentuate the heat when the sky is clear again.

For a lot of local people, there's no way to stay away from the heat, as air conditioners are still considered a luxurious commodity that most can't afford. (Plus, they have survived many years without one.) The water in outdoor swimming pools gets so hot that by midday you can't swim in them. During some extremely hot days, you'll even find people staying inside air-conditioned ATM booths to enjoy some free cooling.

After just about a few minutes of jogging, my glasses started to get blurred by steam and sweat and I had to take them off. Four miles later, I looked and felt like I had never worked out so hard before: my T-shirt and baseball cap were completely soaked with sweat and my forehead was dripping.

As I slowly walked back, I stopped by a familiar beer stand to enjoy a few well-deserved glasses of "Bia Hoi," under a common makeshift cooling system: a net of copper pipes that spray water mist in the air. Bia Hoi is a kind of light draft beer that the Hanoi Brewery never produces enough of during summertime. It made all of my sweating and sun-hating activities worthwhile.

A couple of hours later, I returned to my room imagining a cool shower and getting my stuff synced to my iPhone. Instead, I was greeted with a sight of horror: the computer displayed a Blue Screen of Death and I heard the CPU fan roaring to life. The worst of all, the sweet mint chewing gum had melted into some mushy and sticky substance that spilled all over part of the keyboard and completely covered the biometric reader. Some even dripped onto the bedsheet. The laptop was so hot that I couldn't touch it for more than a few seconds.

I immediately turned the thing off and wondered what would have happened if I came back an hour later and especially why the machine just didn't turn off by itself before it was hot enough to melt the gum. In most of my previous over heat experiences, the computer would just shut down.

All freaked out, I brought the machine to the repair shop I relied on during my last trip. Duy, the same man I talked to seven months ago, told me he has received quite a few calls about computer overheating since summer started. "I can't even play online games at home anymore, my computer would just poop out after 15 minutes or so," he said. He did tell me, however, that my accident was very "special" and that it was a big waste of gum.

(People in Hanoi are big fans of Orbit gum, by the way. Each trip here, I bring along a plentiful supply, mostly to give away. This time I picked up a $300 batch from Costco. That's a lot of gum.)

The sticky mess turned out to be not that difficult to clean. After leaving the laptop inside a fridge for about five minutes, the gum congealed and could be removed fairly easily, though the job was time-consuming. After about an hour, my computer was back to its previous gum-free state. Unfortunately, out of panic, I forgot to bring my camera along this time around.

Duy didn't charge me for the job, but gladly took a brand new (and unmelted) pack of gum that I offered. "You wrote about me and my shop last time. My girlfriend saw the article online and was very happy... Thank you very much! And welcome to Hanoi!"

That was indeed a warm welcome. Now I just have to download my digital fix again. Or maybe I should just skip that and leave time for some real-life interactions.


Vietnam's inflation eases to 3.9 percent

HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnam's inflation rate eased to 3.9 percent in June, thanks to falling transportation and telecommunication costs, the government said Wednesday.

That's a sharp decline from recent months, when inflation was 9.3 percent in April and 11.3 percent in March. Last year, the country's inflation rate soared to nearly 23 percent, the highest since 1991.

Transportation prices fell 4.2 percent, while telecommunication costs fell 10.9 percent from the same period a year ago.

However, prices still rose this month for food, medicine, beverages, home appliances and garments and textiles, said the government, which issued the data ahead of the month's end based on estimates.

Overall, food prices were 3.4 percent higher compared to last year, while beverage and textile prices both rose nearly 10 percent. Prices for medicine increased by 7 percent, it said.

In April, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung predicted that the inflation rate would fall to 6 percent in 2009.

The government also lowered its growth rate target to 5 percent from 6.5 percent. The economy expanded 6.2 percent last year, the lowest level in nearly a decade and down from 8.5 percent in 2007.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

Italy's Piaggio starts to make Vespas in Vietnam

HANOI, June 25 (Reuters) - Italian scooter maker Piaggio SpA (PIA.MI) has begun production at its first plant in Vietnam, making inroads into one of the world's largest scooter markets.

Piaggio plans to sell up to 50,000 Vespas a year from its $30 million factory in the northern province of Vinh Phuc, near the capital Hanoi, the Vietnamese government said in a report.

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai said Piaggio should use Vietnam as a production hub for the Asian market.

The scooter maker said it planned to sell its signature Vespa LX 125 at $3,450 in Vietnam, nearly triple the price of the Japanese Honda Dream, the country's most popular two-wheeler, but about 70 percent of the cost of made-in-Italy LX 125s already widely sold in Vietnam.

Motorcycles are still the dominant means of transport in the Southeast Asian country of 86 million people.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has forecast the number of motorcycles would rise to 35 million by 2015 from 25 million now.

Total motorcycle sales in 2007 were 2.5 million units, more than 1 million of which were from Honda Motor Co (7267.T), according to data from motorcycle association VABOMA. The total was up from 2.2 million in 2006. Data for 2008 was not available.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Barbecues and baking: relief of Vietnam's Net addicts

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — By 10:00 pm Phan Le Hong Duc still had not come home. His worried mother, Le Thi Hoang, knew her teenage son was playing computer games somewhere, so she set out to find him by renting a motorcycle taxi and knocking on the doors of neighbourhood Internet cafes.

"They all said that there were no children inside but actually I knew there were, because from the outside I could hear the sounds of them playing games," Hoang, 54, recalled.

At 5:00 am, his gaming finished for the night, Duc finally came home.

He was addicted.

His late nights at the keyboard had taken the place of evening classes at school, which he was skipping.

His mother felt he needed help, and she found it at Vietnam's first treatment programme for online game addicts.

Most people in Vietnam remain farmers but against this traditional background is a rapidly modernising nation confronting 21st century problems including computer game addiction.

The government says about one quarter of the 86 million people in Vietnam already have Internet access.

Asia's Internet gaming craze hit the country only about four years ago, but now online game shops can be seen even in rural villages, and the number of gamers is expected to rise.

Late last year a report by US-based Pearl Research, a consultancy specialising in games and interactive entertainment, forecast that Vietnam's online gamers will exceed 10 million by 2011.

"I don't know whether I can call myself an addict of online games," said Nguyen Nam Cuong, 15, playing in a Hanoi Internet shop during his school holidays.

Almost all of the 30 computers were occupied by youngsters engrossed in fighting or football games, the only noise coming from their keyboards.

Cuong said he plays one or two hours on school days and about double that during the holidays.
"I enjoy it. Here, I think I can live a more interesting life than my actual life," says Cuong.

Nguyen Thanh Nhan, director of the centre that runs what he called the country's first cyber addict treatment programme, did not know how many game-players need help.

"I can only say that the figure is very big," he said, noting that "thousands" of people called to ask about the course run by the Communist Youth Union, which also offers other educational programmes for young people.

"Online game addiction is something like drug addiction," says Nhan, 35, director of the Union's Southern Youth Centre.

Duc, 15, admits that he was addicted.

"When I first started, I played from around five to six hours a day and the time played just increased day by day. Sometimes the longest I played was 10 hours overnight," he said in an interview arranged by the Youth Union.

He said he favoured a game in which teams of four or five players fight each other. With 20,000 dong (1.11 US) in daily breakfast allowance from his mother, Duc said he had enough money to play for at least five hours at Internet cafes.

"No, I did not eat anything," he said.

Betting on the games also helped to fund his addiction.

"Mostly, our team won," said Duc, who failed grade eight because of his gaming.

Duc's symptoms were "not that serious" compared with others who stole, quit school or turned to violence because of their habit, Nhan said.

Duc's mother, a professor at a teachers' college, said her son eventually realised he had a problem. Unlike others, he did not have to be pushed into treatment, she said, adding the 16-day course was worth the fee of about 3.5 million dong.

"We are ready to pay to take back our children," she said.

Duc was one of 20 teenagers in the first course, run on weekends, last November.

Nhan said the organisers studied successful programmes from China and South Korea but came up with their own method which incorporates a type of group therapy, "so they can share with each other about their feelings."

The course also aims to re-establish bonds between the addicts and their families through simple activities like baking a cake or having a barbecue, he said.

"They told us about what are the precious things in life," said Duc.

A second course, which ended in early June, treated about twice as many addicts and incorporated physical training because many game players are very weak, Nhan said.

Five psychologists were among the more than 30 staff treating the addicts on Duc's course, he said.

Among their goals was to expose the youngsters to new activities and ways of expressing themselves.

"Suddenly, they discover that they like football or they like hip hop dancing," Nhan said.

About 90 percent of participants give up online gaming, and those who continue to play are more respectful of their families, he said.

While the government has, in years past, tried to control excessive computer gaming with regulations, Nhan said such efforts will not work.

"We must change the awareness, the behaviour of the children themselves," he said.

The bespectacled Duc says he now dreams of being a pop singer. He already looks the part, with a hairstyle reminiscent of a Japanese manga comic character, a black and white shirt, and a dragon pattern on his trouser leg.

The treatment programme sparked his interest in hip hop, he says, and insists on demonstrating his skills even though there is no music.

Duc twists his body, arms moving slowly, feet sliding. Then he falls to the floor, gets up, and puts his stylised baseball cap on sideways -- a dance of success.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Vietnam cuts list of death penalty crimes: official

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam on Friday removed rape and several other offences from the list of crimes punishable by death, an official said, but deputies maintained capital punishment for drug trafficking.

"This morning, the national assembly approved some amendments to the criminal code," an official from the National Assembly office told AFP.

He said that, in addition to rape, deputies voted to remove six other offences from the list: awarding of bribes, counterfeiting of money and bonds, hijacking ships and planes, destruction of weapons and military equipment, and appropriation of property through swindling.

Seventy-five percent of deputies in the communist-dominated National Assembly endorsed the amendments to the penal code, which take effect January 1 next year, state media reported.

The amendments were controversial, with lively debate particularly about rape and drug trafficking, according to local media reports of the proceedings, which were closed to foreign reporters.
A draft amendment presented to the deputies had proposed removing eight crimes from the list, including drug trafficking, but as their month-long sitting closed on Friday deputies rejected the move.

Global human rights group Amnesty International said it "very much" welcomed the reduction in the number of capital offences.

"And we hope that this is the first concrete step in a move towards abolition, which the highest levels of the Vietnam government have indicated support for," and which is a worldwide trend, Amnesty's Janice Beanland said from London.

She said Amnesty was disappointed that drug offences were excluded from the changes, despite a recommendation from Vietnam's Ministry of Justice, but was encouraged by the National Assembly's debate of the issue.

More than 90 percent of National Assembly deputies are Communist Party members but the parliament has in recent years become more vocal over the country's major problems.

"I think the National Assembly is doing a good job in not being seen as a rubber stamp... It's a start," an Asian diplomat said before the voting.

Vietnam last reduced the number of death penalty crimes in 1999, but even with the latest amendments the country still has 22 crimes on its statutes that are punishable by death.

Dozens of people each year in Vietnam are sentenced to die by firing squad, mostly for murder and drug trafficking.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Vietnam legislature lowers growth target

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnamese legislators agreed on Friday to lower the country's economic growth target to around five percent in the face of an economic slowdown, the government said.

Ninety percent of deputies in the communist-dominated assembly agreed to lower the target from 6.5 percent, as the government requested, it said.

Production, trade, investment, job creation and revenues have been hit by the slump, leaving most targets unattainable, the government said, quoting a resolution passed by the Assembly at the end of its month-long session Friday.

"Difficulties and challenges remain huge," it said.

When the legislature opened its sitting, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung said that because of the downturn state revenues have fallen while spending demands have risen.

The government said deputies approved a maximum budget overspending of seven percent of gross domestic product to allow for expenditure needs.

They also approved an exemption of all personal income tax for the first six months of the year, the government said.

Vietnam's economy grew by 6.18 percent last year, its lowest level in almost a decade, and Hanoi said first-quarter growth was 3.1 percent, the lowest on record.

But Vietnam was one of the few countries with positive growth in the first quarter of the year while the world's major economies battled recession.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Vietnam legislature lowers growth target

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnamese legislators agreed on Friday to lower the country's economic growth target to around five percent in the face of an economic slowdown, the government said.

Ninety percent of deputies in the communist-dominated assembly agreed to lower the target from 6.5 percent, as the government requested, it said.

Production, trade, investment, job creation and revenues have been hit by the slump, leaving most targets unattainable, the government said, quoting a resolution passed by the Assembly at the end of its month-long session Friday.

"Difficulties and challenges remain huge," it said.

When the legislature opened its sitting, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung said that because of the downturn state revenues have fallen while spending demands have risen.

The government said deputies approved a maximum budget overspending of seven percent of gross domestic product to allow for expenditure needs.

They also approved an exemption of all personal income tax for the first six months of the year, the government said.

Vietnam's economy grew by 6.18 percent last year, its lowest level in almost a decade, and Hanoi said first-quarter growth was 3.1 percent, the lowest on record.

But Vietnam was one of the few countries with positive growth in the first quarter of the year while the world's major economies battled recession.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Vietnam: Where the schools have no loos

HANOI, 17 June 2009 (IRIN) - For Nguyen Cong Tuan, 10, a primary school student in Hanoi, using the toilets at school was a frightening experience.

The filth and stench made him afraid to go near them. So Tuan would wait until he got home; his mother rightly worried that he could develop urinary tract problems.

Yet Tuan could be considered one of the lucky ones - many schools in Vietnam, even in the capital, Hanoi, lack any toilets at all.

The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) recently surveyed sanitation facilities in 11,200 schools across the country.

"About 30 percent of inspected schools had no toilets or inadequate toilets," says La Quy Don, deputy head of the ministry's student affairs department.

A separate survey conducted in Hanoi found that of 1,400 schools nearly all failed to have enough sanitation facilities, says Nguyen Nhu Hoa, deputy head of the office for planning and finance in the city's education department.

Failed standards

Regulations require one toilet for every 100 students and one tap for every 60 students.

"There are few schools in Hanoi that meet these standards," says Hoa. "And many schools in the outlying districts have no toilets at all."

Tran Thu An, a sanitation programme officer with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), says the issue of toilet facilities rarely gets the consideration it deserves.

The UN, as part of its "child-friendly" schools campaign in Vietnam, has been trying to focus on proper sanitation facilities. In the past year, it has been working with MoET, helping to design and build better toilet facilities across the country.


Part of the problem is that there are so many pressing needs when it comes to education that sanitation is often the last thing considered.

At the moment, the government's priority is to replace all the makeshift shelters that serve as classrooms with concrete schools that can withstand monsoon winds and rains, says An. Yet when these new schools are built, toilets are not part of the plans.

The responsibility for building latrines lies in part with local authorities and communities, who often lack the funds or interest. So in the end, says An, toilets just do not get built. The result is that students are forced to use "the bushes surrounding the schools", she says. "It's hard to believe."

Tran Duy Tao, head of administration for the school infrastructure and equipment department at the education ministry, says it is not always a lack of money. Space is also an issue. In crowded, yet wealthier, urban areas, schools may have the funds but no room to build more toilets, he says. The rural authorities often have the land to build sanitation facilities but no money.

Health issues

The government is trying to tackle the problem, says Don, at MoET's student affairs department. In 2006, the government declared that all kindergartens and schools would have hygienic toilets and all children would have access to clean water by 2010.

But Don says at the current rate of construction, it is highly unlikely this goal will be met.

"This has a negative effect on students' health as well as their studying ability," says Don. "Students may try to hold it in due to their fear of dirty toilets. And where schools do not have toilets, students have to do it somewhere else and it causes environmental problems."

As for Tuan, he no longer has to wait until he gets home. Parents at the Hanoi elementary school were so upset over the dirty facilities and concerns for their children's health that a few months ago they decided to chip in and pay a monthly fee to have them cleaned.

For US50 cents a month per family, Tuan and his classmates are no longer afraid to go to the bathroom.


Vietnam insurer Bao Viet to list as market recovers

HANOI, June 17 (Reuters) - Vietnam's largest insurer, Bao Viet Holdings, will make its share debut next week and become the largest firm to list on the main bourse this year, a move set to boost investor sentiment after stocks slumped last year.

The listing of Bao Viet -- 10 percent owned by HSBC Plc (HSBA.L) -- on June 25 and share debuts by two major banks, Vietcombank and VietinBank, could also lure more foreign investors into the Southeast Asian country's rapidly recovering stock market.

"It's a very good time now to list Bao Viet and the banks, all dinosaur-sized shares, when the market is neither falling nor at its peak," said Nguyen Chi Trung, director of securities transactions at Rong Viet Securities, in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi-based Bao Viet said it has secured a licence to list 573 million shares on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange .VNI next Thursday, after it secured a listing licence on Tuesday.

Bao Viet did not say at what price its shares would start trading, but based on the 37,000 dong to 39,000 dong ($2.08-$2.19) its shares traded at on the domestic unregulated markets this week, the group is valued at around $1.25 billion.


In recent weeks, China also decided to resume listings after an eight-month hiatus, encouraged by the market rally that has pushed Morgan Stanley's index of Asian shares excluding Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS up by about a half since early March.

Vietnam shares have risen nearly 50 percent so far this year after declining 66 percent in 2008. The index closed up 0.11 percent at 472.47 points on Wednesday and has doubled from its February lows on investor optimism about a recovery in the economy, helped by government stimulus efforts.

The exchange last saw a major debut in November, when shares of PVFC PVF.HM, the $725-million financial arm of state oil monopoly Petrovietnam group, came aboard. The firm now valued at $1.28 billion is the market's biggest stock.

Le Chi Phuc, managing director of the Research and Investment Advisory unit at VNDirect Securities, said the listing of major financials will increase the size of the market, now at $15 billion.

"Foreign investors will be more interested in Vietnam's stock markets after the market capitalisation has been raised to a new level," Phuc said, adding that the listings will help kick the privatisation of state-owned firms which slowed this year.

Bao Viet shares, to be coded BVH, would be the start of a wave of financials making debut this month and next.

Vietcombank, the country's largest partly private bank by assets, is set to start trading on June 30. VietinBank, the fourth-largest lender, plans to list in July.

Bao Viet shares could take a cue from a rally in other financial shares this year, such as Saigon Securities SSI.HM which has seen its share price more than double in 2009.

Bao Viet said it made a gross profit of 314.2 billion dong ($17.65 million) in the first quarter of this year, making up 40 percent its annual projection for 2009.

Bao Viet Insurance Corp, the group subsidiary dealing with the insurance market, made a gross profit of nearly 200 billion dong last year. It had almost a one-third share of the domestic insurance market, making it the largest player, the Finance Ministry said.

Bao Viet group has forecast revenue would rise 15 percent a year during the 2008-2010 period and that annual profit growth would be 21-22 percent, reaching 1.52 trillion dong by 2010. ($1=17,794 dong)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

World Bank lends $202 million to boost Vietnam energy supply

HANOI (Reuters) - The World Bank said on Tuesday it had signed a $202 million concessional credit agreement with Vietnam to help increase the supply of electricity to the national grid from renewable energy sources.

The loan was made by the International Development Association, the World Bank's concessional lending arm. The funds would also be used to help the country cope with climate change, the bank said in a statement.

Vietnam's power demand will rise this year by 13 percent but capacity will expand more slowly, state-owned utility group Vietnam Electricity has forecast.

Vietnam Airlines, Philippines' Cebu Pacific order total of 21 jets in Airbus A320 family

LE BOURGET, France (AP) — Airbus announced two firm orders from Vietnam Airlines and Philippines low-cost airline Cebu Pacific worth $1.8 billion on Tuesday, giving the European airline a boost at the Paris Air Show, which is overshadowed by recession and a slumping industry.

Airbus said Vietnam Airlines has ordered 16 Airbus A321 single-aisle jets worth $1.4 billion and pledged to buy two more A350-XWB planes.

The airline made a deposit and signed a memorandum of understanding for the two A350 planes, which falls short of a firm sale and means Airbus does not count the order in its overall tally.

Airbus also said Cebu Pacific has made a firm order for five single-aisle A320s worth a total of $385 million at list prices.

If Vietnam Airlines firms up the order for the A350s, the deal for 23 jets would be worth $2.3 billion at list prices.

Airlines often negotiate substantial discounts to catalog prices, particularly in tough economic times.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Canal Plus eyes over 1 mln Vietnam subs in 3 yrs

PARIS, June 15 (Reuters) - French pay-TV group Canal Plus said on Monday it targeted over 1 million subscribers in Vietnam within three years, with the launch of a pay-TV channel by the end of this year, run jointly with state-run television VTV.

This first foray by Canal Plus outside of Europe and Africa is the result of negotiations which started in 2003, and is part of the Vivendi (VIV.PA) unit's strategy of pursuing regions with high potential, amid slowing subscriber growth in France.

"We have several other advanced projects, but not as symbolic as this one," Canal Plus head Bertrand Meheut said after a press conference on Monday.

Canal Plus Groupe will hold 49 percent of the joint company -- versus 51 percent for VCTV, a unit of VTV -- but will run operations via its Canal Overseas unit, with around 60 channels planned by the end of this year.

Meheut estimated that Canal Plus invested around $50 million, with the goal of breaking even after two years of operations.

Vietnam has 22 million households, of which 97 percent have at least one television, but less than 8 percent of these subscribe to a pay-TV channel, Canal Plus said.

Canal Plus has over two million subscribers and makes 20 percent of its total sales outside France. The group saw its total number of subscribers in France drift to 10.4 million at the end of March, compared to 10.6 million at the end of December, and is banking on "slight growth in 2009".

Vietnam Airlines planning to buy 18 Airbus jets

LE BOURGET, France (AFP) — Vietnam Airlines is planning to buy two long-haul Airbus A350 jets and 16 medium-haul A321s, the airline's chairman told AFP on Monday at the Paris Air Show.

The catalogue price for the jets is 1.9 billion dollars (1.4 billion euros).

"We are going to sign a memorandum of understanding this week during the air show," said Nguyen Sy Hung, chairman of Vietnam Airlines.

Also on Monday, the airline signed a contract with European aircraft maker ATR to buy two ATR 72-500 turbo-prop passenger planes for 41 million euros.

Vietnam Airlines is in the process of renewing its fleet and put in orders for 30 Airbus jets in 2007. The airline has a fleet of 50 planes and carries nine million passengers a year.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Legendary Lake In Vietnam Being Gently Cleaned For Giant Turtle

Researchers have started testing "SediTurtles," a device they say will defend a renowned Vietnamese turtle while at the same time clean the lake where it lives.

Experts debuted the sediment-consuming machines as part of a cleanup program on Hoan Kiem Lake, located at Vietnam's capital.

The Lake of the Returned Sword houses a mysterious turtle that symbolizes Vietnam's exertion for independence.

The children’s story of the 15th century rebel leader Le Loi says that he used a sword to fight off Chinese invaders. After Emperor Le Loi went boating on the lake one day, a turtle swam up, took his sword and swam to the bottom, safeguarding the weapon for the next time freedom needed a hero.

Sightings of the turtle are considered lucky, especially when they land on national events. The lake’s historical value therefore needs a special cleanup plan, and the teams of Vietnamese and German experts have plotted cleaning the turtle's home with smallest possible risk to it.

Leonhard Fechter, of Berlin's Herbst Umwelttechnik GmbH, knows that people worry about the turtle, so the SediTurtle was made with "soft" technology as not to hurt the animal.

"We are sure we won't touch the turtle," he said.

The device has a hose that floats on the water attached to a metal box. A dredging device, hidden below the surface, removes sediment from the bottom by sending it to a different machine that removes sludge from the water.

"That device is moving very slowly. That big turtle can easily escape," said Celia Hahn, the project manager at the Dresden University of Technology.

Over time, the sediment in the Hoan Kiem Lake has increased and the water level has declined, specifically in urban areas. The experts note that the lake is only five feet deep, but the majority is sludge created by industrial pollutants.

Draining the lake cannot be done because it would harm the water body's ecosystem, experts insist.

"The big turtle is living from crabs or small fish," Werner said, noting that sediment removal would occur slowly over time.

Christian Richter, from FUGRO-HGN GmbH, said his firm has already reviewed the lake's geology. They will map parts of the lake where sediment can be extracted without harming the lake.

"Even if they start immediately, they would need at least one or two years for the removal," Richter said.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Vietnam urges China to cancel fishing ban

Hanoi - Vietnam is urging China to cancel its fishing ban in parts of the South China Sea in effect until August 1, Vietnamese media reported Monday.

Vietnam government spokesman Le Dung said Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had called the Chinese embassy in Hanoi urging China to cease operations at sea which interfere with Vietnamese fishermen's trade.

'I think this response comes too late, but it is necessary to encourage Vietnamese fishermen to continue their work,' said Nguyen Viet Thang, chairman of the Vietnam Fisheries Society.

China officially imposed the ban on May 16 to prevent overfishing, but the area - a huge exclusive economic zone surrounding the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea - has long been at the centre of an international territorial dispute between Vietnam and China, as well as other countries in the region.

Last Thursday, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ho Xuan Son met with the Chinese ambassador to Vietnam, Sun Quoqiang, and told him that the fishing ban 'caused indignation among the public, bringing no benefit to bilateral relations.' He requested that the Chinese side stop all operations preventing Vietnamese fishermen fishing in marine areas under Vietnamese sovereignty.

Dan Tri newspaper reported Friday that a Vietnamese fishing boat was attacked by two unknown ships while fishing in the South China Sea. After hitting and damaging the fishing boat the two ships left.

Lao Dong newspaper reported on May 20 that a Vietnamese fishing vessel was hit intentionally by an unidentified ship near the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

After the attack, the boat sank and 26 fishermen had to use life buoys to survive. They were eventually saved by nearby fishing boats after having spent several hours in the sea.

The state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper last week reported that hundreds of Vietnamese fishing boats had docked at their ports for days due to worries about China's fishing ban.

'We are encouraging fishermen to continue fishing,' said Chu Tien Vinh, director of the Department for Aquatic Product Resources Protection. 'If they are attacked by foreign ships, they should immediately inform the authorities. The coast guard will protect them.'

Tensions over sovereignty in the South China Sea have risen since a May 13 deadline for countries to submit territorial claims to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Beijing rejected submissions by Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries as violating its own claims in the area.

Monsters and Critics

Ex-Brazil international Denilson fails to make Vietnam debut

HANOI, Vietnam — Denilson, once the world's most expensive footballer, failed to make his club debut in Vietnam amid speculation that he might be injured.

The ex-Brazil international signed last week to play for the mid-table Haiphong Cement Football Club in the topflight V-League. He had been expected to play top-ranked Danang on home turf on the weekend, but he was not even on the list of substitutes.

"Nearly 30,000 fans packed the Lach Tray stadium eager to see the Brazilian star make his debut," Ngo Duy Ho, deputy director of sports department of the northern port city, said by telephone. "They were hugely disappointed."

Haiphong lost 2-0 to Danang.

Ho quoted club officials as saying Denilson's health did not allow him to play until after June 15.

He declined to be specific about Denilson's health problem, and club officials were not available for comment.

Monday's Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper quoted an unnamed doctor at a local hospital where Denilson had his right knee and foot scanned as saying the Brazilian player had damaged a foot tendon and cartilage in his right knee.

The paper quoted the doctor as saying Denilson needs at least a month of rest before returning to training after surgery.

There are more than 100 foreign footballers contracted to Vietnamese clubs, but Denilson is easily the most famous.

He became the world's most expensive player when he moved from Sao Paolo to Spain's Real Betis in 1998.

Earlier this year, the 31-year-old forward, renowned for his flamboyant dribbling skills, had a tryout with the English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers after being released by Brazilian side Palmeiras but wasn't considered fit enough.

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Friday, 5 June 2009

NY Philharmonic to play "Platoon" theme in Vietnam

By John Ruwitch

HANOI (Reuters) - The New York Philharmonic Orchestra will play the haunting orchestral theme from Oliver Stone's Vietnam War film "Platoon" in Hanoi this October, and the reasons are purely artistic.

American composer Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" is part of the orchestra's program during its debut Vietnam performance, along with other classics by Beethoven and Mozart, music director-designate Alan Gilbert told reporters.

"We often try to play American music when we're on tour, and there are some limitations size-wise, as far as how big the stage is," he said during a preparatory visit to Hanoi this week, more than 34 years after the war ended.

Barber's solemn strings-only work requires a relatively small number of performers.

"Given all the various factors that we have to consider -- and there are many, believe me -- it seemed like a wonderful choice since it's such a beautiful piece, and for me one of the really great, great expressions of American music," Gilbert said.

The Hanoi Opera House is a tiny jewel of a venue, constructed by the French government of Indochina about 100 years ago, with about 600 seats.

The colonial Hanoi landmark was, in fact, one of the reasons the orchestra considered coming to Vietnam, according to Zarin Mehta, the Philharmonic's president and executive director.

"We said, look, Vietnam is a place where we know there's this wonderful opera house," he said. The Philharmonic made contact with Vietnamese diplomats in the United States, and an invitation came shortly afterward.


But the venue will also prove an acoustic challenge because of its sizable wings and cavernous spaces.

On Thursday, Gilbert, Mehta and others from the Philharmonic ventured inside the opera house for the first time to see what they would be working with.

With some cajoling, the staff cranked down from the rafters part of an old-looking set of movable panels, designed to direct the sound toward the audience, for the orchestra team to inspect.

Logistical challenges are not new for the Philharmonic. Hanoi will be the 460th city the orchestra will have entertained in its 167 years of performing.

Last year, it performed in Pyongyang. The ground-breaking concert was broadcast live and the visit was widely feted as a positive sign for U.S.-North Korea relations.

For many in the performing arts, funding is a challenge this year, with the global economic crisis forcing some cutbacks. But Mehta and Gilbert said money was not such a big problem for the New York Philharmonic.

"We have funding for the tour arranged before the economic crisis hit, but nobody's retrenching on it, and we're planning to tour the following year as well," Mehta said.

Gilbert, who begins his tenure as music director in September, added: "We are still able to play around the world, and act as a musical ambassador for the United States."

"Assuming everything goes as smoothly as it looks as if it will, then I see no reason why we shouldn't make it (Vietnam) a regular stop on our touring itinerary."

The orchestra is slated to perform Mozart's Symphony No. 41 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in Vietnam in addition to Barber, but Gilbert said there could be changes.

The Asian tour will also take the orchestra to Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo.

Denilson to make Vietnam debut Saturday

HANOI (AFP) — Former Brazilian international Denilson, who has joined a mid-table Vietnamese side, will make his local debut on Saturday, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Denilson, 31, signed Monday with Hai Phong Cement Football Club and is scheduled to play Saturday when his new team takes on top-ranked Danang City at home, Thanh Nein newspaper said.

Attempts to reach club officials for confirmation were unsuccessful.

Thanh Nein quoted Hai Phong coach Vuong Tien Dung as saying Denilson was still adjusting to northern Vietnam's hot weather. The coach said he might not let Denilson play the full 90 minutes.

The state-controlled Vietnam News said Denilson will take to the field in jersey number 99.

Do Dai Duong, executive director of Hai Phong Cement, said Denilson's contract does not allow the player's salary to be disclosed. But Thanh Nein quoted a source who put the figure at about 50,000 dollars a month.

A member of Brazil's 2002 World Cup winning team, Denilson joins Hai Phong for the second half of the professional V-League season.

African, European and Asian players have become common on Vietnamese football teams but a World Cup winner of Denilson's stature is a rarity.

"He is the most famous international footballer recruited until now by a Vietnamese football club," Duong said.

Denilson became the world's most expensive player when he moved to Spanish side Real Betis from Sao Paulo in 1998.

Hai Phong Cement (Xi Mang Hai Phong) are currently sixth of 14 teams in the V-League.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Vietnam to check Chinese goods for formaldehyde contamination Read more: "Vietnam to check Chinese goods for formaldehyde contamination

Hanoi - Vietnam will inspect toys and clothing produced in China's Guangdong province after Chinese media last week reported that many products contained unsafe levels of the chemical formaldehyde, Vietnamese media reported Tuesday.

The state-run newspaper An Ninh Thu Do (Capital Security) quoted Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Bui Xuan Khu as saying the ministry will ask agencies to check all imported toys and clothes from the province in southern China.

On May 28, authorities in Guangdong released a report that found almost 50 per cent of garments had failed to meet safety standards. Many of the garments contained unsafe levels of formaldehyde.

Thirty-two per cent of children's furniture was found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium.

The news, which was reported in Vietnam on International Children's Day (June 1), distressed some Vietnamese parents.

'I am very worried about these products, because it could affect my child's health,' said Tran Thu Nga, 26, the mother of a five-year-old boy.

Khu said the ministry would publicize the results of the inspection to reassure consumers.

Formaldehyde caused a health scare in Vietnam in 2000 when authorities discovered food producers were using the chemical as a preservative in a variety of rice noodles.

The government shut down restaurants that were serving tainted noodles and fined several noodle producers, but in 2007 inspectors found many producers were still using the chemical.

Formaldehyde is used in embalming and to preserve body parts for medical purposes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), low levels of formaldehyde exposure can cause skin and eye irritation and asthma attacks. Some authorities consider the chemical a carcinogen, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Monsters and Critics

Monday, 1 June 2009

US wartime bombs still killing in Vietnam

BAC GIANG (AFP) - At first, Dinh Thi Bac thought the blast came from a blown tyre as someone drove past her scrap metal shop.

She looked outside and saw the air thick with smoke, and when it cleared a little she saw all the blood.

One woman lay badly hurt, bleeding and riddled with metal pellets in a corner.

Another ran, wounded, towards the road and collapsed where motorcycles are now parked a few metres away, Bac recalls.

"I was told that she died just a few hundred metres from here, on the way to hospital," Bac said.

More than 35 years after American warplanes dropped their last bombs on this area of northern Vietnam, they have killed again.

Nguyen Thi Van, 39, died and her co-worker, Nguyen Thi Lien, 33, was badly wounded when a cluster bomblet which they unknowingly collected exploded, local officials said.

The bomblet was among beer cans and other scrap metal the collectors wanted to sell and were weighing on a small green scale outside the village junk shop run by Bac, 26, and her husband Pham Van Trung, the officials said.

This was the first time in 30 years that anyone had been killed by unexploded ordnance (UXO) in this area, commune police chief Tran Xuan Dan said.

In comparison, Quang Tri province and other parts of central Vietnam have a much bigger UXO problem.

Quang Tri recorded more than 2,600 fatalities from bombs and other ordnance between the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and December last year, according to Project Renew, which has spent years trying to protect Quang Tri residents from UXOs.

But Van's death in northern Bac Giang province, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Hanoi, emphasises the extent of the problem which all of Vietnam faces.

"I don't think there's any province in the country that is not affected to some extent by UXO contamination," says Chuck Searcy, country representative for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which sponsors Project Renew.

Cluster bombs explode in mid-air to randomly scatter hundreds of small bomblets, many of which fail to explode and can lie dormant for decades until someone disturbs them.

The bomblet that killed Van was filled with metal pellets that penetrated her brain, said Nguyen Nhu Thang, chairman of the local commune's People's Committee.

Many other pellets tore into her co-worker Lien's legs. Some hit her in the face. She declined to comment when AFP found her sitting on her bed eating lunch at a district military hospital.

Dinh Thi Ha, 28, was luckier.

"I didn't know that I was hit. I was calling people to bring the victims to hospital when I saw that I was bleeding, and then suddenly the baby just cried," she said at her tailor shop beside the scrap metal business run by her sister and brother-in-law.

A pellet hit Ha in the leg and then went into her baby, Le Quynh Anh, who is just a few months old.

"The doctor had some difficulty getting the pellet out," Anh's mother said, showing two pea-sized marks that look like bruises on either side of the child's lower back.

Other than those marks, baby Anh, wearing a cute yellow hat, appears happy and physically normal.

"She is a bit sensitive to big sounds now," her grandmother Ninh Thi Hien, 51, said after the family shows off the pellet which they keep in a child's plastic purse.

The tile roof in front of the shops has been repaired but still carries about 10 pea-sized holes from the pellets that shot through it.

Ha said she never imagined that, three decades after the war, she and her baby would be hurt in this way.

Searcy called them victims of a weapon with almost no legitimate military application.

"For a baby to be injured by this, that's unspeakable. That's an unspeakable crime against humanity," he said at his Hanoi office.

But it was probably only a matter of time before someone got hurt in this commune of red soil and rice paddies, where more than 9,000 people live.

"There are still quite a lot of cluster bombs in this area," Thang said, adding that the women who delivered the scrap had no idea of the danger it posed.

Area residents report bomb discoveries several times a year, officials said.

Large bombs will be dealt with by higher-level authorities but the commune itself can take care of cluster bomblets by burying them with two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of salt in a hole, Thang said.

"After one month, it will be OK," Thang said.

Searcy, who served in army intelligence, reacted with shock when told of the commune's solution.

"Salt will not corrode," he said, adding local authorities put themselves at risk by moving the bomblets.

The incident in Bac Giang reinforces the need for a nationwide awareness campaign about bomb safety, Searcy said.

As part of its work in Quang Tri, Project Renew conducts a comprehensive education programme that uses everything from billboards, posters, radio and television to art contests and cultural events.

There is a free hotline, and people are taught to report things that look dangerous, Searcy said.

"It's now becoming institutionalised. It's a community practice so the whole community is sort of involved in the effort, but that doesn't exist in a place like Bac Giang province. Net yet anyway."

While northern Vietnam was bombed only from the air, Quang Tri and other areas of then South Vietnam were hit by everything from airborne bombs to artillery and sea-based weapons, accounting for the higher concentration of UXOs there.

Bac Giang would not need a public education programme as extensive as Quang Tri's, but some public awareness along with training for local officials might help keep people out of danger, Searcy said.

"One of the things that I hope can be implemented in Vietnam very soon, maybe this year, would be a national awareness programme about safety, even in areas such as Bac Giang where there are very few" incidents, he said.

Searcy is optimistic because of the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions which prohibits their use, production, transfer and stockpiling. The treaty entitles signatories to financial and other assistance for destroying the bombs and making local residents aware of their danger.

"We hold that the anti-cluster bomb treaty needs widespread participation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said. "At present, Vietnam is considering participation in this treaty."

Countries began signing the Convention in December and Searcy said he expects Vietnam will soon adopt it, a move that could make "substantial resources" available against UXOs for the first time since the war.

He is hopeful that, in the future, fewer innocent people like Van will die because of left-over bombs.

"I think that we're entering into a period where Vietnam may be able to look at a decade of tremendous progress in cleaning it up." (By IAN TIMBERLAKE)

Let's not distort history of the Vietnam War

Anthony H. Cordesman engages in some revisionist history in his May 14 commentary, "Complete War, Peace in Iraq," when he declares that we "won" in Vietnam, and that we left having "forced North Vietnam to halt its offenses."The cease-fire signed in January 1973 was in no way a military victory for either side. The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese knew that the inconclusive fighting had gone on for too long and that the people of the United States wanted it to end. They also understood that U.S. leaders would not want to leave having it appear they were beaten.

Cordesman states that we left "something approaching a functioning democracy." More revisionism. The cease-fire left South Vietnam still governed by military leaders, many of whom had governed without respect for their own citizens and a religion that the generals did not share.

As far back as 1963, the leaders of South Vietnam with U.S. support raided the Buddhist holy sites.

After the overthrow of the Diem regime and the assassination of the Diem brothers, the generals fought for the honor of directing American aid. The 12 years of battle resulted in the deaths of more than 58,0000 American military personnel and caused the death of more than 2.5 million people overall, not to mention untold disfigurement and crippling injuries many of which were caused by indiscriminate bombings.

And perhaps Cordesman does not remember the surrender South Vietnam President Duong van Minh, a former general, to the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975, and the pictures of American and South Vietnamese being evacuated off the roof of the American Embassy.

One wonders at mankind's inability to learn from history, but history distorted by the highly honored Anthony Cordesman does a great disservice to those too young to remember.

William P. McMillen, a Delmar resident, refused induction into the armed services in March 1965. He served 26 months of a six-year prison sentence.

Times Union

As Yahoo shuts down service, Vietnam bloggers seek new homes Read more: "As Yahoo shuts down service, Vietnam bloggers seek new homes

Hanoi - Yahoo's decision to close an online social networking service that had become the most popular in Vietnam has the country's bloggers scrambling to save their websites, bloggers said Monday.

The bloggers said the company's announcement that it will close its worldwide Yahoo 360 Degrees service effective July 13 disrupted Vietnam's budding political and cultural online community.

'I feel like somebody played a dirty trick on me,' said Mai Hoang, 30, who has written a personal and cultural blog for over three years.

'The Yahoo 360 Degrees community has suffered a big loss, because they were used to using that site,' said Huy Duc, who blogs on controversial political issues. 'Now if they move to a new one, they have to spend time finding each other again.'

Yahoo 360 Degrees, which debuted in 2005, attracted few users globally compared to rival services such as MySpace and Facebook. The company first announced it would close the service in early 2008.

But the site was an unexpected success in Vietnam, where it remains the dominant social networking site.

Yahoo Vietnam director Vu Minh Tri said a study last month found that 85 per cent of Vietnamese who use online social networking were on Yahoo 360 Degrees.

The closure of the site is part of a Yahoo strategy to reorient its social networking worldwide.

'Currently if you're on Yahoo 360, you can't talk to Facebook or MySpace,' Tri said. 'The big Yahoo strategy is to connect all the social networks together.'

To avoid losing Vietnamese clients, Yahoo is offering a Vietnam-only successor called Yahoo 360 Degrees Plus. Tri said efforts had been made to allow users to easily migrate their earlier content and friend lists to the new site.

Several users said making the switch was still difficult. 'I spent about three months moving data,' said novelist and literary blogger Nguyen Quang Lap.

Under Vietnam's communist system, media and the arts are controlled and regulated by the government. There are few alternative outlets for independent political and cultural commentary, creativity, or civic engagement.

Over the past four years, communities of bloggers have begun to present such an alternative. While most bloggers are moving their sites to new hosts, some of Vietnam's early blogging history may be lost when Yahoo 360 Degrees shuts down.

Huy Duc, whose blog has hosted sharp debates on sensitive issues such as Vietnamese-Chinese relations and environmental degradation, moved to a different host, Wordpress.com, in April.

'I could only move my entries, not comments,' Duc said. 'I couldn't move all of my data, I had to ask friends for help.'

Freelance journalist Trinh Thu Trang said she may not manage to move the 1,000 photos and 300 entries on her blog before the deadline.

'When Yahoo 360 shuts down, a part of me will stay there,' Trang said.

Monsters and Critics

Vietnam has two more H1N1 cases, total three

HANOI, June 1 (Reuters) - Vietnam has confirmed two more H1N1 flu patients, state-run television quoted health officials as saying on Monday, a day after the first case surfaced in the Southeast Asian country.

VTV 1 reported a woman and her 9-year-old child who returned from a trip to the United States on May 25 were confirmed to carry the H1N1 virus and were being treated in two hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City.

The state broadcaster quoted Health Ministry spokesman Nguyen Huy Nga as saying their condition had stabilised and fevers had subsided.

On Sunday, Vietnam announced the first case of H1N1 infection after a 23-year-old Vietnamese student who returned from the United States was tested positive for the virus.

State media reported on Monday authorities were tracking nearly 200 passengers who were on the same flight with the student from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City on May 26.

Vietnam requires any suspected H1N1 cases to be isolated for seven days.