Man jailed for duping Vietnamese brides, marriage agencies

Singapore : A 64-year-old man, who cheated marriage agencies and Vietnamese women looking for Singaporean husbands, was sentenced to four and a-half years in prison, news reports said Saturday.

Cobbler Fan Kiet Teng duped marriage agencies into releasing Vietnamese brides to him by giving them dud cheques for $6,100 (10,000 Singapore dollars).

He pleaded guilty to charges of cheating a 21-year-old Vietnamese woman into having sex with him.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur described the scam as “despicable,” The Straits Times said.

“Your conduct can only be described as odious,” she was quoted as saying.

Fan told the agencies he had been a widower for the past 10 years when he was actually living with his 60-year-old wife and two adult children.

Disturbed at how easily Fan got away with his bride-for-sex scam, the judge urged matchmaking agencies to act responsibly and called for guidelines to protect vulnerable foreign woman.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jason Chan said Friday that Fan conducted his scams two months after he was released from prison in August for throwing scalding hot water at his mistress.

Tribe’s New Office In San Gabriel Seeks To Lure Well-Heeled
Jan 14, 2006

It already provides chartered helicopters, complimentary hotel suites and a posh, secluded gambling parlor for super-high rollers. Now, in what is described as a first for any California-based casino, the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino has opened a marketing office in San Gabriel to attract more big gamblers to the public or very private venues of the East County tribal resort.

Las Vegas has been mining the lucrative Los Angeles market for years, and now Indian gaming is doing the same thing. “This is an opportunity to expand our market and reach that high-end guest,” Karol Schoen, general manager of Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino, said of the satellite office that opened this week. “We have a little different clientele than our local competition does.” While Barona wants more gamblers of all kinds, it especially hopes to attract well-heeled players from the San Gabriel Valley.

Schoen said she saw evidence that the three-member marketing staff, which moved to the area more than two months ago, was already successful in reaching out to potential VIPs. Dozens attended Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting. “The people I saw at the opening this morning were doctors and lawyers and dentists, real pillars of the community,” she said afterward. “You didn’t see the cook at the local cafe; you saw the owners.”

The San Gabriel Valley, an area of 2 million people east of downtown Los Angeles, is one of the state’s largest and most diverse consumer markets, said Vince Baugham, director of business development for the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership. Median incomes exceed $55,400, with 75,000 households earning more than $100,000. “For the affluence that we have in San Gabriel Valley, there is competition,” Baugham said. “So if you want a piece of it, you’ve got to go after it.”

The Barona casino has tried to position itself as an upper-echelon destination since it opened a quarter-billion-dollar resort in January 2003. The expanded ranch-theme casino and 400-room hotel augmented an 18-hole golf course built in 2001. “Nobody in California will let players bet as much money as they bet at Barona,” said Don Speer, chairman of the tribe’s management consulting firm, Venture Catalyst. “There are players at Barona who have bet $100,000 a hand, many a player.

We have many players who are multimillion-dollar casino customers.” In addition to having a high-stakes gambling room like most large casinos, Barona claims to be the only California tribal casino with a “private gaming area” – two basement-level rooms with super high-limit slot machines and card tables, accessible only by a key-operated elevator or private limo port. Barona’s private gaming area is for prescreened clients with mid-six-figure credit lines – entertainers, professional athletes, business moguls – who don’t want to mingle with the masses while betting hundreds of dollars on each pull of a slot machine or thousands on each hand of cards.

Casino officials won’t give names, but they say one private room or the other – each with a lavishly appointed lounge and cash-free food and beverage service – is in use an average of three days a week. These patrons often arrive by charter jet or are flown in on charter helicopters that land on one of the Lakeside-area reservation’s two helipads. They’re greeted with a chauffeured limousine and a butler bearing a silver platter of caviar. “That’s just part of the cost of doing business,” said Lee Skelley, the Barona casino’s assistant general manager. “If they’re helicopter-worthy, it’s free.”

Also free for high rollers, known in casino industry parlance as “whales,” are luxury hotel suites, spa visits, rounds of golf and meals. Only a few of the largest and most lavish Las Vegas resorts, such as Wynn, MGM Grand and the Venetian, have private parlors, catering to top clients with credit lines above $500,000, said Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. He said private gambling parlors were banned in Nevada until about three years ago.

Las Vegas gambling resorts have already been moving VIP sales teams into Los Angeles County. Wynn Casinos and MGM Mirage both have offices near Barona’s in San Gabriel. Barona says it is the first tribal casino to open an office in the Los Angeles area, where all of Southern California’s Indian gaming resorts have been advertising heavily for years. The staff at Barona’s 1,000 square-foot office suite, which is across from a Hilton hotel, has spent much of its time since moving to San Gabriel networking in the community. “The office people are going to become members of that community,” Skelley said.

“They’ll join the Rotary club, the chamber of commerce, the businessmen’s association . . . and market our casino.” Harrah’s, which manages the Rincon tribe’s North County gambling resort in addition to its Nevada properties, has had a marketing office in Century City for years and acquired two others in Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach last year as part of its corporate buyout of Caesars Palace. “We’re not surprised that Barona has opened an office in Los Angeles,” said Harrah’s Rincon spokeswoman Sheryl Sebastian.

“The L.A. market is important to the growth of the casino market in San Diego.” Operators of the other largest Indian gaming resorts in San Diego and Riverside counties, Pala and Pechanga, say they have no plans to open sales offices in Los Angeles. Jerry Turk, Pala Casino’s managing partner, said he didn’t know why Barona was setting up shop in San Gabriel, but he assumed it might be because of the large Asian communities there and in several of the valley’s 30 other cities.

“Every property in Southern California tries to appeal to the Asian community, because Asians have a propensity to like to play table games,” he said. “If you went into any casino, including Pala, you would find one of the focuses is on the Asian community.” According to 2000 census figures provided by the Southern California Association of Governments, the population of San Gabriel Valley is 44 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic, 22 percent Asian and 4 percent black.

San Gabriel, a city of 40,000 central to the 355-square-mile region, has a population that is 49 percent Asian-American. Alice Wong, past president of the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks Barona has strong odds of appealing to the area’s many affluent Asian professionals. “Asians are gamblers,” she said. “The big Las Vegas hotels and casinos like the Mirage and the Bellagio, they have special dinners for their special invitees. They fly people to Las Vegas. That happens all the time.” Wong, who owns an insurance agency, said many San Gabriel Valley gamblers might prefer San Diego to Las Vegas.

“It’s so close – a two-hour drive.” Skelley, the Barona assistant general manager, said San Gabriel’s Asian base is only part of the reason for opening an office there. He said the valley’s main appeal for Barona is its above-average income and its proximity to the Interstate 15 freeway corridor, which is easier to drive than Interstate 5. “We are conscious of the fact that there are a lot of Asians there,” he said. “We want to go to San Gabriel because it’s a thriving business center, and it has a direct access down 15 to Barona.”

Barona’s Los Angeles-area outreach staff will be going after moderate-to high-spending gamblers as well as the super-rich, Skelley said. “We aren’t looking for celebrities. We certainly are looking for business owners, people who play regularly in Las Vegas,” he said. “If we find some high-end business there, we’ll be really happy about it. We can certainly take care of them.”

Katrina Media Fellowship

March 16, 2006

Dear Friends and Colleagues-

 

OSI is pleased to announce the release of the RFP for the Katrina  Media Fellowship

http://www.soros.org/initiatives/justice/focus_areas/katrina.  

 

I encourage you to pass along the announcement to any eligible and

interested media professionals.

 

The Katrina Media Fellowships will support dynamic print and radio

journalists, photographers and documentary filmmakers to generate and

improve media coverage of issues exposed by Katrina. Applicants

should propose projects that will expand and deepen the public’s

understanding of race and class inequalities in the United States. Applicants may

also propose projects that will address the government’s response to

problems caused or illuminated by Katrina, the use or misuse of public funds,

the role of private contractors, the effectiveness of clean-up and

rebuilding efforts, citizen involvement in these efforts and lessons

learned that should inform the handling of future natural and man-

made disasters. In addition, applicants may propose projects that draw

attention to OSI’s current or past programmatic priorities using

Katrina as the frame. These priorities include access to legal services and

government assistance, criminal justice reform, improving end of life

care and access to health care and education reform. The RFP can be

viewed at http://www.soros.org/initiatives/justice/focus_areas/katrina/guidelines  . 

KT releases Valentine’s film shorts

February 06, 2006 ㅡ Korea’s top landline telephone carrier, KT Corp., is releasing three short films by renowned domestic directors on the Internet on Feb. 14 for Valentine’s Day.
The company said that it sponsored the production of the movies. The films will be given an off-line premier at a movie theater in southern Seoul; applications for tickets can be made online at http://www.ktfilms.com.
About 30 minutes long, each film has two major components: the main theme is love and the plots all involve phone numbers.
Kwak Jae-yong, best known as the director of the Asian hit, “My Sassy Girl,” made a fantasy movie titled “I can hear the memory.” Starring Sohn Tae-young and Lee Chun-hee, the movie depicts a near future in which banks store memories.
Featuring a Korean-American actor, Karl Yoon, and the actress Soh Yoo-jin, “I’m OK” by the director Kim Tae-gyun, is about a martial artist and a woman who wind up living together.
The last of the three films is by Chung Yoon-chul, the director of last year’s hit, “Marathon,” (“Mal-a-ton” in its Korean title). Called “Storm Hill,” the movie depicts an unusual love triangle caused by a phone number appearing in the dreams of the main characters.
“We plan to arrange various events and give out gifts to the people attending the Valentine’s Day off-line premier,” said Joo Yeong-bum, a managing director of public relations at KT. “We hope that the films please our customers and generate interest in fixed-line phones at the same time.”

by Seo Ji-eun spring@joongang.co.kr>

TV-film producer, Feb. 17

February 07, 2006
GALESBURG — Television and film producer David Axelrod will give a talk, “Writing and Producing Films for PBS, BBC and Hollywood,” at 4 p.m., Friday, February 17, in the Round Room, Ford Center for the Fine Arts, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. The talk is free and open to the public.

A 1967 Knox graduate, Axelrod has written, produced and directed several feature films, including the documentary “Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens.” The program, shown on the Public Broadcasting System’s Nova series, received the 2003 Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Programming. He also worked on “The Great Transatlantic Cable,” “Wright Brothers’ Flying Machine” and “The History of Rock & Roll.”

Axelrod received his bachelor’s degree at Knox in English and his master’s degree from New York University’s Institute of Film and Television in 1969. On Thursday, February 16, the day before the lecture, Axelrod will receive a 2006 Knox College Alumni Achievement Award.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 46 states and 43 nations. Knox’s ‘Old Main’ is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.
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For actor Daniel Dae Kim, life’s a beach

Though his Lost character Jin has it rough as a castaway on a mysterious island, the actor is enjoying the work and the Hawaii life.

By Associated Press
Published February 9, 2006


HONOLULU – Beaten, kidnapped and tossed in a pit, Jin Soo Kwon hasn’t had many pleasant days on ABC’s hit drama Lost.He’s stranded on a mysterious island with plane-crash survivors who don’t speak his language and carry way more baggage than the suitcases they brought on ill-fated Oceanic Airlines Flight 815.

In real life, actor Daniel Dae Kim, 37, who plays Jin, the Korean tough guy, couldn’t be happier. He’s living with his family in Hawaii, where the show is shot, he’s earning a regular paycheck doing what he loves, and a day at the office means hitting the beach.

“I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity,” Kim said. ” Every day I’m at work and I look out at the ocean and see the crystal blue waves crashing on the beach, I just look up and thank the universe for putting me here.”

Working on Lost (which airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC) wasn’t always so smooth for Kim, however.

In the series’ Emmy-award winning first season, Jin was portrayed as a detached and chauvinistic thug who was overly protective of his wife, Sun. The character drew sharp criticism from some Asian viewers, who accused Kim of perpetuating stereotypes .

But as audiences learned more of the character through flashbacks, and as Jin warmed up, so did his critics.

“All these characters have layers, secrets inside of them,” Kim said. “It was difficult, but the thing that kept me hopeful was my trust in the producers.”

Creator Damon Lindelof has said speaking English was not an option for Jin and Sun, who talk to each other only in their native language (although Sun, it was revealed, speaks English). He noted that subtitles are not used when Jin speaks to other castaways, because he wants the viewer to share the frustration of trying to communicate.

Kim, trained in classical theater, said acting in Korean has been a challenge . Not only did he have to master the language quickly, but he tried to shed his rural accent. Jin did speak perfect English in a short scene in which Hurley, played by Jorge Garcia, was dreaming and speaking Korean. “His pronunciation was fantastic,” Kim said. “I was going around saying maybe he should be the one speaking Korean and I’ll speak English and say ‘dude’ a lot.”

Born in Busan, South Korea, Kim grew up in the blue-collar steel town of Easton, Pa. He was on a path to becoming a lawyer but decided to pursue acting. It was an unpopular decision with his family.

After earning a master’s from New York University, he had recurring roles on 24, ER, and Angel. He had small appearances in Seinfeld and NYPD Blue as well as on the big screen in Spider-Man 2, The Hulk and Crash.

“It’s not about money or fame. I really enjoy the craft of acting,” he said. “Whether it’s on a small stage in front of 50 people or on a television screen in front of 20-million, it’s still what I enjoy doing. It’s the same.”

Unlike his character, Kim is easygoing, educated and quick to smile. Some fans have approached him with caution, however, fearing he’ll be like Jin.

Recently, Kim was featured as one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” Not bad for a married guy closing on his 40s with two sons, ages 9 and 4.

“It’s flattering,” he said. “It’s something you can’t ever take seriously. On a larger level, for Asian-Americans, I think it’s really a fantastic step.”

As for Lost, Kim said he’s just as anxious as devoted fans are to see how the stealthy story unfolds.

“We don’t have answers as actors,” he said. He does promise many more surprises and turns. “One thing viewers will be reminded of, the stakes are very high on this island. It’s always life and death.” [Last modified February 8, 2006, 15:03:03]

Lee explores stereotypes with grace

Directed by Grace Lee, ‘The Grace Lee Project’ portrays the lives of Asian American women

Shuang-Ning Ling

Grace Lee takes a cross-country journey to find other women with her name. Making the film helped her find her own identity and the strength to defy stereotypes of Asian Americans today.

Courtesy Grace Lee

Growing up as an ethnic minority in her predominantly white hometown in Missouri, it was a new experience for Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee to move to California. Along the way she learned of countless other Grace Lees from friends. They always turned out to be “soft-spoken,” “studious,” “overachieving,” “intelligent,” “Christian” and, as Lee wryly notes, piano players.

Fearing confinement to a life of figurative homogeneity, Lee embarks on an impulse journey across America and Korea. Motivated by what she humorously terms “existential dread,” she seeks out namesakes that both do and do not fit the standard Grace Lee bill.

I’ve wanted to name a future daughter Grace for most of my life. After viewing OFFScreen’s latest offering, The Grace Lee Project, however, I found myself to be one of thousands. Lee precisely highlights the influence of attaching preconceived notions to a name and the effect it has on one’s individuality. With a deceptively simple premise, she explores the stereotype of the Asian-American female. Altogether she creates a refreshingly layered approach to the documentary as a genre.

Lee’s wildly unscientific research is fun to watch. The Grace Lees she finds include a 16-year-old Harvard student, a Filipino cruise-ship singer and a significantly large number of women named for Grace Kelly. She is insistent, however, on finding the rebels or college dropouts who “fall through the cracks.”

“Stereotypes exist because there is often a grain of truth associated with them,” Lee admitted in an e-mail interview. The question is to what extent Lee’s unflinchingly self-centered project perpetuates the stereotypes she declaims. Along with the standard Grace Lees with Christian backgrounds, the more promising insurgents tend to fall back into conformity and submit to typecasting.

For instance, one Grace who attempted to burn her high school down was motivated by a desire to destroy her less-than-outstanding grade reports before her parents could receive them. There’s also a past lesbian activist who gave up her work in Korea to stop “bringing shame” to her parents. Her forbidden presence in the film is represented by a blurred-out image.

Lee reiterates that she is interested in exploring the contradictions within our identities and “how much they are shaped by our resistance to the forces that try to box us in as certain things.” Her playful approach serves as Project’s backbone and as a reminder not to take her voiceovers as seriously as the thornier issues covered.

Lee’s likeable ability to laugh at her own paranoid anxieties is complemented by the film’s portrayal of two truly atypical Grace Lees — the 88-year-old Detroit African-American rights activist and an unmarried mother who risked her life to rescue a friend from marital abuse.

Not knowing how the documentary would end was one of Lee’s difficulties during filmmaking. Perhaps this is why the film concludes abruptly, as Lee reconciles the similarities and differences she shares with her alter-egos. In the end, a name like Grace Lee may be forgettable, but The Grace Lee Project successfully illustrates there is more to people than their names.

Click here to find out more!

Inc.com

Creativity Regained

Robert Redford happens to be a movie star, but he’s the star who founded an enterprise that changed an industry. Along the way, this very successful entrepreneur developed theories of innovation and creativity that will inspire you and improve your business, too.

From: Inc. Magazine, September 2003 |  Page  By: Stephen H. Zades


Two hours after meeting Robert Redford, I fear I have already let him down. Redford has suggested we tour his 6,000-acre complex in Sundance, Utah, on horseback, and that is clearly how these wild western mountains are meant to be viewed. But horses terrify me — always have — and while I yearn to saddle up with the Sundance Kid in a prototypical act of male bonding…I just can’t. Redford is nice as can be about it, and soon we are trekking along a footpath leading away from Sundance Village, surrounded by tall pines and wooded canyons. And I am glad we are on foot because it means I can give Redford my full attention as he talks about how it feels to build something from nothing, and how he encourages the people he works with to do that day after day after day.

Fit and rugged in blue jeans and running shoes, Redford points to the rockwork on the village restaurant. “Sweat equity!” he declares. “I did a lot of the work myself. And when you do something by hand — it’s just different.” The pride in his voice is quintessentially entrepreneurial, which isn’t surprising: Redford is the quintessential entrepreneur. The birth legend of Sundance is positively Lincoln-esque: In 1961, the then-24-year-old actor bought two acres of land for $500 and built a log cabin there. Today Sundance is an international enterprise that includes a cable channel, a DVD/video line, a retail catalog, a resort, and — as its nucleus — a not-for-profit institute that is part artists’ colony, part R&D shop and that also produces the annual Sundance Film Festival. All of it, says Redford, furthers a single goal: “the sponsoring of a process that will allow people to have new visions and new voices.”

“Do you think the world was created by an accountant?” Redford asks me. “No! The universe was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos started everything. Then order came on top of that.”

If new voices and visions are the “products” of Sundance, they are products whose success most businesspeople would envy. Sundance, after all, is among the very few organizations that can credibly claim to have pioneered a market: the market for independent film, which continues to withstand the hurricane force of Hollywood sequels, event movies, and saturation marketing. Its film and theater labs have helped develop such groundbreaking work as Raising Victor Vargas, Boys Don’t Cry, Reservoir Dogs, Requiem for a Dream, Love & Basketball, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Angels in America, I Am My Own Wife, and The Laramie Project. And Sundance has contributed to the emergence of a constellation of artists that includes Quentin Tarantino, Allison Anders, John Cameron Mitchell, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Craig Lucas, Tony Kushner, and Julie Taymor.

Nor is the organization doing badly by standards unrelated to art. In a nation where so many projects and products fail, 35% of projects developed in the Sundance Filmmakers Lab and 85% of its Theater Lab projects make it to production — in other words, producers outside Sundance consider them promising enough to finance and complete. That’s more than 85 feature films in 22 years. The brand is so well recognized it has become shorthand for independent filmmaking. There’s a Sundance shelf in more than 4,000 Blockbuster stores.

Redford has also built commercial enterprises — some of them profitable — that further his goal of creating venues for innovative work. (Sundance does not release revenue figures.) The Sundance Channel, launched in 1996 as a joint venture by Redford, Showtime Networks, and Universal Studios, has grown steadily and now has 16.7 million subscribers, according to Kagan World Media. (The market-leading Independent Film Channel has 26.8 million subscribers.) A documentary channel is on the way, and a new Sundance Film Series is rolling out in 10 major markets this fall. Redford has also speculated about launching an investment arm and even a production company, in essence becoming a full-fledged manufacturer of the products Sundance now develops and markets.

“Redford is a proven, smart, savvy entrepreneur,” says Dale Pollock, veteran Hollywood producer and dean of the filmmaking department at North Carolina’s School of the Arts. “The business potential is enormous. Sundance has the best brand name and the ability to expand its audience base.

“How large the indie film niche can become, I don’t think anyone really knows,” says Pollock. “As for profitability, it may not be huge by mainstream Hollywood standards yet. But it’s growing significantly, and Sundance is the lead player positioned in the right way.”

Such prolificacy is not the consequence of mountain air or movie star charisma. Rather it springs from Redford’s unshakable belief that growth is not an accounting practice but a creative process. And that goes not just for the entertainment industry, but also for ordinary companies that make sunscreen and software and ceiling fans. “The more I got involved with business, the more I got shocked at how dumb a lot of businesses were. Even the ones that had so much money,” Redford says. “And, it’s because they lacked a creative, imaginative approach. That’s why I got taken with people like Steve Jobs and [Patagonia founder] Yvon Chouinard and [Smith & Hawken founder] Paul Hawken, who understood exactly how important business is but also understood the role of the creative.

“Do you think the earth was created by an accountant?” Redford asks me. “No! The earth was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos are what started everything. Then order came on top of that.”

It is to study Sundance’s own creative explosion that I am here. And while I hate to digress, I think at this point I should say a word about myself and why I believe business can learn so much from Sundance.

First — and let’s just get this out of the way — I’m a businessperson, not a journalist. For most of the ’90s I was CEO of Long Haymes Carr (LHC), an advertising firm in Winston-Salem, N.C., that in three years grew from the 100th largest U.S. agency to the 50th. One tool we used to differentiate ourselves was Creative Odyssey — a series of magical mystery tours to cities like New York, London, and New Orleans where our clients and employees immersed themselves in the leading edge of pop culture. We met with people like graffiti artists and chaos theory physicists to experience new perspectives. We escorted Fortune 1000 CEOs to hip-hop stores and encouraged them to buy chartreuse sandals with four-inch heels and flame-toed Doc Martens and wear them on the subway. Again and again we found that most of the ideas and strategies for our breakthroughs came from sources outside the business world.

Then one day our corporate parent announced it was consolidating our agency…ultimately out of existence. Disillusioned and reluctant to return quickly to corporate life, I began looking around the business world for my next opportunity. What I saw wasn’t pretty.

This was the fall of 2001, a time when corporate misjudgments and miscreants were ubiquitous on the news. Everywhere companies were slowing down, stopping, shifting into reverse. I saw the artificial growth of acquisitions and book-cooking collapsing everywhere, but no sustainable, organic growth based on the invention of genuinely new markets, products, and services. Where was the real top-line growth, I wondered? Had management forgotten how to do it? Was business losing the ability?

Organic growth, it seemed to me, required something I’ve come to think of as “imaginative intelligence”: the ability to convert the raw material of experience and insight across disciplines of knowledge into inventive work. Having experienced something like that on LHC’s Odysseys, I wondered whether others had figured out how to build imaginative intelligence into their processes and organizations. I cashed in my frequent-flier miles and gave myself a year to find out.

“When you have the good fortune to have success in your life,” says Redford, “that is precisely the time you should reinvent yourself. Because you can get real stale. You can fall in love with yourself.”

Together with my colleague Jane Stephens I launched the Odyssey Project, a wide-ranging exploration of organic growth focused on 30 innovation leaders in diverse fields. Creative Odyssey had taught me the value of seeking answers from nonobvious sources, so I excluded destinations like Intel, Apple, and Southwest Airlines from my itinerary. Instead I traveled to Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, which pioneered the idea of growing exclusively through conversion, and Antenna Theater, an experimental stage company in San Francisco that found commercial success creating interpretive audio programs for museums and parks. Rather than try to meet with Peter Drucker or Gary Hamel, I interviewed T. George Harris, the maverick editor of Psychology Today who broke ground in developing interest-specific journalism, Dan Yankelovich, who reinvented public polling with the Yankelovich Monitor, and the poet Maya Angelou.

Finally I landed here, at Sundance. And in this place most people associate with celebrity and conservation, I discovered the purest example of sustained innovation and creative organizational culture I had yet seen.

The not-for-profit Sundance Institute nurtures creativity in writers and filmmakers; folks you’d think wouldn’t need the assist. But you would be wrong. Just consider what those filmmakers were putting out, chiefly under the aegis of Hollywood, before Redford, in true change agent style, forged the marketplace for independent movies. Films like Sex, Lies and Videotape may have wedged open the door, but without a constant flow of new — and not just new but exciting — products that door would have closed. For independent film to become a movement, later an industry, artists had to recover their voices, or learn they had them in the first place. It is the same challenge facing engineers, designers, and others who staff R&D efforts in industries and companies suffering from an idea drought.

For more than 20 years the Sundance Institute has churned out original ideas with the regularity of sausage. I wanted to know how it did that. So I spent five days at Sundance, sitting in on workshops with filmmakers, interviewing staff members at length, and talking with successful alumni.

Most important, I listened to Redford.

It is routine, in matters of art, to say the creation mirrors the mind of the creator. Sundance is not a work of art — it is an organization with employees, budgets, and multiple commercial and noncommercial arms — but it mirrors Redford’s mind as exactly as if he had dreamed it and then drawn it upon waking. To understand Sundance, therefore, one must first understand Redford. And in getting to know the man, I glimpsed Sundance’s first lesson for entrepreneurs: that the key to a constantly innovating organization is a constantly innovating founder.

Redford is always restless, and his appetite for fresh thought is enormous. “When you have the good fortune to have success in your life, I’ve always thought that is precisely the time you should reinvent yourself. You should go right back to zero as though nothing had happened and start again,” says Redford. “Because you can get real stale. You can fall in love with yourself or get to that danger point when you could ride on that success or try to repeat it. Repetition makes me very nervous.”

Redford created the Sundance Institute, in part, to combat the deadening repetition that he saw stifling the film industry. But it was his instincts for nurturing creativity in others that has made it thrive.

Like all entrepreneurs, Redford has been guided by a vision. Unlike most, he doesn’t compromise it.

That may sound hopelessly unrealistic to most founders, who would argue — reasonably — that for the overwhelming majority of folks who aren’t Robert Redford financial and commercial pressures are tough to withstand. But Redford feels those pressures too: “It’s been a struggle, and it continues to be a struggle. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons,” he says. And of course when he began to envision Sundance back in 1966, Redford wasn’t Redford either. The young actor built his first log cabin in the Provo Canyon as a kind of sanctuary. As his attachment to the valley grew, Redford worried about the future of the land — threatened by development — and of the industry in which he worked. America’s entertainment culture was becoming increasingly impoverished: Redford saw independent film as its best hope. In Sundance, he envisioned an organization that would be a double sanctuary, a creative vortex where art and nature could flourish.

To build such an organization, Redford had to learn about business, which he did the same way he learned everything else — by observing, guessing, and revising. “I surprised myself early on by growing really fascinated with business,” says Redford. “I had bought the land, and I had to make deals with banks, and I had to make payments, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to learn fast.

“It became like an acting exercise,” Redford continues. “I had to act like I was a normal human being. I had to act like I was more conservative than I was. I had to act like I knew about business. It was challenging and fun.”

As a business, Sundance got off to a rocky start. The first thing Redford wanted to do was buy land — lots of it. His plan was to start with a resort that would generate enough money to make the loan payments without compromising the area’s natural beauty. But when he invited investors out to Provo, all they saw was real estate. Those partners bought the land with him but not the vision. Laughing, Redford speculates what they were thinking: “Redford’s out of his mind — he doesn’t have a clue about business. As soon as we get into the deal, he’ll learn real fast what the story is and he’ll submit to real estate [development] right off the bat!” They were wrong. Even with payments looming, Redford refused to sell off subdivisions, and his partners eventually gave in.

If Redford’s fellow investors had any doubts about his attitude toward compromise those doubts soon vanished. The partners wanted to build a restaurant next to the ski lift, the obvious spot since it would get the most traffic. “No, no, no,” Redford recalls himself saying. “Let’s give it its own space, let people wander and discover it.” But there was a tree smack in the middle of Redford’s proposed site. “Well, that’s great!” Redford said. “We’ll build it around the tree and call it the Tree Room.”

His partners balked. “According to the formula, you’ll lose 12 eating-places,” they argued. “Then 12 fewer people will eat,” Redford responded.

Soon after that, Redford’s partners sold their interests, and Redford assumed the whole load in 1970. “They realized I was an impossible partner — and they were right,” he says. Redford and three friends built the restaurant by hand for $19,000. There were many problems. The original partners had made a bad deal on the land, “and we bought it from a sheepherder,” says Redford. Even the tree died. But Redford planted another tree, and today the Tree Room is profitable and recognized as one of the finest restaurants in the state. “I just believed we could do something incorporating the environment that would make it more meaningful, and they believed you had to put the environment away from it and go straight to business,” says Redford.

“You have to think not only revenue, but the quality of that revenue,” Redford says. It is a philosophy he has never abandoned.

Under a brilliant blue sky the village of Sundance is framed by conservation land lush with ponderosa pine and quaking aspen. Once an isolated canyon and the sacred hunting and storytelling ground of the Ute tribe, the area remains serenely quiet. The loudest sound is rushing water, still high from the spring runoff from snow-spired Mount Timpanogos.

Sundance’s rough-sawn post-and-beam structures include a rehearsal hall, screening room, outdoor amphitheater, general store, the Tree Room restaurant, the Owl Bar, and cottages. Intimate in scale, the buildings are connected by simple paths and footbridges. Their rich natural hues blend easily with the colors of the land.

Not to be confused with the famous Sundance Film Festival held each winter in nearby Park City, the programs of the Sundance Institute are housed chiefly in this village, among the first simple structures Redford built more than 20 years ago. The institute is the engine behind Redford’s vision, a carefully tended, highly productive series of experimental labs and mentoring programs offered year-round for emerging and professional directors, screenwriters, playwrights, composers, and theater artists. Individually and together, they are making a stand against formulaic entertainment.

In movies today, “there’s a kind of soullessness, a blandness, a homogenization of story, of character in order to attempt to please everyone,” says actor-director Stanley Tucci, an institute alumni who spoke to me by phone while filming in New York. Redford puts it this way: “Film viewing is extremely impersonal now; it’s almost hostile. You have 40 screens. You usher people in and out as quickly as possible to get in as many [shows] per day [as possible]. The real money is made in the concessions.”

Hollywood, in other words, is a Raisinets economy. It was to combat that growing homogenization that Redford established the institute in 1981 as an incubator for raw talent and divergent visions. In the early years, the actor supported the institute out of his own personal wealth. Today 35% of its $15 million budget comes from the Sundance Film Festival and the rest derives from sponsors, grants, and private contributions.

Between six and eight fellows for the Feature Film Lab are chosen from more than 3,000 applications and scripts and receive room, board, and equipment at a cost to the organization of up to $75,000 each. In labs that last anywhere from four days to four weeks they get the chance to rehearse, shoot, edit, and rework scenes under the guidance of creative advisers — often institute alumni — and with the input of other fellows, staff, and Redford himself. The goal is to leave the institute with a rough edited reel of four or five scenes from their screenplays, but they take away more. “The experience at the Sundance Institute was a creative epiphany about how to solve my first film,” says writer/director Miguel Arteta, whose debut, Star Maps, won him a lucrative deal with Fox Searchlight. Arteta’s next projects, Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and sold to studios.

The institute chooses fellows carefully, as does any organization that relies on its people for energy and ideas. What it is chiefly looking for, Redford says, is “voice.” Visionary business leaders — Jobs, Chouinard, Jeff Bezos, Ralph Lauren — bestow something of their characters upon their companies, but as organizations grow their founders’ voices grow fainter. In the end, organizations draw their voices (their real voices — not those manufactured by professional brand builders) from their members. In a world of easy imitation, Redford recognizes, voice can be a potent differentiator.

“When you have the good fortune to have success in your life,” says Redford, “that is precisely the time you should reinvent yourself. Because you can get real stale. You can fall in love with yourself.”

One way the institute staff fosters voice is by selecting fellows based on their raw ideas — scripts, a rough 10 minutes of film — rather than on their resumés. Michelle Satter, director of the feature film program and a guiding force at the Sundance Institute, describes the ideal: “a script or a short film so unique or with a story that hasn’t been told, that only that artist could tell.”

One thing Satter, who is the architect of the institute process, doesn’t weigh is the commercial prospects of an applicant’s idea. Indeed, market-focus groups are verboten at Sundance, as perhaps they should be in any business that truly values innovation. Consumer research, says Michael Lehmann, a veteran film director and longtime creative adviser to Sundance, is what makes Hollywood movies Hollywood movies. “Studios are first and foremost market-driven: They work backwards,” says Lehmann. “They try to figure out what audiences want and give it to them. Beyond that they’re not sure what to do.” Sundance reverses the process and begins with the unique visions of the artists it supports.

Then, as they work, fellows are constantly urged away from proven solutions and toward experiments. Granted, it isn’t difficult for the institute to encourage risk-taking since it expects no direct financial return from its investment in talent. Still, the Sundance brand is built on developing and promoting work Hollywood wouldn’t gamble on: Sundance without risk would cease to be Sundance. So while breakthrough ideas are more common here than at most organizations, so are disappointments and dead ends. And that’s okay. “The worst day of this lab, the day you feel you’ve fallen on your face, will be the best day of the lab because that will be your greatest learning moment,” Satter says. “You may fail, you may fly, but you’ll move on and learn.”

Fellows appreciate that support, and they are also motivated by the many opportunities to have their work seen, which after all is what most creative people want. Sundance has developed multiple platforms, such as the festival, cable channels, and new film series, to showcase innovation wherever it springs up and cheerfully helps fellows make connections outside the Sundance mantle as well. “It’s about getting the ideas out, it’s about getting the work seen,” says Ken Brecher, executive director of the Sundance Institute. “If the work finds its way to a Sundance platform, that’s great. If it finds its way to another platform, that’s also great.”

“The labs and film festival are the twin engines that drive the whole deal,” says North Carolina’s Pollock. But “the entire Sundance family of organizations is synergistic and holistic. Each entity uniquely builds the value of the whole.”

You can learn a lot about an organization by the language people use to describe what they do: whether they speak in acronyms or jargon or generics. The language of Sundance, not surprisingly, reflects its artistic purpose, but also the tools it uses to promote original thinking and inventive solutions to problems. The Sundance lexicon includes sketchpad, generosity, story, conversation, and contradiction — words that are foreign to business but, I believe, fundamental to innovation. Here is how they are used at Sundance.

Sketchpad: The Sundance Institute is rugged. Veteran directors haul equipment; movie stars carry their own food and sleep in cabins; everyone moves tables and chairs. The environment is enriched by what is not there as much as by what is. “When I started the institute there was no place for the artists to work,” says Redford. “I mean it was raw here. They worked in the ski patrol house, the firehouse, and the maintenance shed. I was kind of embarrassed by what was here, but it was all I could afford to do.

“Later on though,” says Redford, “I realized we’d done something very right.” The primitive conditions forced the artists to be resourceful, to improvise, to stretch and experiment more fully.

Certainly Sundance could have built the slickest sound stages and editing facilities, but Redford and his staff believe that would push the filmmakers too close too soon to a finished product, and that that threatens originality. “We need to get away from preciousness, of having to have everything right,” says Satter. “The workshop scenes [shot by the fellows] are deliberately primitive in terms of production values and design. It is process, not product, that is the cornerstone of the work.”

Contradiction: A fellow lies on his back on an old couch inside an editing trailer. Hands over face. Exhausted and exhilarated. “You take your medicine and you build on it,” he says. Within the last hour, Redford, Arteta, and Lehmann have dropped by, one after the other, to talk about the scene he is trying to cut. Their ideas are great. They also completely contradict one another. As the fellow plays their words over in his head, he gets an inkling of still another approach. His tries it, and that edit is his best yet.

At Sundance, contradiction is achieved by exposing fellows to as many perspectives as possible. Each session is attended by between 35 and 40 creative advisers, people like Denzel Washington, Sally Field, Glenn Close, Stanley Tucci, Alexander Payne, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jon Avnet. But rather than working with a single mentor whose approach and opinions they might uncritically absorb, the fellows get the divergent views of a slew of experts and must reconcile them into a vision of their own. They can also move among the institute’s various labs — including those for filmmakers, screenwriters, theater directors, and composers — to see how ideas play out in different disciplines.

“We need contradiction to get to truth,” says Redford. “Some of the most interesting things we see and feel have contradictory parts. It’s a part of our lives. Let’s use it rather than push it out and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Generosity: It’s 7:45 p.m. and the sun setting behind the mountains casts a soft blue halo across the canyon. Everyone from the labs — about 75 people — is savoring a hearty communal meal around big round tables in a big white tent. They are talking, laughing, and enjoying one another’s company.

Redford would like to be among them. But earlier he’d watched one of the fellows struggling to prepare for a difficult shoot the next day. He’d seen her wrestle with the actors, wrestle with the material; and he’d sensed her confidence was shaken. Reaching for the key to the nearest van, he calls to her across the parking lot: “Let’s go scout some different locations for the bus stop shoot tomorrow. There are three sites I want to show you. We can talk about the setups on the way.”

Company leaders — particularly the founder and keeper of the vision — can set the tone for how employees behave toward one another. The tone Redford has set is one of generosity. And it is a kind of generosity that sets the table for collaboration.

The long-term yield on generosity is visible. Fellows leave Sundance with a kind of lifetime resource commitment from the institute. Staff often help alumni move their projects into production by running interference with commercial markets, working contacts, and making phone calls to connect artists with casting agents, producers, and sources of financing. Alumni, in turn, come back to Sundance to serve as creative advisers and help tyro innovators with their work. “If you create an atmosphere of freedom, where people aren’t afraid someone will steal their ideas, they engage with each other, they help one another,” Redford says. “The freedom of not being threatened by your colleagues creates a whole energy.”

Story: Most evenings around 10 p.m., the institute’s staff, fellows, and advisers stroll down to the Owl Bar, a rosewood haven imported from Thermopolis, Wyo., where the real Hole in the Wall Gang hung out more than a century ago. There, they kick back, quaff ice-cold Wasatch ale, and swap stories from earlier sessions: about experiments that succeeded and failed; ingenious solutions to difficult problems; breakthroughs, breakouts, and the occasional breakdown. The purpose of these gatherings is to perpetuate institutional memory and knowledge. A task that most organizations either undervalue or ignore, Sundance achieves — characteristically — by returning to the oral tradition.

“If you create an atmosphere of freedom, where people aren’t afraid someone will steal their ideas,they engage with each other, they help one another,” says Redford.

Redford says that storytelling is as important for today’s businesses as it was for the Ute tribes that once inhabited this land. Organizations with no knowledge of their own stories borrow cheesy imitations from the media or steal them from competitors (that is why so much advertising appears interchangeable). And Redford believes storytelling can be fostered by the design and flow of an organization’s social and community habits, like the informal gatherings at the Owl Bar. “I think any culture without mythology and storytelling is doomed,” says Redford. “Stories are a way of communicating, a way of keeping certain things alive.”

Conversation: In preparation for my visit to Sundance I listened to 100 hours of taped interviews with Redford. When I arrived we walked together around the village, and I watched him collaborate with staff members and artists throughout the week. And here’s the remarkable thing: In all that time, I never heard him repeat himself. Even when I would read back to him his own words for clarification (a process that usually makes people self-aware) Redford was uninterested — he was already on to the next idea.

While most people, especially people in business situations, use conversation as a forum for presenting themselves, Redford uses conversation to become himself: He intends to be different when it is over. Just talking with him is a lesson in shaking off old ways of thinking. Like a chess player, he sees the whole picture, follows the moves, and finds the connections before you know where you’re going — then he turns the board. If you’re lost, he turns it to give you a leg up. If you’re safe, he turns it to keep you fresh.

“You had to think not only revenue, but the quality of that revenue,” Redford explains. It is a philosophy he has never abandoned.

Management theorists stress the importance of conducting companywide conversations but not of having leaders who are great conversationalists. At Sundance no one asks a question to which he or she already knows the answer. Words and ideas move in one direction only — forward.

It’s not as though business doesn’t recognize the importance of organic growth — corporate annual reports routinely proclaim a commitment to innovation. But it’s not showing up anywhere else. “The innovation right now in business — as far as I can tell — is coming out of paper and air,” says Redford. “The signs are everywhere. The collapsing of certain corporate structures, the mergers, the consolidation that was supposed to beef up profit are clearly, by and large, not working.”

Innovation at most companies is pursued with desperate, random acts or unevolved strategies; or it is so incremental and predictable that it isn’t really innovation at all. Sundance, by contrast, doesn’t just encourage innovation — it ensures that it happens by process and design. Most companies won’t find it a stretch to imitate at least some of Redford’s tactics. Expose people to a variety of conflicting perspectives. Hire for raw ideas. Throw innovators back on their own resources. Perpetuate institutional memory. Allow for experimentation, mistakes, and dead ends. Employ short-term mentors. Don’t respond slavishly to market research. Engage in conversations that lead to new conclusions rather than persuade people of foregone ones. Periodically switch environments. And if you are the company leader, give generously to innovators of your time and attention.

Perhaps most important, make clear that you yourself are on a quest for the genuinely new and that — like Redford — if you achieve that quest you will immediately start searching all over again. “There’s no endgame at Sundance; there’s not meant to be,” says Redford. “It’s still evolving and it’s meant to keep evolving.

“I don’t believe in endgames,” says Redford, “except the one that’s forced on you.”

Stephen H. Zades (szades@triad.rr.com) is the founder of Odyssey Network, a strategy and brand consulting company in Winston-Salem, N.C. This article was written in collaboration with Dr. Jane Stephens, English Department chair at High Point University. Their book, Mad Dogs, Dreamers and Sages: Growth Through Discovering Imaginative Intelligence, is available at www.eloundapress.com.


Copyright © 2004 Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing. All rights reserved.
Inc.com, 375 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10018.

from the June 22, 2005 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0622/p01s02-usfp.html

“In a sense, the US has kind of won,” says Robert Buzzanco, a history professor and Vietnam expert at the University of Houston.

Trade talks bring Vietnam to America

Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai was welcomed at the White House Tuesday, in the first visit of its kind since 1957.By Peter Grier and Adam Karlin

WASHINGTON AND BOSTON – On his US tour this week, Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has presided over the purchase of four Boeing jetliners. He’s shaken the hand of Microsoft chief Bill Gates and conferred with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Tuesday was the visit’s topper: He was ushered into the Oval Office for a meeting with President Bush himself.

So, what was the outcome of that war, again?

Thirty years after the end of American involvement in Vietnam, that long-ago conflict remains a divisive factor in US politics.

Vietnam itself isn’t Switzerland: It allows little free speech, and religious expression has been severely curtailed. Some Vietnamese refugees in the US have bitterly protested Prime Minister Khai’s presence.

But bit by bit, ties of trade and technology – even military training – are bringing once-bitter enemies together. Vietnam’s youthful economy needs what the United States has to offer.

“In a sense, the US has kind of won,” says Robert Buzzanco, a history professor and Vietnam expert at the University of Houston.

Diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam were restored in 1995 under President Clinton. Since then, two-way trade has grown to about $6.4 billion a year. To the US, that’s not much. But to Vietnam, the US is its top trading partner.

Khai, in fact, is scheduled to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange as part of his visit. What might the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh make of such capitalistic behavior?

“We have a population of 80 million people, which means a huge market for American businesses,” said Khai Tuesday.

At the White House, Khai and Mr. Bush talked about Vietnam’s push to join the World Trade Organization, which the US supports. Bush praised the steps of the nominally communist nation toward economic progress, as well as recent promises of expanded religious freedom. He also thanked the Vietnamese for their continued cooperation on efforts to find the remains of US troops who died in the Vietnam War.

“It’s very comforting to many families here in America to understand that the government is providing information to help close a sad chapter in their lives,” said Bush, who announced he’ll visit Vietnam next year.

Clearly, US-Vietnamese relations are entering a new era. The last time a high-ranking Vietnamese leader came to the White House, Dwight Eisenhower was president. That was 1957, when South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem made a US tour.

The changes that made the current rapprochement possible were largely economic ones. The Vietnamese have mostly abandoned the notion of a state-planned economy, replacing it with market-based policies and incentives for foreign investment. Among Vietnamese exports, shrimp and footwear have become common in the US.

But some human rights advocates and lawmakers in Congress think that any further improvement in relations should be linked to human rights improvements back in Vietnam.

While the government has promised more freedom of religious expression, the just-released Amnesty International annual human rights report charges that members of unauthorized denominations continue to face repression. Freedom of expression remains severely limited, says the report.

“The government of Vietnam has inflicted and continues to inflict terrible suffering on countless people,” said Rep. Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey, chairman of a House International Relations subcommittee on human rights, at a hearing on Monday.

Demonstrators have greeted Khai at some of his US stops. In Seattle, where he was signing the deal for four Boeing passenger jets, Khai was met by a crowd consisting mostly of expatriate Vietnamese shouting, “Down with communists!”

At such rallies, protesters often wave the old yellow-and-red flag of South Vietnam, which is banned in Vietnam itself.

The youths of Vietnam may idolize Mr. Gates, but when a newspaper printed the results of a poll naming him their favorite hero, the editor was sacked, notes Phu Nguyen, former president of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California.

Mr. Nguyen, who came to America when he was 3, says he fears that Vietnam will move in the direction of China: economic success with no corresponding individual rights.

“There’s often a misconception that the older folks are bitter and hold grudges. But the majority of people, including most young people, protest because of the lack of justice and freedom in Vietnam today,” says Nguyen.

Roland Pham, an attorney in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, who moved to the US when he was 11, has similar worries about continued repression back in Vietnam. For that reason, he believes that Khai should be welcomed, but warily.

“I favor reform and democracy in Vietnam,” he says. “But isolation doesn’t help. It hasn’t helped with respect to Iran, North Korea, or Cuba, so what makes people think isolation will compel the Vietnamese government to change its policies?”

Both of these Vietnamese-Americans ultimately toe a middle line between the ideological poles of their community. “There are some [Vietnamese-American] students that are in favor of opening Vietnam. There are some that have their parents’ mind-set that says, ‘Let’s lock up Vietnam,’ ” says Nguyen. “I think somewhere in between is the way to go. Help Vietnam develop trade, but have transparency in regard to human rights.”

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48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City
By JESSICA HURT
11feb06

COLOURFUL, vibrant and rich in colonial history, Ho Chi Minh City keeps you interested.

1. TOUCHDOWN The airport is about a 6km drive from the city. However, in peak hour this can mean a 45-minute journey. There are an amazing three million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as the locals still call it) and on the way from the airport to your hotel you will feel that you have seen and heard every one of them.

It’s an amazing sight from your taxi or minibus. Everything seems to travel by motorbike – from a family of five to pigs on their way to market. Don’t be surprised to see girls sending text messages while they ride. Oh, and be warned, traffic lights are basically there for decoration.

2. DROP YOUR BAGS

Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon is a centrally located hotel overlooking the Saigon River (check out the views from the Club Lounge on the 18th floor). It’s elegant and nothing is too hard for the staff. This is top-quality accommodation so if you have been backpacking and want to indulge, this is your perfect hotel. The hotel is at 8-15 Ton Duc Thang St, District 1. Visit http://www.renaissancehotels.com/sgnbr

Taxis are a cheap way to travel but make sure it’s always in a marked taxi with a meter. Or you can travel by cyclo, the traditional bicycle form of transport. Always negotiate your rate and currency before getting on.

3. START WITH SOUP

If you want to feel like a local, you must try Vietnam’s favourite breakfast pho, pronounced “fur”, which is a noodle soup served with chicken or beef. It may sound a bit strange having soup for breakfast but it is surprisingly refreshing and is a favourite meal among travellers. There are clusters of good pho restaurants along Nguyen Hue St, District 1. Try Pho Hoa at 260 Pasteur St, which is very popular with locals.

4. COLONIAL PAST

If you really want to get a feel for Ho Chi Minh City, the best thing to do is get out there among the locals and soak up this vibrant city that appears to never sleep. Ho Chi Minh City has some of the most beautiful architecture, so head down Dong Khoi St from Saigon River to the Notre Dame Cathedral and take a look at the historic French colonial buildings that line the street. Make sure you don’t miss the Majestic and Continental hotels, the theatre, cathedral and post office.

Apart from the architecture, the street is famous for other reasons. In the 1950s, it featured in the novel The Quiet American, but by the 1960s it was known for its infamous bars visited by U.S. soldiers. In more recent times, it appeared in the movie adaptation of The Quiet American, which starred Michael Caine.

5. BRIDES AND BOUQUETS

Don’t be surprised if you see a bridal party taking advantage of Notre Dame Cathedral. Its red-brick, neo-Romanesque form and two 40m-high square towers tipped with iron spires dominate the skyline. The main cathedral was built by the French between 1877 and 1883, and is a favourite location for Vietnamese wedding pictures.

6. LEGACY OF WAR

Once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, tourists should be warned some of the exhibits at the War Remnants Museum are extremely confronting and visitors will find the historical perspectives controversial.

There are photographs, U.S. armoured vehicles, artillery, bombs and weapons.

7. HOLIDAY TRINKETS

If you like finding a bargain or a trinket from your travels, Antique St is a great place to visit. From cute green tea sets to amazing paintings, this street has a great selection of oriental knick-knacks. But be savvy. You don’t want to end up buying a copy for the price of an original. Note: some antiques are not allowed to be exported so check with your tour guide before buying.

8. GRAND BEGINNINGS

Once the Presidential Palace, the Reunification Hall was home to the last three presidents of South Vietnam. The palace became famous when film footage of communist tanks crashing through the gates on April 30, 1975, symbolised the end of the Vietnam War. It is now a museum.

9. MARKET DAYS

Visiting the Ben Thanh market is an experience in itself. The trick is to stay out of the way, stand back and soak up the frenetic pace of market life. Be warned: there is no time for pleasantries here so try not to get in the way of the busy workers or you could be shoved out of the way. The market has all kinds of local produce and souvenirs. Make sure you hang on to your wallet tightly.

10. GETTING THERE

Travel Indochina offers a four-night package to Ho Chi Minh City, including international airfare with Vietnam Airlines, all Australian taxes and charges, accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City, breakfast daily and arrival transfer, for $1194 a person, twin-share, ex-Adelaide. The tour is valid from now until March 31, and April 24 to June 14. Conditions apply. Call Travel Indochina on 1300 367 666.

Cathay Pacific flies to Ho Chi Minh City via Hong Kong from $952 plus taxes. See your local Flight Centre for details.

  • The author travelled to Vietnam as a guest of Travel Indochina. Additional information from Lonely Planet and Travel Indochina.