August 9, 2006

The Associated Press

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HA LONG CITY, Vietnam (AP) – Action film star Jackie Chan took time out from jumping off buildings and beating up bad guys to play with children Saturday while promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in Vietnam, where health experts warn infection rates are on the verge of exploding.

Chan, 51, was in the communist country for the first time as a United Nations goodwill ambassador. He visited a communal health center and a support group session for people caring for family members with HIV/AIDS in northern Quang Ninh province, which has some of Vietnam’s highest infection rates.

A dozen expectant mothers were waiting for prenatal checkups at the clinic in Uong Bi district when Chan walked in, telling one woman, “Don’t worry. The doctor (will) take care of you.”

Expectant mothers will be given counseling and information on preventing the disease at the center under UNICEF’s first such program in Vietnam. They will also have the option of being tested.

Later, children on bikes chased after Chan as he strolled through the small town, calling out his name in Vietnamese and greeting him with “Chao Bac!” or “Hello Uncle!”

Chan repeatedly urged them, “Wear a helmet. You have to keep safe.”

At the support group session, Chan played with children who had lost a parent to HIV/AIDS and some youngsters who were battling the disease themselves.

He said more has to be done to get affordable treatment to those infected in poor countries like Vietnam. He also stressed the importance of eliminating discrimination and social stigma attached to the disease.

“Twenty years ago, I’m the one who was scared about HIV … but from the education I learned that’s wrong,” he said. “Otherwise, (victims) cannot go to work, they cannot go to school and they would be hiding in their houses.”

His four-day trip will also include visiting a Buddhist pagoda in Hanoi where monks help counsel young people infected with HIV/AIDS, along with a sunset cruise on picturesque Halong Bay, dotted with thousands of limestone islands.

The Hong Kong native and martial arts expert, well-known for his Hollywood hits “Rush Hour,” “Rumble in the Bronx” and “Shanghai Noon,” had flown in from Cambodia where he was raising awareness about land mines prior to visiting neighboring Vietnam.

Health experts have warned that Vietnam is on the cusp of an explosive HIV/AIDS epidemic. Last year, U.S. President George W. Bush selected the country as one of 15 in the world — the only one in Asia — to receive emergency funding to try to control the disease.

Injection drug users and prostitutes still make up the bulk of Vietnam’s HIV infections, but pregnant women have become a growing risk group, with infection rates increasing tenfold over the past seven years.

Since Vietnam’s first HIV/AIDS case was detected in 1990, the country has recorded nearly 85,000 cases. However, some health officials believe the actual number of infected people is closer to 245,000.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. [4/25/05]


  1. JAVIER Says:

    In Halong Bay, I booked passage aboard the Emeraude — a copy of a French steamer that once plied these waters in the early 20th century. Certainly the largest boat at 55m (180 ft.), the elegant Emeraude has 38 cabins, a fine-dining outlet, and plenty of room to stretch my legs. The luxury trip comes with a price tag, of course, but the 2-day, 1-night cruise is well worth it.

    Leaving Hanoi at 8am, I checked in at the private Emeraude pier and be shuttled to the boat. Before checking in to your cabin, we enjoyed welcome drinks and a quick orientation. Compact, as ship cabins always are, onboard rooms are decked out in hardwood, with nice fixtures like air-conditioning, a private reading lamp, slippers for shuffling about the decks, and a tidy, compact bathroom area with toilet, shower, and a separate room for a small sink stand. Everything onboard is retro, which means pleasing hardwood, brass, and fine linens. The oversize wicker chairs on the top deck are cozy, and I can find shaded areas as well as sun-worshipping space. A casual,
    friendly atmosphere pervades, especially when the corks start popping.

    Dining onboard is a delicious buffet, and most guests find themselves sharing a meal with new friends. Lunch on day 1 is followed by a stop at the Surprise Cave, then an afternoon of cruising and great views of the islands. The boat docks in a quiet harbor and guests have an opportunity to, on their own or with a guide, explore nearby Trinh Nu and Hang Trong, the Virgin Cave and the Cave of the Winds, or take a dip in the bay. The back of the boat is low in the water and there is a sturdy ladder making it easy to get on and off (the adventurous will join the crew for dives off the upper decks).

    Dinner is a sumptuous affair of fine local cuisine (heavy on seafood) and good Western options. Enjoy drinks on the upper deck as you watch the moonlight glisten off the bay.

    Day 2 starts with tai chi classes on the sun deck as a brilliant sunrise paints its colors on the arching canvas of high limestone peaks jutting from the glassy waters. Blissful. After my exercise, tuck in to a hearty Western-style breakfast. The boat returns to the dock by 9:30am, and a direct transfer finds myself back in Hanoi by lunchtime. The trip is quite memorable, and a ride on this retro ship, outfitted to the nines, is unique to Halong Bay. The price for the overnight cruise is $290 for a luxury cabin for two and $490 for the one-suite room. Transfer from Hanoi costs $100 for a four-seat vehicle. Check the website at http://www.emeraude-cruises.com or call the offices at the Press Club in Hanoi (tel. 04/934-0888; fax 04/934-0899).

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